- A.A. ANTONIO AZZUOLO
- ABBY KANAK
- ALFRED SUNG
- ANDREW MAJTENYI
- ANDY THE-ANH
- ANGELA BUCARO
- ANNE HUNG
- ARTHUR MENDONCA
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- BEATRICE PINES
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- CHRISTOPHER RYAN
- CLAIRE HADDAD
- COLIN WATSON
- CRYSTAL SIEMENS
- D SQUARED
- DANIEL STORTO
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- DAVID DIXON
- DEAN HUTCHINSON
- DEBBIE SUCHAT
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- DENIS GAGNON
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- DOMINIC BELLISIMO
- DONALD RICHER
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- FRANCO MIRABELLI
- FRANCOIS GUENET
- FREDERICK BEAUREGARD
- GABBY BERNIER
- GABRIEL LEVY
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- GEORGES LEVESQUE
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- JOHN FLUEVOG
- JOHN WARDEN
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- LE CHATEAU
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- LEO CHEVALIER
- LIDA BADAY
- LILLY DEE
- LINDA LUNDSTROM
- LORE MARIA WEINER
- LORI BROOKS
- LOUCAS KLEANTHOUS
- LUCIAN MATIS
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- MARCELLE DANAN / TOKANO
- MARGARET GODFREY / BAGATELLE
- MARIE SAINT PIERRE
- MARIE-PAUL NOLIN
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- MARK FAST
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- OUR OWN
- OUR OWN: THE TILLEY HAT
- PARACHUTE / NICOLA PELLY and HARRY PARNASS
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- SUTTLES AND SEAWINDS
- SYMBIOSE BY HINDA A
- TAVAN AND MITTO
- THOMAS TAIT
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- YOLANTA/ KENNETH TANG
- YUMI ETO
- ZONDA NELLIS
The wardrobe department of Murdoch Mysteries with costume designer Alex Reda
Murdoch Mysteries (TV Series) (73 episodes) FROM 2008 ONGOING
NAMED AS COSTUME DESIGNER FROM 2000 ON A VARIETY OF TV MOVIES AND TV SHOWS
AND AS ASSISTANT COSTUME DESIGNER SINCE 1996
FAR RIGHT, MARKOO BY TANIA MARTINS AND MONA KOOCHEK
Made in Canada: How globalization has hit the Canadian apparel industry
Globalization was touted as the path to affluency, but for Canada’s garment industry it has been calamitous.
By: Sandro Contenta News, Published on Mon May 27 2013
CAMBRIDGE, ONT.—The unusual mission statement for the fledging Canadian-Made Apparel company is written on a board overlooking sewing machines and computerized fabric cutters. It’s nothing more than a date and time — Feb. 21, 2013, 1 p.m.
It’s the reminder of an event not to be repeated.
At precisely that moment, in this very same factory, the owners of John Forsyth Shirt Co. Ltd. told 110 employees that a century of shirt-making would come to an end. The company, established in 1903, was closing its factory — the latest victim of a Canadian-made garment industry decimated by globalization and, in Forsyth’s case, government decisions.
The catastrophic collapse of the Rana Plaza in Bangladesh, which killed 1,127 garment workers in April, renewed public attention on an economic theory that has transformed societies for three decades.
At its most idealistic, globalization is a business model for a world where market forces put everyone on the same development path to affluence and democracy. At its worst, it’s a model for exploitation and corporate conquistadors. In between is a large area where public policy, corporate decisions and consumer attitudes shape a theory often marketed as a force of nature.
“Globalization is about making choices,” says Suzanne Berger, a leading researcher of the business model at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The former employees of John Forsyth know that only too well.
The Cambridge factory had been struggling for years. Competition was fierce. The retail price of a Forsyth dress shirt runs from $70 to $125. Shirts made in places like Bangladesh sell for as little as $10 at huge retailers like Walmart. And demand wasn’t going Forsyth’s way.
