Made in Montreal
challenges and opportunities
Roughly 50 years ago, Montreal’s apparel sector was booming like never before. If you’ve lived through the 70’s, the expression ‘’la cité de la mode’’ (french for the garment district) probably brings up memories of fabric stocks and sewing machines. Indeed, our well known Chabanel street was home of local textile manufacturers and garment makers. Sadly, around the 1990’s, the emergence of globalisation and the low cost of labor made outsourcing to Asia much more appealing for companies, causing around 70 000 workers to lose their jobs and an entire industry to crash.
On the bright side, in the past few year the city has been assisting in the re-glorification of ‘’locally made’’ fashion. Incidentally, the Montreal fashion scene seems to be slowly picking up. In order to discuss this situation, on February 22 I headed to Wework in Place Ville-Marie to attend my third Ecosession. A panel of professionals were present to discuss opportunities and challenges the fashion industry is currently facing.
Andréanne Courchesne, Co-founder of Fibres Collectives led the conversation along with Roberto De Palma, General Director at Stroma confections, Jennifer Glasgow and Dan Lacroix of Jennifer Glasgow design. Having different roles in the industry, they all brought interesting points on matters that needed enlightenment.
What the struggles of a Montreal based DESIGNER look like
Finding manufacturers/human resources was one of Glasgow’s biggest challenges. Now finding manufacturers is one challenge but finding people that have the right expertise is another. The designer seems to be facing a few bumps on the road when trying to find skilled labour. The reason, I believe, is that we’ve been outsourcing our production with underdeveloped countries for so long that making garments is not our strength anymore. While China has been getting all the work, it gave them the ability to develop the techniques and the technology required to undertake more complex styles.
WIth the customer’s interest in mind, there is an obvious struggle in convincing them to buy more expensive clothing. On this point, Dan Lacroix stated that “When a client sees the same dress for 200$ vs 70$ she’s not willing to pay”. On the same note, De Palma thinks that customers have lost the ability to properly evaluate the quality of a garment. Needless to say, educating consumers would be the key since there are multiple criterias to factor in when assessing the quality of a garment.
The reasons and motivations behind keeping it local
Dan Lacroix mentioned that local sourcing and development helps sustain a strong local microeconomy.This means that on the long run, we are not only helping to feed our own family but also our neighbour or a close friend and their family. By contributing to the local industry we are also giving your money to companies who guarantee fair working conditions. Personally, I’m a firm believer that micro-economies are part of the solution for a more sustainable world.
According to Lacroix, Jennifer Glasgow Design is mainly successful because the brand is made in Montreal. If you take tourists, for example, they’re specifically looking for something made locally to bring back home. I completely agree since I myself am always on the lookout for locally made items when travelling, more precisely handmade jewelry (it’s kind of my thing). He also added to beware of fraudulent ‘’Made in Canada’’ marketed products – make sure to read the labels to get proof of origin.
Let me just put it like this : miscommunication is the main source of most issues at work or in life in general. Having to deal with a lot of people in different departments while rushing to get everything done the same day and being interrupted all the time, results in having information slip through the cracks. Now imagine that you’re outsourcing your production and you have to deal with a country located on the other side of the planet and your only tool of communication is email. First comes the language barrier, then comes the challenge of different time zones. If you’re dealing with China for example, there’s a 12 hour time difference. This means that for every email you send, you have to wait an entire day to get an answer. This reality makes dealing with issues much harder, especially since you have no real control of what’s going on on the other side. Sometimes you just choose to close your eyes and trust your partner. On the other hand, sourcing and developing locally helps avoid miscommunication and shortens lead time. When distance is short, your partners are easily reachable, problem solving is more efficient and deliverables are completed faster.
What the struggles of a Montreal based MANUFACTURER look like
De Palma stressed the fact that it wasn’t easy to find workers to fulfill the high demand of the manufacturing job in Montreal. Cutters, patternmakers and sewers do not seem to be part of the trending career paths nowadays. But why is it the case? I think that it’s a vicious circle. When companies started outsourcing, the demand for this type of job decreased. Where there are no jobs, there are not enough people willing to study in the field. It totally makes sense; why would you spend years of studying something you are not guaranteed a job in? I don’t think that it’s a matter of it not being appealing. On the contrary, the sewer is the real artisan behind the garment. They should definitely be getting more credit for their work and this is another mentality shift that needs to happen. De Palma added by saying that most of his workers are immigrants. If it wasn’t for them, it wouldn’t have been possible to sustain his company. Did you hear this Mr.Trump? According to Stroma’s director, a part of the solution is to re-think our way of working. He believes that Montreal is too segmented and that we need to shift to a collaborative way of working.
Lastly, his message to the younger generation was “ There is a demand, there are opportunities’’ . Indeed, Montreal needs people who are willing to help regain the skills and specializations we have lost throughout the years. There’s plentiful of talent but we need the human resources to ensure it’s success. How wonderful it would be if Montreal became one of the top fashion cities in the world again!