Vancouver Fashion Week

Access All Areas / Vancouver Fashion Week

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I am probably the wrong person to be volunteering at Vancouver Fashion Week. Yes, I love clothes but I am more about thrift shop threads than a catwalk clobber. I can only really name five models, Kate, Naomi, Sophie, Heidi and the one with the eyebrows – all of whom I’d say come under the ultra supermodel bracket, and not without their fair share of media scandal. I also adore Cameron Russell but not because she’s a model, because she did this Ted Talk.

As for designers, I know Karl Lagerfeld but only because he supposedly stated he made clothes for ‘slender and slim people’ when he did a range for H&M, fat girls shouldn’t wear designer. Yeah, I’m a UK 12. What? I like chocolate. This guy clearly loves Karl more than I do…

Vancouver Fashion Week Canella Hostal

* later discovered he is wearing Canella Hostal glasses, she featured in VFW 

However, because I am ‘on the road’ and have a lot of time on my hands I thought screw it, you have to take the opportunities that travel brings and my lack of fashion knowledge did not impact a fun week volunteering at Vancouver Fashion Week! I met cool people, spoke to nice and not so nice industry types and got a look in at the not so glamorous behind the scenes mechanics of how a fashion show is run. These people work real hard.

Volunteer at Vancouver Fashion Week

This was actually very easy. I saw a post on a Vancouver Facebook page (I follow quite a few for advice on life in Van) and emailed Lisa, a Dutch Vancouver settler, who was in charge of volunteers. She was also a volunteer herself.

There were two meetings for those interested. I made it along to the Thursday 6pm one. Lisa ran through the roles available and we completed a form indicating our top three desirable roles. She then emailed out a spreadsheet with our roles for each day. I put down three days for availability, balancing time with the blog and getting ready for my girls week in Toronto.

Volunteering Vancouver Fashion WeekVolunteering Roles

There was a bit of variety to choose from and I was lucky enough to get two different jobs. I was part of the set up team on the Monday and an usher on the Wednesday and Thursday nights. Ushering involved managing the entrance to the room with the catwalk, using my fierce Scottish accent to control the flow of punters. I did this pretty well however on the Wednesday it was packed for the Vancouver Community College show. Everyone wanted a glimpse of the ‘next big thing.’ It was my responsibility to check the colour of paper bracelet and point them in the according direction. For example, pink for VIP (Viscous in Prada, in some cases), who I then asked to stand to the right and the wonderful Christopher or the stressed Francis then seated them in the? FROW (fash talk for front row) or second row. Naturally there were people who demanded front row, even when the show had started, sorry dah’ling, not possible. Customers with blue bands sat on the back bleacher and were expected to leave after a set of three or four shows, this rarely happened though. Those with purple were seated on the front two bleachers, they had full evening passes. And just to confuse matters, the colours changed each day!

Set up day involved cleaning, a lot of it and some of the volunteer girls’ faces were tripping them. I’m not sure what they expected when they put their name down for set up day! You need to use your initiative here, just find a cloth and clean some windows or get a brush and sweep. Be prepared to do a job then watch another volunteer redoing it differently the next hour. I hung up hangers, cleaned them, added gifts to VIP gift bags, took out the wrong items from said gift bags, unpacked wine from a car, cleaned windows and swept. It was a quick day and a nice way to meet the other volunteers.

Vancouver Fashion Week Chinese Cultural Centre

Other roles were to assist the designers; you might be steam cleaning outfits in this position. There was a registration team who sat at the back door in the sunshine ticking off models and backstage staff names before handing them a badge. Funny story to follow about this team later.

Vancouver Fashion Week Volunteers

There was also a front registration team who dealt with the public. Some of the volunteers manned the VIP gallery, others looked after the show room. Some of the volunteers were outside at the front door, freezing their asses off but at least they got first dibs on the idiots wearing sunglasses inside (there were four in one night!)

Vancouver Fashion Show Volunteers

The Perks

If you volunteer for two days you get a ticket to a show. If you ushered like me, you got to see most of the shows anyway! Food was delivered upstairs where the models were, and it was delicious, you could help yourself but you had to be fast, contrary to popular belief, models do eat!