“People want cheap shirts,” says Forsyth’s co-owner, Oliver Morante.
A decade ago the factory had 500 employees making 1.3 million shirts. That dwindled to 110 people working reduced hours to make 500,000.
“From a strict financial view, we probably should have closed that facility many years ago,” Morante says. “But we said, ‘It’s part of our heritage. We like the idea of being a domestic manufacturer.’”
The death blow came when the federal government cancelled “duty remission programs.” In place since 1988, they allowed apparel companies that manufacture in Canada to import some clothing from abroad duty free.
For Forsyth, a Mississauga-based company that imports 75 per cent of its shirts from China and Bangladesh — those sell for $25 — it meant the loss of almost $2 million annually. It was money used to partly offset the higher labour costs, compared to offshore rivals, of its Cambridge factory.
“Those are the types of programs the government needs to keep in place if it wants to have any semblance of domestic manufacturing,” Morante says.
Seventy Canadian companies benefitted from the $15-million remission programs. The finance ministry says some of them no longer manufactured in Canada while others were selling their remission allocation to companies that don’t produce here.
Morante says he warned the government that ending the program would force the closure of his Cambridge factory. He urged it to audit companies and kick out abusers. Last December, the government made its choice.
“They threw out the baby with the bathwater,” Morante says.
The finance ministry points to other initiatives to help the apparel industry, including removing tariffs on imported equipment. They didn’t benefit Forsyth.
The demise of the duty programs shocked Forsyth’s employees. In April 2005, with an election looming, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper visited the Cambridge factory and stitched “Made in Canada” labels on shirts. Employees who witnessed the event say Harper was calling on then-Prime Minister Paul Martin to renew the remission schemes.
In February, Forsyth applied for court protection from creditors under the federal Companies’ Creditors Arrangement Act, a legal way to restructure a company and avoid bankruptcy. The Cambridge plant closed March 8.
“It was a very sad day,” says Sandra Lima, 39, who spent 18 years at Forsyth. “You’re left with, ‘What am I going to do now?’ To start all over again was scary.”
Rick Droppo, the factory’s manager, also lost his job, adding to a bloody 40 years in the business. The nine Levis factories he worked at out west are part of a long list he’s watched disappear.
“I thought, ‘Hey man, I really failed,’” says Droppo, 61, noting Forsyth had given him a free hand at running things. “It’s up to me to make sure these people have jobs.”
He embarked on what his friends considered a quixotic adventure — to buy and reopen the factory. It was nerve-wracking.
“I had to go and get sleeping pills,” he says.
He asked the federal government for financial help but they turned him down. Banks set unacceptable conditions for loans. So he turned to private investors, people he knew in the trade. They struck a deal.
Old customers stayed on, including Tim Hortons and Sobeys, who have uniforms made for their employees. Forsyth sold Droppo the factory, with its modern equipment, dirt cheap. And Forsyth committed to ordering about 300,000 dress shirts a year.
Droppo rented less floor space and hired back 40 former employees at $11 an hour, $2 less than they had been making, on average, with Forsyth. In early May, the factory reopened under a new name — Canadian-Made Apparel.
“It’s not like a factory, it’s like a family,” says Ina Stagl, 52, who spent 29 years with Forsyth. “Rick Droppo is, in my eyes, a hero. He was not thinking of himself, he was thinking about us.”
“I’m really angry with the government,” she adds. “They gave millions to the car companies and nothing to us.”
Only three shirt-making factories remain in Canada, Droppo’s and two in Quebec. Droppo is convinced he can make a go of it. And the workers are fully behind him.
On the mission board, the fateful date looms like a warning of a monster outside.
In theory, globalization is the process toward a single world economy — a time when the price of labour, capital and goods and services will be the same everywhere. We, of course, are far from that.
The world’s economy was more globalized between 1870 and 1914, notes Berger, an MIT political science professor. The price of commodities and labour converged as people moved freely across borders and new technology — from steamships to trans-Atlantic communication cables — fuelled trade.
