After immigrating to Canada from East Africa in 1990 and landing in Toronto, Jamal Abdourahman was eventually seduced by the West Coast’s mountains, ocean and fresh air, and made the cosmopolitan city of Vancouver his home in 1993.
Fluent in three languages, and able to converse in 25 others, Jamal attended college with the goal of working for the United Nations and traveling the world. To make money as a student, he began buying clothing at wholesale and organizing fashion and trunk shows at nightclubs, hotels and warehouses. He eventually opened a clothing store on Robson Street and later teamed with an investor who wanted to do fashion shows in Asia. Jamal closed the store and began jet-setting to fashion capitals including Hong Kong, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and London, and attended Paris Fashion Week in 1999. Back on home soil, he collaborated with a friend and started the first official fashion week show in 2000 which was named International Fashion Week. Continuing on his own, he rebranded the event Vancouver Fashion Week in 2002.
Now entering its 17th year and 30th season, Vancouver Fashion Week is the fastest growing fashion week in the world – creating a stage for talented local and international designers to reach global markets, fashion media and industry buyers. Vancouver Fashion Week has served as the gateway to designers who can’t show in the big events such as London, Paris, Milan and New York, and has helped launch many talents.
Jamal continues to put Vancouver Fashion Week on the world stage and every season the energetic producer attends fashion week events in South America, Asia, Europe and North America – meeting designers, fashion editors and forging partnerships. To date, Jamal has racked up more than 1,000,000 air miles, with no end of his promotion of Vancouver and designers in sight.
VFW team brings the interview with him with some interesting facts.
How has fashion changed over the last 30 seasons since VFW began?
– There definitely has been a big change in the market. The current market has more access to fashion, which means it is easier to contribute and distribute.
Another more obvious change over the last 30 seasons would be the visual aspect; many fashions have come and go in the last 17 years.
We all know that it takes a lot of hard work and perseverance in managing VFW. So, how do you make sure that VFW keeps growing and staying relevant?
– It is not just me who made VFW to what it is today. It is a combination of me and a great team and of course the designers. When you’re part of a team, a greater sense of responsibility comes into play, the cause is no longer just about you. If it was just ,,my thing” or just my work, it’s easy to lose drive and spend less hours growing it. However when you have people depending on you, you try to do more. Having this and the greater design community in mind, are some of the things that push me to keep VFW growing and staying relevant.
– I also believe that every season gets better by our intent to have everyone benefit from VFW – from the young volunteers to the people who are working for the company, and of course the designers.
Follow-up question: Having this sense of responsibility in mind, how do you keep up with the pressure of putting together the production?
– I personally do not call it hard nor pressure because I enjoy trying to achieve something that seems impossible to possible. So it is just something that I enjoy.
If it is just the same thing over and over again, it means I’m not challenging myself. If it is not challenging, then I get bored and lazy.
Based on what you have seen in the designer preview, how is VFW SS18 shaping up?
– So every season, there has been more and more local designers – either designers that we sponsor or designers who are approaching us. This season is very exciting because some of our designers showing here are going to showcase their collections in Amazon Tokyo Fashion Week this October.
– Every season is exciting. We feature such incredible talents, we look at these designers, and ask them what is the next thing that they will come up with!
Follow-up question: So what do you think of the designers for this season? Have you seen any of their collections?
– The designers for this season are great and very creative. Each season I try not to see their new collections, I like to be as surprised as our guests! I talk to them regularly however and by conversing with them, I am able to see where their heads are at and share in their excitement.
What trends do you predict will be showcased in VFW SS18?
– I don’t really predict nor chase trends. But by travelling and attending fashion weeks in other countries like in Asia, Europe and South America throughout the year, I am able observe and witness a lot of things; only a few of them really stick in my mind. A few I have noticed for SS18 are prints and colour. Large bold prints with simple palettes; black, white and primary colours.
In your bio, it stated that you started out as a nightclub promotion. What made you leave the nightclub scene to chase the fashion industry?
– It was just an accident at that time. I never really liked the club scene, but I love dancing and music. That’s why I threw parties. That’s what got me.
– It started out with one friend of mine who I knew that was a promoter. He had a fashion show in his club. And I thought, ,,I should do this to promote” and it grew from there.
– Since I love dancing, I did the choreographing of the fashion shows to begin with.
These days we leave it to the professionals. It is my love for dance, and the creativity behind it that got me into this.
Side question: Were you scared to put up something this big (VFW) which is far different from your love of dancing?
– It was scary and challenging at first. I remember when I first started there were conflicts. Some wanted this, but I wanted something else. It wasn’t until my third show that I did the choreography my own because by that time I believed that “If I can do this [VFW], then I can do that [choreograph].”
If you had to choose just one, what would be your favorite part about the whole week?
– Working with new designers, and helping them work and grow their brand. It’s a huge honor to show their works to the world.
What are some struggles you face on a daily basis leading up to Fashion Week?
– Managing myself is the main struggle. But if I am able to do this, everything is like a walk in the park.
– Some days you are full of inspiration and there are also days when it’s lacking.
When you feel stuck or lost, the pressure can creep up however it’s not as intense nowadays compared to 10 years ago. Now I have a great team of support every season. I believe that for us to stay on top, I really have to push myself and them. It’s a big team. It’s a big show and a big responsibility we have for one another.
– Another big challenge is time. But I learned all throughout the years that [time] isn’t something I can ask for more of. If I am asking for time, it means that I am not making the most of the time I have.
How do you compare VFW to fashion weeks around the world?
– All fashion weeks around the world are different in their own way. VFW is similar London and New York, but on a smaller scale; smaller shows and smaller designers. We also like to highlight a lot of emerging and international designers.
We support those coming up while still paying homage to those who are more established. We are home grown.
Who and/or what inspires you?
– First and foremost the fashion industry. I see so many amazing people out there working hard to grow the industry makes me want to contribute in a big way.
– Also, I come from a big family that has seen a lot of success within the business industry – and that right there is already a lot of pressure. One needs to achieve so much in my family. This is challenging but it’s motivating and inspiring to get things going.
What will make this season's show different?
– The team we have now is going to make this season’s show different; each season we have our core team plus a huge team backing them up. Its these fresh eye and minds that make each season different.
– Kids Fashion Week is growing. Our season show is growing. Plus, those young designers that started out at VFW 5 years ago, are growing as well and they are becoming mentors to other designers.
– On top of that, more local designers are showing this season. We have 39 designers from Canada this year and that is exciting!