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J-School and Fashion Instructor helping to amplify voices within Black Canadian Fashion Industry

By: Ben Shelley
February 28, 2022

Journalism and fashion instructor Charmaine Gooden. Photo courtesy Charmaine Gooden. 

A school of Journalism and fashion instructor is aiming to provide more exposure for influential Black creatives.

Charmaine Gooden, who taught JRN 504: Fashion Journalism with the School of Journalism in the Fall 2021 semester, recently launched the Black Fashion Canada Database, which profiles Black and multiracial models, designers, photographers. A goal of the project is to share the stories of less well-known creatives who helped to pave the way despite facing systemic racism, during an important time for Black Canadian fashion from the 1970s to 1990s. 

“When I got into the teaching field, it became very obvious to me that there was a big missing chunk of stories told by a group of people who worked against the odds to try and make a career and an industry for themselves – they did amazing things and many Black people didn’t even know about them, much less the larger community.”

In her Fashion Journalism class last semester, Gooden connected students with key figures for the purpose of the profiles. She waited specifically to do the project alongside journalism students, so they would bring the “rigours of research and be aware of accuracy.”

“I just wanted to have a place that was credible and told the full story as much as possible about these people and I also wanted to amplify the smaller voices within the Black fashion community,” said Gooden. 

Gooden shared her idea for the Black Fashion Canada Database with fellow School of Journalism instructor Carly Lewis, who was teaching another section of the course. 

“I could tell it would be a massive undertaking for her, but sensed the fervour of her dedication to correcting the historical record,” said Lewis. “I'd been admiringly following Kimberly Jenkins' Fashion and Race Database project out of the U.S. and thought Charmaine's launch of a Canadian counterpart was brilliant—ambitious, given the shamefully exclusionary documentation of Canadian fashion history, but brilliant.” 

Students in both sections of the class worked on the profiles for a period of four to five weeks. The lack of published online material – which the project aims to help resolve – was one of the main challenges the students faced while trying to gather information for the profiles.

Linda V. Carter posing in a gold jacket with dramatic frills. Photo taken by Hans Lichenberg.

Photo of Linda V. Carter taken by Hans Lichenberg.

Felecia Francis was one of the students in Gooden’s class who worked on the project, helping to profile Linda V. Carter. Carter is a model, actress and media personality, and was among nearly 30 figures profiled as part of the project. 

Francis notes that while it was interesting to see how many Black Canadians contributed to the industry, it was also sad to come to the realization that much of their work hasn’t been highlighted. She says she hopes the project will bring more exposure when it comes to Black creatives.

“I’m Black myself and most of the history that I know when it comes to fashion isn’t necessarily on Black people,” said Francis. “So I hope that when this project does launch that there will be more exposure and people will get to see and understand how impactful Black creatives have been in the fashion industry.”

The profiles will be added to the Directory section of The Fashion and Race Database.

Gooden has a list of 120 people from Ontario who she’d like to profile but also plans to profile creatives from other parts of the country as well. She hopes to be able to hire recent journalism graduates or current students to continue the work. 

“I hope to have seeded in a young generation of writers a whole new area of interest that has been overlooked for a long time and is worthy of coverage. I wanted to introduce them to that.” 

 Linda V. Carter in front of a sand dune. Photo credit Greg Lawson

A photo of Linda V. Carter taken by Greg Lawson.