The First World War brought it to an end. Immigration controls and tariffs went up.
“Globalization is somewhat reversible because governments still have the power to block things at their borders,” says Berger, author of How We Compete: What Companies Around the World Are Doing to Make It in Today’s Global Economy.
In Canada’s apparel industry, quotas limited the amount of goods imported from individual countries. When the quota of Chinese imports was filled, Canadian importers shifted to goods from Korea, then Mauritius and so on.
“The structure of the industry was built on the backs of these quota arrangements, which forced you into very mobile sourcing scenarios,” says Bob Kirke, executive director of the Canadian Apparel Federation, which represents 300 manufacturers, importers and retailers.
“Canadian companies became experts at moving goods all over the world.”
It was training for the next round of globalization, which kicked off in the early 1980s. The corporate model until then was vertical integration — research and development, design, manufacturing and after-sales service were all done under the same corporate roof.
The 1980s saw what Berger describes as a “tectonic shift.” Wall Street pushed a leaner, “asset-light” model. Labour-intensive manufacturing arms were often the first to be severed. The reward was higher stock prices.
“The factory is always the low-hanging fruit,” says Droppo, recalling his two decades at Forsyth’s Cambridge plant. “Every financial consultant we ever had in here said the factory’s got to go.”
As Wall Street preached outsourcing, new technology made it more possible. Digitization allowed product design to be separated from manufacturing, Berger notes. A silicone microchip could be designed in the U.S., for example, and digitized instructions to make it sent directly to a cutting machine in Taiwan. The U.S. company no longer needed an expensive semiconductor foundry as part of its operations.
Unionized jobs largely responsible for expanding a postwar middle class began to disappear. In Canada since the late 1990s, the result is rising income inequality, challenging governments with a series of social policy choices, including how to redistribute wealth.
In the garment industry, clout shifted from manufacturers to big retailers like Walmart. They developed their own brands. Consumers got hooked on “fast fashion,” discarding clothes with every new style. Accessing cheaply manufactured garments became a priority.
Government policies obliged. The NAFTA free trade deal between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico happened in 1984. In 2003, Canada removed all tariffs and quotas from 49 “least developed countries,” including Bangladesh. Two years later, as part of its commitment to the World Trade Organization, Canada removed all quotas on textiles and apparel imports — a move that had been signalled for a decade.
To no one’s surprise, manufacturing jobs moved to low-wage countries, first Korea and China, and when wages began climbing there, increasingly to places like Bangladesh. Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc., with $1.95 billion in 2012 sales, has most of its manufacturing in Latin America and the Caribbean.
The number of Canadians making clothes declined from 94,260 in 2001 to 19,340 in 2010, according to Statistics Canada. (When administrative jobs are included, the total number declined from 106,226 to 25,670.) About half of the industry is based in Quebec; less than 30 per cent is in Ontario.
GDP in the clothing manufacturing sector declined from $3.6 billion in 2002 to $1.4 billion in 2011. The domestic market share of clothes made in Canada dropped from 40 per cent in 2004 to 23 per cent in 2008.
“It’s fashionable to say, ‘Buy Canadian,’ as long as someone else buys it and not me,” Droppo says, giving his take on the attitude of consumers who make low price a priority.
The Apparel Human Resources Council, an industry-led group, complained of “price deflation” in a 2011 report.
The Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh focused attention, however briefly, on the working conditions behind the low-cost market. It pushed companies like Loblaw Cos. Ltd., which had some of its Joe Fresh line made at the plaza, to adopt a plan for safe factories.
Prof. Marsha Dickson, co-director of the Sustainable Apparel Initiative at the University of Delaware, is skeptical. Western companies have been auditing their overseas contractors for the past 15 years and it hasn’t made a difference, she says. Better safety and working conditions mean higher production costs. Which buyer will be the first to accept that?
