Toronto Fashion Week sold to IMG, Robin Kay steps down
Robin Kay steps down as executive director of Toronto Fashion Week after selling the event to IMG, an international events management firm.
By Francine KopunBusiness Reporter
Thu., Aug. 9, 2012
Toronto Fashion Week has been sold to a global event management firm and founder Robin Kay is stepping down as executive director after 13 years at the helm.
“Fashion week is much bigger than me as an individual person,” Kay said in an exclusive meeting with the Star and Peter Levy, a representative for new owner IMG Canada.
“I really believe that this is the best next step on the runway for the event, for the City of Toronto and for our market as Canadians on the global runway,” said Kay.
IMG Canada bought the event for an undisclosed sum.
Toronto Fashion Week is a biannual event that showcases Canadian designers and is meant to boost the local fashion industry. It has grown from an audience of 200 in 2000 to an event that attracts 40,000 guests over five days.
IMG Worldwide operates and manages sports, entertainment and fashion events in 30-plus countries. Its portfolio includes fashion weeks in Berlin, New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow and Miami.
Kay will remain president of the Fashion Design Council of Canada (FDCC). She would not reveal how much IMG Canada paid the FDCC for Toronto Fashion Week, or how much she will receive as a result of the deal.
World MasterCard Fashion Week in Toronto will proceed as planned Oct. 22 to 26, at David Pecaut Square, formerly Metro Square. Future events will be run by teams at IMG Canada and IMG Fashion.
Kay will continue to play an advisory role, said Levy, managing director and senior vice-president, IMG Fashion Events and Properties. He waffled when asked what her title will be.
“Queen, queen,” Kay whispered loudly in his direction, laughing.
“We’re not big on titles,” said Levy.
Kay made a name for herself designing and selling cotton knitwear through a chain of eponymous stores founded in the 1970s. She lost control of the chain to overseas partners in the late ‘90s. She is known for being tough, savvy — at times unpredictable — and for being a comeback kid.
She created fashion week in Toronto to stimulate a demand for Canadian designers nationally and globally. The first fashion week had a budget of $25,000 and a single sponsor, Holt Renfrew.
In 2011, 16 corporate sponsors, including electronics giant LG, L’Oréal, Kellogg’s and MasterCard, paid between $60,000 and $1-million to participate.
Fashion Week has been held in tents at Nathan Phillips Square, a vacant car lot in Liberty Village and at Exhibition Place.
The event is staffed by an army of volunteers, mostly students hoping to crack the fashion market with their own ideas. In 2010 several Toronto modelling agencies eliminated the practice of having their models work free during fashion week.
Toronto Fashion Week has had its share of defectors and designers who put on their own shows to pre-empt the event and avoid participation fees. It has been criticized for failing to attract enough A-game players.
Kay said she first approached IMG for advice in 1999, when she was launching the event. Over the years IMG helped secure funding for the event. In 2010, the FDCC commissioned IMG to consult on production, designer outreach, marketing and sponsorship sales.
“It was a long time coming. It didn’t just happen overnight or in days. We were very careful on both sides and we know each other. I think it’s fantastic,” said Kay.
She said designers will be able to access the international assets of IMG to visit or be a part of fashion weeks around the world.
Levy said the time is right for IMG to buy Toronto Fashion Week.
“It reminds me of Berlin in that it’s a community of creativity and it isn’t only fashion. There’s a magic there and in this city,” said Levy.
When asked what she’s planning next, Kay said: “I’m expecting a lot of fulfilling thinking time.”
She followed up later with something closer to her ballsy reputation.
“I am not going away, fashion is in my DNA,” Kay wrote in an email. “Timing is everything and I have a third act — stay tuned.”