Front row baby! If you are ushering and they need to fill a front row seat, you’ll get lucky. This happened to me twice on the Thursday. Take your camera; it’s time for the money shot!

We also had an open invitation to the after parties, I was knackered after both evening shifts, I’m too cool to be seen at an after show party, so gave it a body swerve, I only do warehouse club nights and old man pubs… Quite.

You get to speak to really cool people. I chatted to the head of a male model agency, photographers, hair and make up artists, designers, models, models’ proud parents. What I really liked was that the main man, Jamal, had a brush in his hand during set up day too, major respect to him for not abusing his power. If you are heading to Vancouver for Fashion Week, check out this Vancouver Travel Guide.


These people work so hard. They are in from morning until night then at the after show party for a full week and many of them do it on a voluntary basis. This is actually quite terrifying when you look at the recent article on Vancouver offering the second lowest minimum wage in Canada.

How many people do this just to get their foot in the door? I met another Scottish chick who was watching the show then going home to write about it, getting up to work as a server then back to the show to repeat. She wasn’t getting paid but saw this as a great gig for her portfolio.

Some of the models are so young. Like still in school young. Some are older but the majority are probably still listening to Justin Bieber and sitting exams. I spoke to one mum who said her sixteen-year-old model daughter was choosing between law and modelling, two pretty cool jobs to choose from! I did feel a bit uncomfortable during the Trash Lingerie show, as sexy as the underwear was (like super hot!), the majority of the media were male and something just unnerved me.

Vancouver Fashion Show Hair

The gender imbalance in the media was outrageous! I spotted two female photographers during my two-night stint and about thirteen male cameramen. Vanessa Martin, a photographer for UBC’s paper, Ubyssey, told me that it was tough sometimes.

This invoked me to ask the woman sitting in the front row of the media pit what was the deal – why were the majority of models female but the ones shooting them male? She advised me that the gender imbalance in models is not the case around the globe, it’s pretty unique to Vancouver. There just aren’t that many male strutters in the city, and she should know, she runs a male model agency! So gents, if you are a 6″ walking pair of cheek bones, here is my number… Jokes, get yourself along to Vancouver for castings.

Funny Stuff

Obviously the guy with the shades in the top photo is fun, he was very cute and I turned a blind eye to him sitting front row for the last show with a peasant’s band on purely because he owned that seat.

Insider tip – dress like you want to sit in the front row! They need to fill those seats (like 100% need to) so if you look the part you’ll get pulled from the cheap seats; front row really is where it is at.

During my break I sat with the back door reception. It’s their job to not only sign staff in but also check badges when they leave and re-enter. A young, like fifteen year old, male model walks past the desk. ‘Badge please’ the team ask. ‘It’s in my pocket’ he replies. ‘We need to see it’ they reaffirm. The model then says ‘you need to learn this face’ and points to his head. Oh how we laughed!

I’m not sure of this woman’s role was but she brought a small ‘handbag’ dog along to help her do it. What do dogs do? Pee! In the beautiful media room. Ahhh, canines in CK!

Vancouver Fashion Week Gallery

The Clothes

Holy moly there are a lot of talented designers. The closing show on Wednesday, Tieler James, is only fifteen! Absolutely blown away! Amber Nifong‘s gothic ballroom dresses struck me. I turned my back to tend to the door and when I turned around all of the models were on the catwalk, it genuinely took my breath away, powerful stuff.

Alisa Tovmanyan’s designs were simple and cute, I’d totally wear them. Maria Ruth Fernanda’s sparkly evening wear looked spectacular under the light. If I was to go anywhere worthy of a gown, she would be my number one choice. I was FROW (oooh get you) for Sarah Tremain‘s green and orange palette of outfits, I loved the 60s shift, I could see myself in it today.

Maria Ruth Fernanda Vancouver Fashion Week

Maria Ruth Fernanda – Designer – Vancouver Fashion Week 2015

Alisa Tovmanyan – Designer // Teresa Lindsay Couture – Designer 

It’s not just about the clothes. Archie, the cameraman for Fashion One told me he likes when designers ‘tell a story,’ when they use thematic approach to the music and media. You would expect the shows with the upbeat songs to be the catchiest but the slow paced ones get you just the same, such as Vogel‘s plinky-plonky soundtrack. I also liked how s/he tied in the make up with the shoes – reflector type material on the feet and the same on the eyes. Another designer used the video footage well; s/he looped the catwalk several times so we were watching the model walk in front of us but also through the video then through the video again, like a mirrored image. Very clever, didn’t catch their name though, too busy being a bouncer!