“The pressure on prices has not made it feasible for the manufacturers to truly change what they’re doing,” says Dickson, also a director of the Fair Labor Association, an NGO formed by former U.S. president Bill Clinton to improve working conditions for apparel workers.
Purchase orders found in the Rana Plaza rubble indicate the Spanish chain Mango was paying $4.45 (U.S.) for the making of a shirt that it sold at its branded stores in Britain for $40 to $46. (The minimum wage for the lowest skilled in Bangladesh’s clothing industry is $38 a month. The average salary, according to business owners interviewed by Reuters, is $64 a month.)
Western retailers and importers are also reluctant to commit to more than one purchase order at a time. Why would a manufacturer in Bangladesh upgrade his factory and improve working conditions, Dickson asks, if the buyer might go elsewhere for the next order?
Besides, Forsyth’s Morante claims some western importers use so many manufacturers, “I’m not sure they even know where their product is being produced. It’s just so big. The volumes are huge.” Two years ago, he visited a factory in Bangladesh making 500,000 shorts for Swedish retail giant H&M.
In Canada, it has become fashionable to bid good riddance to low-skilled, low-paying jobs, even as they grow in the non-unionized service sector. The future, some economists insist, is in highly skilled work and, in the Canadian-made garment industry, niche products at a higher price point — Canada Goose jackets is the often cited example.
But Berger warns of a tipping point. She co-chaired an MIT project that examined the difficulties 246 mostly American companies faced in bringing a product they invented to market.
Her team published a preliminary report in February that warned years of outsourcing and corporate downsizing had created “holes in the (U.S.) industrial ecosystem.”
“We saw reasons to fear that the loss of companies that can make things will end up in the loss of research that can invent them,” the report says.
Lost is the learning that happens when engineers who design a product interact with factory technicians trying to mass produce it. The problem solving at that point is the source for future innovations and higher profits.
With fewer big manufacturers, cutting-edge research is more likely to happen in small startups and university labs. But they lack the resources to scale up and bring their innovations to market. It also means fewer workers being trained and a smaller skilled labour pool for startups to tap.
Governments should fill the gaps, but as local manufacturing decreases there are fewer players with the clout to pressure them. Berger’s team visited local manufacturers with “little beyond their own internal resources to draw on when they seek to develop new projects. They’re ‘home alone,’” her report says.
In Canada’s apparel factories, the tipping point is most obvious in the large number of workers nearing retirement.
“The industry will require 6,200 to 7,600 production workers over the next several years, for which there is virtually no supply,” the Apparel Human Resources Council says in its 2011 report.
“Furthermore, most companies currently do not have the resources or processes in place to properly train personnel . . . This could make it difficult for companies to simply maintain their current levels of domestic production.”
Even Canada’s successful garment-making companies, in other words, face a tough future.
Montreal-basedSecond Denim Co., which does all of its manufacturing in Canada, is a fast-growing company.
“Fashion changes faster and faster and our biggest edge is being able to react very quickly compared to clothes being made anywhere else in the world,” says Second Denim’s 40-year-old co-owner, Eric Wazana.
The company designs and manufactures stylish denim slacks, jackets and dresses, including the popular yoga jean — cotton, polyester and spandex blends that “feel like a Second skin,” according to the company website. The clothes retail from $120 to $189.
In 2011, brightly coloured jeans “became a phenomenon overnight.” Wazana quickly shifted production and stocked the 1,000 retailers who buy his clothes with colours like icy blue, peppermint, tangerine and watermelon.
“I had coloured jeans in all of my retailer stores almost nine months before the big boys could start getting some stuff,” Wazana says, referring to big-name retailers that import from Southeast Asia or China. “A lot of people missed out on that big wave. We caught it, and the retailers who work with us got the full benefit.”
The same happened when ankle-length jeans took off. If retailers detect a trend and want to change an order to ride it — flare jeans to skinny ones, for example — Second Denim obliges. If one wants to test the waters with a small order, that’s fine, too.
