What does it take to make it as a fashion brand in Canada?

When lil huddy After posting a photo of himself on Instagram wearing a pair of black suede Chelsea boots from Unknown Articles and showing them to his 12 million followers, the founders of the small Canadian footwear company were somewhat shocked. “We don’t really know how he found them,” says Cameron James, who helped found Toronto Unknown items with David Brown in 2019.

James and Brown say the 19-year-old singer and TikTok star must have discovered her rock-inspired leather shoes through a friend or stylist because they most certainly didn’t have it an influencer strategy in your budget.

Unknown item Boots. (Photo courtesy of Unknown Article)

Instead, the duo rely on enthusiastic Reddit forums, word of mouth, and a modest Instagram following to sell their boots. To further keep their overhead down, James and Brown also do much of the brand’s photography and website coding themselves. “We want to be as lean as possible and have a little extra cash on hand,” says James.

This frugality has helped her company almost survive the pandemic 60,000 Canadian businesses are closing their storefronts. Unknown Articles is one of several Canadian fashion startups employing a recipe of low-cost, mostly virtual marketing and sales strategies to hedge against the country’s long-underfunded fashion industry, which has been plagued by recent supply chain troubles, inflation and the like .was particularly pilloried expiration of some Government subsidies for pandemic relief. For many brands, social media and e-commerce are lifelines in a notoriously harsh landscape.

Canada’s underfunded fashion industry

James and Brown, both 25, work full-time jobs at other companies – in sales and finance respectively – to fund their business in the hope that one day it will become their main source of income. They have their work made for them: Canadian designers have long been questions for more support and financingand Outside from Quebecthey are still struggling to get provincial funding for other creative industries like music, art and film.

The lack of support has made it difficult to nurture native talent and has made it common practice for the best Canadian-born designers of this generation, such as Erdem Moralioglu or Aurora Jamesto move and hone their craft to places with a more developed fashion scene like London, Los Angeles or New York.

But it wasn’t always like that. In the 1970s and 1980s, Canada had a vibrant fashion and manufacturing scene, and much of the clothing worn by Canadians originated in Canada Spadina Avenue in Toronto or the denim factories in Winnipeg. While the majority of textile jobs were based in Quebec and Ontario, the industry had steady growth in the 1970s and early 1980s on par with the country’s manufacturing sector.

1974, the The Fashion Designers Association of Canada was formed in an effort to promote local designers and create awareness of the industry’s contributions to the Canadian economy. Designers like Alfred Sung, Linda Lundstrom, Simon Chang, Hilary Radley and Wayne Clark were household names.

Two models sit in a car for an advertisement for unknown items
An image from a campaign for unknown articles. (Photography: Unknown Item)

but recommendations by researchers for the Canadian Ministry to phase out the domestic textile and apparel industry engraved from the late 1970s. The logic was that Canada could not compete with the larger overseas textile mills that were steadily entering the market and that funding should be better directed to less competitive industries. Until 2003 Canada eliminated all tariffs from 48 developing countries, including Bangladesh and Cambodia, increasing the amount of cheap imported clothing. In In 2010, around 19,000 Canadians made clothing – a huge drop from that 94,260 employees in 2001. Domestic job losses had knock-on effects: show government data apparel industry sales totaled $2.3 billion in 2010, compared to $8 billion in 2002. About 95 percent of the clothing bought in Canada today is imported, according to government information.

Toronto Fashion Week, a biannual event and perhaps the largest recurring fashion exhibition in the country, was canceled indefinitely in 2020 after years of struggling to retain sponsors. At the same time, as in recent years, more and more designers are recognizing that a strong online presence is much more effective in increasing sales. “The goal is to get our business to a point where we don’t have to spend too much marketing our boots to make them sell,” says James.

