Solitha Wallace has been shaking up Halifax’s fashion scene since the mid-2010s, when the model, runway coach and show producer moved to the city for school and was met with an industry so homogeneous—even by fashion’s slim margins of inclusivity—that, as she told The Coast in 2018, “When I first moved here I didn’t think the Black girls were into this.”
Things around here have changed a lot since then, in large part due to Wallace’s work. She founded her own coaching business and production company, Soli Productions, which quickly began reshaping what local runways looked like. Her initial roster of 20 models has more than doubled since then—and her runway shows have only gotten bigger, too. On August 13 at 7:30pm, though, she’s about to put on her biggest production to date: The This Is Us fashion show at Grand Parade square, which will feature 10 designers—many from Nova Scotia but some from as far-flung locales as Israel. (Part of the summerlong, city-sponsored Grand Oasis festival, the event is free—but registering for a ticket secures your spot.)
Excited by the growth and possibilities of fashion in Nova Scotia, Wallace says the industry is in the midst of a major makeover in itself: "Talent is now that gauge rather than any other labels or that false narrative that marketing has pushed for so long about what the beauty standard should be,” she says, speaking with The Coast two days before showtime. “Talent is taking precedence over all of that.”
We asked Wallace some questions about the modern value of a fashion show and what the future of fashion in this province looks like:
The Coast: In the digital age where it’s easy to consume outfits all day while we scroll, what is the benefit of an in-person fashion show?
Solitha Wallace: It brings reality to the vision of the concepts you have in your head, and to see how someone can take that concept and fuse it into something tangible. For me, it brings life. So the runway shows are spaces where life gets used into your concepts in your head.
And for the audience having that visual walk down the runway, it also triggers their creative process—and it does for the other designers that are in the show, that are watching the show, as well. So, feeding off of each other's energy and seeing how they mix fabrics as well as colours and the craftsmanship in it. It takes something that is in your head and puts it on the runway: That’s what the models do. The ones that are good at their job are able to bring to light the vision of the designers.
I love that! Years ago, in fashion magazines, they used to talk about how the supermodel Iman wasn’t just given the best outfits to wear in a show, she was also given the worst—because she knew how to make the strongest and weakest designs still look amazing.
Right! The professionals know how to make that fabric come to life or to make the construction of that concept come alive, in a way. That's why most people say don't just look at it on the mannequin or on the hanger. When it fits on a body—and a body that knows how to move—it gives a different sort of reality to the piece than it would if you're just looking at it from the naked eye on a mannequin or on paper.
It's not just getting up and walking. There's a lot that goes into the production of it.
You’ve made a name for yourself in Nova Scotia’s small-but-growing fashion scene by pushing for radical inclusivity in runway shows and shoots. Now that you’ve been at this a few years, how do you see the industry changing in terms of representation?
When I started in this game, I was one of the very few [Black] models here. I was one of that tokenized space: I occupied that tokenized state. So now with competition—or with the presence of Soli Productions— other agencies around have to adapt because change is happening. Competition is going to either drive you up or down, to shift or move. And I've seen that in real time.
For me the goal isn't to have just been Soli Productions, but to infuse the others around, to shift their mindset [towards diversity]. Whether they were doing it from a competitive angle or they're doing it because they truly believe in diversity: For me, that's irrelevant to the fact that they are doing it, so the space is looking different, simply because of that.
There's a long way to go, but I see the agencies shifting. If I'm a 12-year-old kid or a 16-year-old who is getting started in the game, if I’m from Nova Scotia, I feel like I belong and I have a choice—because I can see myself, somewhat, in these spaces now. And I wouldn't care if [other production companies and talent agencies] did it because they have to be competitive. I care now that I am there, because no representation is at the forefront of the conversation—rather than just ‘oh, she's there as a token and they get shelled after the trend goes away.’
What do you think the next five to 10 years in the scene will look like?
I think we're carving out a niche in the global industry for Nova Scotia. It's not Paris, it's not New York. The district isn't concentrated in one space because of its vastness. It's spread out and it gives us an opportunity to create our own niche, where you can go to the South Shore, you can go to Cape Breton, you can be in Halifax, you can be in Dartmouth, and there's everybody's creating something uniquely theirs—but together.
We have our own thing that can add a little spice to the industry that already exists.
We don't want everybody to be the one thing. It's not a monolith. It's all these different things that are adding to what is making Nova Scotia and the Atlantic region really special. And I think once the global scene picks up on it, especially in the fashion industry, it's going to be a hub where people want to come and bring their production or come here for a fashion show. Or come here for a shoot.
We're going to be able to really add some energy into the industry here and keep our talented resources here, rather than them having to go to Toronto or New York or going to Europe in order to make it in the industry that they chose.
This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.