Retailers that exclusively rely on huge orders made overseas can’t be that flexible. When they miss a trend, big stocks get discounted and expected profit margins drop.
Growing up, Wazana watched his mother, a seamstress, repeatedly lose her job as factories closed down. He graduated as an accountant and worked in clothing stores, where he saw customers frustrated by the limited choice in denim wear. In 2000, he co-founded Second Denim.
For years, it had 20 employees and subcontracted manufacturing to a company in Quebec. One day, the factory shut down, after giving Wazana six months’ notice.
He travelled to China to check out what outsourcing had to offer. “There was so much more profit to be made, so much more,” Wazana says, noting the lower labour costs. But there was a catch.
“What you see is supposed to be the best and even the best there wasn’t good enough for me,” he says. “The conditions, the way people are treated — there’s no respect for workers in some of these places.”
He went back to Quebec and, two years ago, bought a recently shut garment factory in Saint-Côme-Linière, a town of 3,000 people east of Montreal.
“People in the town thought we were completely crazy,” Wazana says in a phone interview. “They were like, ‘The other guys had 30 years’ experience in the business and they failed. What makes you, little punk from Montreal, think you’re going to succeed?’”
Second Denim now has 120 full-time employees, 80 of them hired last year. Finding enough skilled people to do the work was difficult and most had to be trained. The lowest salary is $11 an hour, with benefits.
“If I wanted to start importing, we could make a lot of money very quickly,” Wazana says. “But that’s not what we’re about. We’re about keeping the jobs here and making things happen. In 10 years the rewards are going to be huge.”
Wazana won’t divulge sales volume but says his company has grown by “double digits” annually for the last seven years. He’s now focused on making Second an international brand — the kind of success he acknowledges might force him to outsource some production. Canada doesn’t have the trained workers or facilities to make that happen.
“Unfortunately, the governments have left the (garment) infrastructure of Canada completely dismantled,” he says.
Wazana made his choice, just like governments, consumers and other companies must make theirs.
Air Canada stumbles on fashion runway
From Tuesday’s Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, Sep. 13 2005, 5:30 AM EDT
Last updated Wednesday, Apr. 08 2009, 12:41 AM EDT
Air Canada management and employees are accustomed to sparring over key issues from wages to pensions, but the latest fight in their rocky relationship features union leaders accusing the airline of committing a fashion faux pas with new uniforms.
The two sides are embroiled in a spat that will delay the launch of redesigned uniforms, first unveiled 11 months ago by pop diva Celine Dion in a makeover intended to usher in a new era for the airline.
The unions are concerned about everything from leather belts (“too casual”) to sweaters (“revealing undergarment contours” and “far too clingy”) to jacket armholes (“too small”) to pant pockets (“placed too high”) to dress design (“matronly”).
Air Canada managers are pondering their next step.
The executives have received a list of complaints from the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), representing 7,000 flight attendants, and the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), representing 2,900 airport counter staff.
“We know it is impossible to have uniform components that suit all body types and sizes,” union leaders said in a letter to Air Canada management. “Should the company pursue the ‘clinging’ sweater set, we know for certain that this optional component will be worn by some employees who will not suit it. This will, thereby, project a poor branding image that Air Canada will not want to project.”
The Montreal-based airline, approaching the first anniversary of its emergence from bankruptcy protection, had hoped that its front-line staff would be outfitted by the end of this year.
“It is also unfortunate that because our concerns had not been properly addressed and/or dismissed, this has resulted in further delaying the original timetable of this important project,” union leaders wrote in their Sept. 7 letter.
The unions argue that the uniforms are prone to wrinkle too easily and that the Lycra spandex in blouses and shirts retains odours. The litany of complaints means the new look likely won’t be in place until next March, assuming a second phase of “wear-testing” trials by select employees goes smoothly.
