After years of leeching off of the American fashion engine, the Canadian streetwear and menswear markets are finally taking a stand and embracing homegrown product. Brands like Reigning Champ, Native Shoes, and Herschel Supply Co. have become rising stars in a landscape dominated by Canada Goose as the solely relevant fashion export. Product authentically designed and produced by Canadian talent has become a point of pride for the growing scene around the country, given the sometimes-facetious “Canadian Made” claims of Roots and other old-world titans.
Back in 2009, Roots published a public communication providing transparency to their offshore procurement and manufacturing processes. Although honest and forthcoming in nature, the statement signified a legitimate downturn in domestic production that had been growing for years since cheap foreign labour drove down world market prices during the 1990s and early 2000s. Even for premium priced brands like Roots, producing in Canada at that large scale became to expensive and cumbersome to manage, leading to a costly supply chain and slim margins for the retailer.
Canada Goose, on the other hand, has been able to maintain its production presence in Ontario and Manitoba, given that their brand heritage and inherent value is driven by its claim of extreme technical quality. In an interview with the Toronto Star in 2013, Dani Reiss, President and CEO of Canada Goose said, “you can’t separate the point of manufacture from the product itself. When people around the world own a Canada Goose jacket, one of the things that make them feel special about the product is that I think they feel they own a piece of Canada.” Even with Reiss’ emphasis on the heritage of production, the outer shells on Canada Goose jackets are sourced from other countries, with the remainder of the materials coming from smaller Canadian producers.
The fact is that for the majority of the Canadian apparel industry, business is going from bad to worse. Between 2010 and 2014, the Canadian government reported a trade balance in the industry was -6.9%, employment was down -11%, and investments in research and development sank by -100%. Major retailers have also had issues, with Target Canada’s untimely departure from the Canadian market, and Reitmans recent layoffs being examples of consumer habits shifting towards e-commerce and continued purchasing from the US.
The Competition Bureau of Canada states that to legally claim a ‘Made in Canada’ label, 51% of the direct costs like sewing and labour must occur in Canada. Similarly, the highly sought after ‘Product of Canada’ labeling is only legal if 98% of the direct costs come from Canadian processes. Many smaller brands are taking advantage of these labels to establish a baseline of quality, and therefore price, for their products. It’s the smaller Canadian brands coming to the forefront that are eclipsing the giants like Roots and Canada Goose with their claim as the best representation of design and quality from the Great White North.
Brands like Naked & Famous, the aggressively high-quality focused brand produces only the best Japanese denim and proudly displays ‘Made in Canada’ with every pair. Sister brands wings + horns and Reigning Champ have perfected the 1-2 punch of loungewear and casual-wear, headed by parent CYC Design. Viberg is a premium boot-maker that maintains its Canadian production presence while remaining authentic and focused on quality and details.
The Canadian fashion scene will continue to be dominated by increasingly faster cycles being pumped through the US, but Canada’s claim to fashion fame is becoming more than just winter jackets. Taking pride in the production processes that once support Canada’s need for fashion and form, will allow brands to truly showcase homegrown talent, quality, and an aesthetic narrative that is uniquely Canadian.
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By: Amit Kalra