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Canada’s garment industry suffers as investments, skills in the sector dwindle


Why isnt more clothing made in Canada

Canada is stuck in a strange predicament. As per a recent survey, post pandemic, the country has witnessed renewed demand for locally made goods. Yet, shopping for local products in the country has become more challenging, says a report by Macleans. As per a 2019 report, most clothing purchased in Canada is imported from China, Bangladesh and Vietnam. Though, brands including Roots, Lululemon and Joe Fresh design their clothing in Canada, majority is manufactured elsewhere.

Throughout the ’70s and ’80s, Canada was home to a vibrant and thriving clothing industry, with homegrown designers like Simon Chang, Leo Chevalier, Pat McDonagh and Vivian Shyu ruling the ramp. The garment and textile industries combined employed 200,000 Canadian citizens. The industry continued to flourish till 1990s, when a whopping 70 percent of the country’s local demand for textile and clothing products was satisfied by demand production.

NAFTA, quota elimination mar export growth

However, Canada’s joining of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 1994, put a brake on its growing exports. The agreement eliminated tariffs on most goods circulating among Canada, the United States and Mexico, thus making it cheaper to buy many foreign-made items, including clothing.

In 2001, China joined the WTO giving consumers greater access to less expensive Chinese goods. Further in 2005, the Canadian government made apparel imports duty-free. This led to an explosion in fast fashion imports with T-shirts being available for as low as $15. Bob Kirke, Executive Director, Canadian Apparel Federation believes, elimination of these export quotas proved to be the single biggest blow to the Canadian garment industry.

Production weakens as investments decline

Canadian garment industry has also had to grapple with declining investments. Funded by Imperial Tobacco, Matinée Fashion Foundation had invested over $7 million in the industry before the federal government banned cigarette companies from advertising their products.

This fall in investment with sudden proliferation of less expensive foreign-made clothes weakened the apparel-manufacturing industry to an extent that made it unable to compete with foreign made goods. However, one area where Canada continues to flourish is production of high-quality knits, like French terry and fleece. Encouraged by this, Julie Brown and Jeremy Watt, the co-founders of Province of Canada, decided to launch their brand in 2014. They started by sourcing the logo on their made-in-Canada jogging pants and sweatshirts from a family-owned Canadian factory. They later started sending their own designs to the factory to produce. Now, they plan to produce button-down denim shirts.

Though the shop-local movement has gained momentum in Canada, it hardly signals a new era of revitalization for the Canadian garment manufacturing in the country, says Bob Kirk, Executive Director, Canadian Apparel Federation. He is aware of the fact that the better-quality, less-expensive fabric and production can again lure consumers to overseas brands.

Skill and fund shortage

The Canadian apparel industry also faces another obstacle in the form of aging workforce. The country lacks a skilled workforce to replace its aging professionals. Sewing is no longer considered a skill in the country with most youngsters opting for designing rather sewing. There are also no schools to train young Canadians in industrial production.

The only way the falling Canadian garment manufacturing industry can be uplifted is by government intervention. The Canadian fashion industry has been lobbying the federal government for more funds but has received none so far. The only recent funding received by the fashion industry from the federal government is the $600,000 to be granted through the Quebec Economic Development Program over the next three years.

Currently, there appear to be no solutions for the Canadian garment industry’s present dilemma. Yet, the limitless opportunities offered by the sector cannot be ignored.