“We are still tracking toward our planned implementation date of the first quarter of 2006,” airline spokeswoman Laura Cooke said yesterday.
Earlier this year, a wildcat strike to protest Air Canada’s disciplinary letters at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport grounded dozens of flights. This latest wrangling over new uniforms shows that far from long-lasting labour peace after restructuring under bankruptcy protection, there’s a tenuous truce, said Isabelle Dostaler, director of the international aviation MBA program at Concordia University.
“There are therapists for marriages, so maybe there needs to be corporate counselling at Air Canada,” Prof. Dostaler said.
CUPE and the CAW say it isn’t just the apparel’s design that’s troubling, but also the quality, durability, safety and cost of the uniforms.
Montreal fashion designer Debbie Shuchat, who created the prototype for Ms. Dion, and apparel company VF Imagewear have resolved some of the issues in a joint management-union “uniform working committee.”
Last October, Ms. Dion performed in front of Air Canada employees in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, belting out a three-song set as she wore the “midnight blue” uniform with “silver sky” lining.
Air Canada emerged from bankruptcy protection on Sept. 30, 2004, and it hoped that Ms. Dion’s appearance and the new uniform would help boost employee morale and win over customers. Management insists that through the uniform working committee, employees have had a wide range of input from the beginning.
CUPE and the CAW say they pushed for uniforms containing “100 per cent wool fabric” from the start, but management insisted on testing suits that include a mix of wool, polyester and spandex.
As well, in the testing of jackets for women and men, female employees didn’t like the lining sagging in their design while male workers complained about the lining being too short in their version, making the jacket ride up.
“Regretfully, at the eleventh hour, we are now faced with a major problem as to how to launch the new uniform without incurring additional delays and costs, from not having addressed this issue in a timely manner,” said the Sept. 7 letter signed by two CUPE and two CAW officials.
CENTER RIGHT, TROUT
After 20 years at the helm of his label, David Dixon looks to the future
By Lauren La Rose, The Canadian Press March 19, 2015
“…what keeps me going is that I’m part of a memory base for someone else’s life”
MISSISSAUGA, Ont. – David Dixon has been a mainstay on the homegrown fashion scene for two decades, but after debuting his bridal wear line for Kleinfeld Hudson’s Bay last spring, the state of the world away from the runway led him to take a season off.
“I was being inundated visually by horrific things that are happening in the world, and it just became so much noise,” he recalled recently at his office west of Toronto.
“I guess I went through like a mid-life fashion crisis where I thought: ‘How do I justify doing what I do in a world that needs so much more than just clothes?’ I struggled with that a little bit in terms of: ‘How do I fit in?'”
It wouldn’t take long for Dixon to find the answer.
It came in the form of emails from clients telling him how they valued his creations during landmark moments in their lives. One woman thanked him for creating the dress she wore for her wedding in the Bahamas. Another said her day was made when she sported ruby-red slippers designed by Dixon for Town Shoes for her graduation.
“I was doing my small part in the sense of making people feel better about themselves, feeling confident and sharing that special moment with them — even though I’m not there with them. And then I thought: ‘Oh, that’s a good thing to do.’
“That’s become what keeps me going is that I’m part of a memory base for someone else’s life — and hopefully that’s a good thing and hopefully they’re good memories. That’s part of my telling my story.”
Dixon is preparing to mark a special milestone of his own as he returns to Toronto’s World MasterCard Fashion Week on Tuesday.
The womenswear designer renowned for his chic, feminine creations and elegant eveningwear will unveil his fall-winter collection while celebrating the 20th anniversary of his label.
In addition to his signature line, bridal wear and shoe collections, he was approached by Mattel in 2009 to create the adult women’s line “Barbie by David Dixon” to commemorate the iconic doll’s golden anniversary. He also teamed with Sears Canada to create a special collection of little black dresses.
“At times people ask me: ‘How do you stay so relevant?’ or ‘How do you keep it going?’ And a lot of the time, it’s building relationships with people that you have.
