Mmode fashion cluster gets rolling; board of directors in place
Well hello! Welcome to my new blog. It’s all about style with substance. As style editor for the Montreal Gazette for more than 15 years, I covered fashion, design, beauty and retail. Look for the same focus here, with insight, a critical eye and humour.
April 20, 2016 by Eva
One year later, we are sitting in another impressive sunlit atrium of another Montreal fashion force.
Again, fashion insiders – designers, manufacturers, executives, teachers and interested parties – are out in the hundreds to try to revive an industry in turmoil.
The occasion is the first annual meeting of the mmode “grappe,” or cluster, a Quebec-government mandated group to brand, build and innovate in the fashion sector.
(There are nine Quebec clusters in all, eight of them in Montreal, in industries from aerospace to health care.)
Four objectives were outlined from the beginning: to build a brand image of Montreal as a fashion city; workforce training; new technology investment and export market development.
On the agenda Tuesday, the election of eight board members, joining 10 voting members already in place as charter members or representing existing industry associations and schools.
This is progress: it took seven years to get the first meeting in place, last May at Aldo headquarters. It took only 11 months to bring the parties together at Dynamite headquarters this week.
In the 11 months, mmode reports progress has already been made:
* Debbie Zakaib has been appointed director general of the grappe. Charismatic and energetic, Zakaib has a background in fashion marketing, has worked in fashion promotion for Quebec, and is active on the contemporary art scene with the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. In a white lace top and white trousers, wearing the nude high-heeled pumps that signal fashion and power, Zakaib offered some bon mots from the podium: “Working together will be the magic of the grappe.” And “M (in mmode) is for mobilization, movement and metropolitan.”
After she was appointed in December, I asked Zakaib about her biggest challenge, and her response was politic: “One of the challenges, but I think it’s an opportunity, is to work with everybody in the industry,” she said. “It will be a challenge to be able to cover the interests of all the different partners and sectors in a positive way.”
* M is also for money, and funding is in place, with $381,000 from the public sector in each of the next three years, and $269,000 from the industry this year. With member fees, the organization states, the budget will be $600,000 to $800,000 each year for three years.
* Other initiatives already in place: a website and brand image created, fundraising and a job fair.
The mood in the atrium was upbeat on a late sunny afternoon. Spring was in the air, and a networking cocktail was in the wings, following voting, speeches, and a fascinating but speedy presentation by HEC former professor and retail guru Jacques Nantel on e-commerce. He sped through his talk, knowing full well that at 7 p.m. everybody was ready for some sustenance.
The speakers were upbeat, too, naturally. Uniform titan Louis Bibeau of Logistik Unicorp., always jovial, introduced fashion industry “kingpin” Elliot Lifson, vice-chairman of Peerless and president of the Canadian Apparel Federation. Dynamite chief Andrew Lutfy, in jeans and speaking in English, spoke of “change, change, change” and how the online revolution offers opportunities to smaller companies. He also said Dynamite was tripling the number of its design centres – to 60.
“It speaks to the will to want to change things and to want accomplish (things),’’ Lutfy said of the turnout of perhaps 300.
And Manon Gauthier, Montreal executive committee for culture, heritage, design, Espace pour la vie and the status of women, said Mayor Denis Coderre had the industry’s back, and that economic development happens through creativity.
“After so many years,’’ she said, “we’re all here. It’s no small task.”
She also signalled new momentum to be lent to Montreal’s five-year-old Bureau de la mode.
Will this work? Can the process move quickly enough to beat or at least match the pace of change we are now experiencing?
François Roberge, chief of La Vie en Rose, president of the mmode steering committee, and an initiator of the initiative, seems genuine in his motivation. He is putting in the effort so a fashion industry remains for future generations, he always says.
Privately, Roberge hinted there are more and bigger announcements and projects to come.
There is plenty at stake.
In 2012, the Quebec fashion industry employed about 28,000 people and was worth $7.6 billion in sales, according to Statistics Canada. That is down from 40,000 employees in 2004. Export figures are precipitous: in 2004, Quebec exported $1.6 billion worth of goods, more than 90 per cent to the U.S., dropping to $600 million in 2008 and $500 million in 2011.
So here are the new members of the mmode board of directors:
Marilyne Baril (Marigold) and Philippe Dubuc, representing designers.
Barry Bly (Lisette L.) and Serge Zagury (Gildan) repping manufacturers.
Leonard Gorski (Gorski Group) and François Lapierre (Claudelle) for wholesalers.
Danielle Charest (Marie Saint Pierre) and François Roberge (La Vie en Rose) for retailers.