Hats off to all of the models, walking in those heels and under that light is a tough gig. Three models stood out, Rachel Sargeant for her prairie prettiness, Binta Dibba for her catwalk charm, that girl has attitude, and Kelsey Barnwell because she is pure model quality, striking and proud.

Rachel Sargeant Vancouver Fashion Week

Rachel Sargeant – model – Vancouver Fashion Week 2015 

Kelsey Barnwell Vancouver Fashion WeekKelsey Barnwell – model – Vancouver Fashion Week 2015

If fashion is your bag, and you want get those Christian Louboutins firmly established on that catwalk career ladder, then volunteering at Vancouver Fashion Week comes highly recommended. You honestly get to ‘access all areas’, I was even allowed to take photos everywhere for this post, and a networking opportunity that money just can’t buy (because you don’t get paid for it!)

Vancouver Fashion Week Make Up

Massive congratulations to Jamal and his team of fabulous staff, members and volunteers. Thank you for this opportunity, it was interesting and invigorating.

What opportunities has travel
brought for you?

Gemma and Craig are full-time workers with a life-long travel habit. Flirting with 30 and let loose on the world! Gemma writes, Craig looks good in the photos.

Comments 33

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      I know, I couldn’t believe how involved we were. Such a positive experience, not something you have the time to do at home!

  1. It’s super fun to volunteer at different events. It really gives you a different perspective, and the opportunity to meet people and see things you’d never have the opportunity to otherwise access. Plus it builds character!

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  2. Definitely a very interesting experience — and your writing made it more so. Not sure I’ll ever get the opportunity you had, but I’d be game if it came up…just for the experience of it all!

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  3. Omg Gemma, internet high-5 because I am a certified thrift shop whore, too! Haha and oh I love Karl Lagerfeld’s photography, last 2 years ago he had a photo exhibition here in Singapore and it was amazing!

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  4. Wow, now this was a different kind of adventure!

    I can hear you now… directing people to their seats by day, and to the correct Travel Blogged thread by night 😉

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  5. Sounds fantastic. I like you are not too into fashion but I bet it was interesting none the less and hey when in Rome . .

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  6. How awesome is this! That is a great insight into the behind the scenes and so much fun, definitively will dress to impress if I ever get the chance. I have attended fashion week in Singapore a few times but this is not really very posh, everyone can buy tickets 🙂

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  7. Wow, this is a pretty cool experience. One of those things you can share in years to come and say ‘oh yeah, I worked that’ 🙂
    I’m imagining the scene of of Karl Pilkington Moaning of Life when he does a cat walk… don’t know why.
    Love your pics and great that its access all areas. Its made for a great blog post 🙂

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      I would love to have seen him do that at VFW! I’ve started listening to Russell Brand’s podcasts with his friend Matt. Matt kind of reminds me of Karl Pilkington a little bit.

  8. I guess everyone has to start somewhere? I remember I got a media pass for YYC Fashion Week and I did not get paid but I asked for a media pass because it would look good on my portfolio. My photography career is not doing well right now but that’s okay. I now am focused on my travel blog and that is going well! 🙂

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  9. That’s a wonderful opportunity you just had Gemma! It is a bit different from the usual travel perks most travel bloggers usually get. It must be tough work for most people who are working in there but seems like tons of volunteers? Man, fashion world is so extravaggant that everyone (who are interested) wants to attend and work for for free 😀

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  10. HAHA! I haven’t heard anybody do this before – volunteering for a fashion show! How cool is that? I’ve been toying with the idea of introducing travel-related fashion to my blog as a section. This gives me more fodder to work with.

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  11. Wow! This is a very interesting volunteering opportunity. I myself doesn’t see myself in fashion industry but I’m considering this kind of stuff m.

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  12. Thank you so much for that lovely little comment at the end! Means A LOT to me to stand out to you out of the many models there.

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      Ah Kelsey! Glad you found the shout out. It was a pleasure watching you strut. Keep going girl and all the best for 2016!

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