“I think listening to what people are seeing and listening to what’s happening in culture — I think that’s an extremely important value as a designer.”
While his creations have been sold in the U.S. and internationally, the Toronto-born Dixon hasn’t followed the path of other homegrown labels who have established their brands overseas, opting instead to nurture his design roots within Canada.
“I’ve travelled quite a bit, and it’s always nice to come back,” said Dixon.
“The advantage of being here is we produce everything in Canada. We have tried producing overseas, but it just didn’t feel the same. The connection wasn’t there to the clothing.
“The disadvantages of being Canadian is that we are a small community. We’re a big country and a small number of people, so going outside of that is really important in terms of … bringing the dresses to different markets — and that’s been a slow and steady process.”
As he enters his third decade at the helm of his label, Dixon said he wants to take on more, including helping expand the marketplace to ensure clothing is available at many levels.
“For me, it’s just exploring and telling stories again … keeping it fresh, and just keeping doing my thing.”
Behind the Business: Fashion Designer Nicole Bridger
Posted by: Jesse Wallace September 2, 2014
From a young age, Nicole Bridger made her own clothes. She had a knack for sewing, and growing up in the free-spirited Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano, she was predisposed to becoming a creator, rather than a consumer. But in a romantic twist, it was her first love that set in a motion the series of collaborations that would land Nicole at the head of her eponymous design label.
We interviewed the namesake and founder of Nicole Bridger Designs – a Vancouver based women’s fashion label dedicated to sustainability – and spoke about the amazing people she met early on in her career and the steps she takes to drive her company forward while maintaining respect for the earth and her people.
As early as Grade 7, Nicole Bridger was into sewing. She would make her own clothes and it seemed like a perfectly straightforward thing for any Grade 7 kid to do. Even still, it didn’t occur to Nicole that sewing dresses could become a career. But then along came a boy.
“My very first love was named Adrian, and his dad is John Fluevog. John was like a second father to me for 4 years – I’m still very close to all of them.”
Being around them turned the lightbulb on for me: it’s possible to do what you love and make a career out of it.
John Fluevog, of course, is arguably Canada’s most famous shoe designer, certainly one of the most successful and definitely the most unique. It would be impossible not to be inspired.
“Yeah, so from age 16 on, I was like, ‘Okay, this is what I want to do. So how do I do that? Where do I learn that and who do I learn that from?‘ So then I discovered there were schools that taught fashion design.”
At the time, Toronto’s Ryerson University was the place to be for design, so Nicole headed East. It was while in her early days as a fashion student that Nicole got the opportunity to work with another icon in the industry.
“I was accepted to go into an exchange program to London, England and I really wanted to go because I adored Vivienne Westwood and I really respected her and wanted a chance to intern there.”
Nicole landed the internship and began a period of intense education – on a variety of levels.
I learned the art of draping fabric, which was incredible. And you can see that now in my own work although much more toned down. I wondered, though, personally, if I’d have to sell my soul to work in the industry – because I’m not a fashionista at all, I’m very down to earth. But I saw, through Vivienne, that it was possible to be whoever you are and still be in this industry.”
It was while working with Ms. Westwood that Nicole developed her own ideas on what kind of fashion company she wanted to create.
“I love making clothes, but ever since I was a kid I’ve had the feeling that I wanted to be doing something with my limited time on the earth that was going to create positive change. Vivienne uses her clothes as a vehicle for the messages that she wants to get out there, which I thought was cool. So I was piecing it together – I knew that I wanted my own company and that I wanted retail stores – but I also saw her going through her second bankruptcy, so I realized that it’s awesome to be a creative genius – which she is – but if I don’t know business, I’m going to go bankrupt and not help anybody.”
Upon her return to Canada and the completion of her formal education, Nicole set about leaning the business end of things. Cue her third amazing collaboration.