How social media and e-commerce help designers

Social media has played a huge role in popularizing Canadian creators and has transformed the way celebrities and consumers alike discover brands. Designers from Toronto Kathryn Bowen was thrilled when she was recently contacted by a member of Kim Kardashian’s team after the beauty mogul spotted Bowen’s fishnet dresses on Instagram. Bowen was asked to do three custom dresses for Kardashian’s latest fragrance campaign — which the reality star recently teased in front of her 285 million Instagram followers — and she’s since signed deals with Nordstrom and Ssense. Another Canadian designer, Sid Neigum, supposedly sold out from his Purple laminated trench coat after Kylie Jenner posted it on Instagram and was photographed wear and tear it in public.

While Lil Huddy’s support has helped Unknown Articles, James and Brown say they are still feeling the pressure of the tight Canadian market as they build their business. The Unknown Articles boots come at a hefty price tag — a pair of lace-up boots from the first collection costs $625 — which limits the customer base. But their digital-first business model coupled with a growing appetite for local designers is a formula they hope will pay off. As a matter of fact, Research results from the State of Fashion 2022 by McKinsey & Company The report shows that more consumers around the world are interested in sustainability, knowing where their clothes are made and wanting to move away from well-known fast fashion retailers environmentally harmful practices. Many of these conscious consumers are also using “digital environments” such as social media and online storefronts to shop.

“People wanted something that represented Ontario and Canada”

Designers from Toronto Warren Steven Scott know this firsthand. Scott’s colorful acrylic earrings – contemporary Indigenous designs inspired by Salish motifs – have become a social media catnip since he began making the accessories four years ago. Scott, who is a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation whose territory is in what is now BC, went to Ryerson University for fashion design. But he soon realized that designing, producing and selling entire clothing collections was too high an overhead for a new designer. So he turned around.

He first showed his earrings at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto in 2018 and later hosted a pop-up sale at the Toronto storefront Comrags. He realized he was on to something when his first batch of product sold out within days. Scott began selling his creations online and promoting them on social media. Because they were easier and less time-consuming to make than clothing items, he could make more earrings as needed and send them through the mail quickly.

“What I’ve learned since launching is that the earrings really resonate customers, and it’s created that community of people both online and offline,” he says, giving an example of two people who struck up a conversation at a Vancouver coffee shop because they were both wearing his recognizable designs. “And if someone posts a selfie with the earrings on Instagram, we [often] send yourself a direct message and I’ll ask if I can repost the picture… Something that’s really helped my success is that I’ve stuck with a core product that’s accessible.”

A pair of Warren Steven Scott earrings. (Photo: Courtesy of Warren Steven Scott)

During the pandemic, when many people turned even more to supporting local businesses, Scott’s designs “really took off,” as reported Fashion brings itthanks to the power of the internet: US Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland wore a pair and countless everyday fans took to Instagram to share snaps of them in their accessories too. Through word of mouth, social media presence and profiles in international magazines such as Cosmopolitan and New York Magazinesales increased – mostly online.

Scott estimates his business is now 70 percent e-commerce and 30 percent wholesale; His designs are available in select boutiques, museum souvenir shops and even museums Simons. About a quarter of his online sales come from social media alone. Now that his business is growing he has moved to a larger work studio and has recently expanded into making clothes.

Shelby Johnston has also experienced the impact of social media in increasing her brand awareness. She was still a student at the University of Windsor when she and business partner Mallory Martin listened in Alex MacLean, the founder of East Coast Lifestyle, In 2016, in one of her courses, a presentation about his comfortable clothing line with a maritime theme. Realizing there was no equivalent in their home province, the two designed a black and white coat of arms, adorned it with six trees and five waves, and further wrote it “Best Case Ontario” and printed it on 25 hoodies. They were sold out within a few days. “People wanted something that represented Ontario and Canada,” says Johnston.

Best Case Ontario recently celebrated five years in business, and Johnston says their business strategy has changed significantly since 2016 adapt to the time. They used to rely primarily on pop-up shops, consignment contracts, and personal delivery to sell their clothes. When the pandemic complicated these ventures, they created one Online showcase which Johnston said boosted overall sales as cozy sweats and online shopping braced themselves for the pandemic.

Johnston says being digitally savvy has helped her company over the past 22 months and believes it will help guide her post-COVID. “You also have to be smart about your money,” she adds, “and refine your brand.”

Comments are closed.