“I felt like a real celebrity. I had my photo taken on the red carpet and on the runway by professional photographers, people complimenting my outfits, people asking to take pictures of me. It was absolutely amazing,” said Odjuani Okoudowa.
Okoudowa is a fourth-year student at the University of Guelph-Humber in the media and communications program specializing in multimedia journalism.
In order to complete graduation requirements each student in the program must complete a 240-hour internship at a company in their field. Okoudowa is interested in fashion, so over the summer, he got an internship at Elle Canada which is a fashion magazine based in Montreal; they tell stories about fashion, style, beauty and the latest trends.
During Okoudowa’s time at Elle Canada, he would pitch and write stories for the print magazine. Since the office is in Montreal he would work remotely from his home in Toronto.
Okoudowa enjoyed his time at Elle Canada but wished he had the opportunity for a more in-person experience. This led him to seek out opportunities of his own.
“I kind of felt that my summer internship was not challenging enough for me. I didn’t feel like was getting my hands on the industry itself. As I want to be a fashion journalist I felt like volunteering at a fashion show was the perfect opportunity for me to do that,” said Okoudowa.
In August, Okoudowa found out about Toronto Fashion Week through a quick Google search.
“I was actually wondering if Toronto had a fashion week as other main big cities have like New York and Paris but I couldn’t find it. The only thing that came up was Fashion Art Toronto. So I was like, okay interesting, I’m going to apply,” said Okoudowa.
Okoudowa filled out an application for the social media team because he had content creation skills from his job at the university. For his job on campus, Okoudowa creates social media content for Guelph-Humber’s student recruitment accounts. He hosts a show called “What’s up Wednesday,” where he interviews students that are involved on campus.
Shortly after filling out the application for a social media content lead position Okoudowa was accepted and ready to get started.
Fashion Art Toronto (FAT) is home to Toronto’s multi-arts fashion shows, hosting summer/spring shows in May and fall/winter shows in November. FAT was founded in 2005 by Vanja Vasic and is now the longest-running fashion week in the city.
The four-day event took place in Toronto’s historic Parkdale Hall which dates back to the 1920s being a place for theatre and cinema.
Although volunteers were asked to wear all black, Okoudowa found that was too restrictive. Instead, Okoudowa put together coordinating pieces from his personal style to ensure the best red carpet photos.
Okoudowa describes his style as punk/romantic/year 2000 (Y2K).
“The punk and romantic style was really inspired by Vivienne Westwood, one of my all-time favourite designers. The Y2K part is mainly inspired by my childhood, when times were simpler and fun, and when I used to be obsessed with Britney Spears. At the end of the day, fashion is about expressing who you are through fabric and clothes, putting the inside outside for the world to see,” said Okoudowa.
In Okoudowa’s role as a volunteer, he helped curate content for the @fashionarttoronto Instagram page. Some days he would show up early to film behind the scenes of the models getting ready in hair and makeup. He would also shoot content at the live runway shows, sometimes sitting in the front row.
On the second night of shows, Okoudowa wanted to capture some behind-the-scenes photos and videos of models getting ready. He and a few friends squeezed through the cold garage and hallway used as the dressing and makeup zones. The rooms were packed with models being called to fittings and makeup touch-ups.
Okoudowa was fascinated by some of the designs hanging on racks in preparation for shows. One of the designs was a clear vinyl dress reminiscent of a laundry hamper. Okoudowa took it off the rack to get a closer look. He ended up posing with the dress and got his friends to take flash camera pictures and have him act like a celebrity. Shortly after a few shots, he fell onto the dress tearing a small slit to the side of the garment.
One of Okoudowa’s friends was Tamia James, a fourth year journalism student from Toronto Metropolitan University. After Okoudowa, fell on the dress James turned her back to face the wall.
“I don’t know him, I’m not with him,” she said.
Okoudowa quickly laughed it off and proceeded to take more photos and videos backstage.
This experience was something very new for Okoudowa, but he says he’s grateful for the opportunity to network.
“I was allowed to go through the four days, full nonstop. I found I got the most of it going backstage meeting designers, meeting models and all the volunteers. It was a really great opportunity to network and learn more about the fashion industry hands-on.”
Okoudowa found that being in such a creative space has inspired him to expand outside of journalism.
“It gave me big realizations because I noticed that I kept telling myself that I wanted to be a fashion journalist, but at the end of the day, I feel like I want to do more. I see myself as a very ambitious person so I want to try everything, be a designer, maybe a model or even a creative director.”
He hopes to take this experience and use it to progress one of his passion projects @spoiledshopp an online marketplace he’s curated of Y2K fashion and accessories.
“It’s basically me in a shop. Anything from pop culture references, y2k and stuff or romantic stuff or punk rock kind of thing. actually started my shop back this year only. Those are my passions. I just want to be able to do storytelling, through clothing, words, videos, and social media marketing that’s really what I want to do.”