“I knew I wanted to live in Vancouver and I’d worked some summers for Chip Wilson at Lululemon back when it was very small, so I went to him for advice. He’s a true entrepreneur, he’s always got new ideas, seeing markets before they happen. So as we talked he asked me to help him start a new label. I told him my goal was to start my own company, so I’ll stay for a year, but then I wanted to do my own thing.”
Nicole ended up working with Chip for two years and together they launched Oqoqo, the Lululemon eco-wear line, which was a perfect fit.
“It’s just been ingrained in me to be considerate of the earth and the people on it.”
Almost 10 years later, the ideas that Chip and Nicole baked into Oqoqo – organic, sustainable, natural fibers – are no longer radical or ground-breaking, but de rigueur. And they’re ideas that, of course, Nicole considers central to the Nicole Bridger Designs ethos. Indeed, in 2010, just before she opened the retail location, Nicole was awarded Canada’s Eco Designer of the Year.
“For two years before we opened the store I was wholesaling to other stores and one of the hardest things about that was sourcing sustainable fabrics. And not only sustainable but aesthetically pleasing and available in the quantity I needed. The fabrics come from all over the world – Turkey, India, China, Italy, Portugal – and it’s getting easier, but it’s still tricky.”
Nicole Bridger Designs remains steadfastly devoted to principles of sustainability, and especially in light of the recent tragedies in Bangladesh’s garment manufacturing industry, they rely on international organizations for certification.
“10 or 15 years ago, things were really questionable in the mills of China and now you can really see the progression. We’re hopeful that places like Cambodia and Bangladesh are next to evolve.”
But while many companies are bringing manufacturing back from overseas, Nicole doesn’t believe that local manufacturing is the one and only solution.
I believe that our borders are imaginary and that we’re one planet.
“I think it’s our responsibility to help other countries with our stronger economy, which is why I like using our Fair Trade factory in Nepal because I know that it’s done in a way that I can feel good about and it’s promoting a better life for those people.”
In the rush of emotion following the collapse of the factory in Savar, Bangladesh, many thought the right course of action was to boycott companies that used the cheap labour. Nicole believes that’s the wrong approach.
“It’s almost unfathomable how little those people have. But instead of pulling away, and leaving them with nothing, we should be doing it better. We need to invest more, because they’re very skilled people. Skilled sewers are hard to come by.”
It’s why Nicole enjoys owning the factory where the majority of her clothing is made.
“Our factory is mostly Cantonese speaking, having come here from the factories in Hong Kong, and they come here hoping to continue working in the industry they’ve been trained in. For me, owning the factory is great because I know exactly how many hours everyone’s worked, how much they’re getting paid and how they’re being treated. I can control that, and as the company grows, we can just give them more and more. Benefits, profit-sharing. All those goals are achievable.”
Nicole spends as much time as she can in the retail store, connecting with clients, maintaining her awareness of what’s important to them, instilling in herself what she believes they want, so that she can continue to realize these needs in her designs.
But even though the store is just down the block from the original Lululemon and Oqoqo locations, Nicole Bridger Designs is not another yoga pants company.
“I was born and raised here, so the design and function, the aesthetic of the clothes, is very much West Coast. For me, it’s clean, it’s high-end, but it’s not pretentious. It’s comfortable, sure, but elegant. But the inspiration comes from whatever life lesson I’m learning at the time. I’ll have a certain mood which will dictate the colour palette, which will also dictate certain shapes and structures.”
“Clothing is like art. When you look at it, it draws a certain emotion and not just for the observer but also for the wearer. For me, what’s really important is that someone feels truly like them self when they’re wearing clothes, whatever that looks like. When you feel connected to yourself, you have more to offer. It’s much more significant than sporting an expensive label.”
Nicole Bridger clothing is available in stores across Canada and in the US. The flagship location is at 2151 West 4th Ave. in Vancouver, BC. Her collections are also available online at nicolebridger.com