Kathleen passed along an interesting article about Canadian fashion designer Philippe Dubuc. If you’re not a Canadian Fashion nerd you may never have heard of Dubuc, who has been in business for 13 years, putting on fashion shows and dressing dignitaries, achieving sales of $3 million – and struggling to the bitter end last month when the label went bankrupt.
The story touches on a number of sticky issues for Canadian apparel companies. The perennial failed-fashion-business whine about government support is there. On one hand, there are a number of grants and subsidies available for fashion designers. Perhaps there is no private venture capitalists beating down the doors on our “sunset industry” – but the government certainly can’t be accused of being tightfisted. On the other hand policy initiatives from the Canadian Government present a paradox for Canadian industry.
Dubuc previously based his cut-and-sew operations in Montreal. Being close to the source is a great advantage especially for high-end designers like Dubuc – smaller runs, closer proximity to oversee production issues, and faster turnover should mean domestic sourcing makes sense. Ideally a designer wants to form a partnership with their contracters – Hilary Radley is cited in the article as a successful example. Dubuc had no reciprocal partnership though – the article hints that they paid their contracters up front. Certainly there must be issues behind the scenes that a short article can’t elaborate on – still, perhaps some sort of government facilitation for forming partnerships between designers like Dubuc (as a winner of Canadian Fashion Designer of the Year he’s not an unknown quantity) and the struggling Canadian manufacturing sector would be beneficial for the Canadian industry in general.
Instead, the policy tactic from the Canadian government has been to eliminate
tariffs quotas on imports of clothing… and more recently textiles (which I’ll talk about on another post). This is supposed to encourage the white-collar design industry by making it cheaper to become an importer. Essentially selling out tens of thousands of middle-class jobs (apparel is still Montreal’s biggest employer) for a few executive and design positions. Will Canadian fashion enjoy a renaissance under such conditions?
Sometimes I wonder if it’s just a romantic notion but it seems to me that a strong industry supports every level of the production chain – not just the top. Countries that experience design renaissances (Italy, Japan) are supported by close partnerships between designers and production and active facilitation of the government. Innovation struggles when oceans and language barriers keep design and production apart. Depending on the logistical infrastructure of globalization is not a sustainable long-term option.
In my humble opinion, financial aid to designers and decreased tariffs mean very little in terms of Canadian fashion identity – and therefore won’t instigate the hoped-for design renaissance. Canada still won’t acknowledge the truth – Canadians don’t care about fashion design and that’s the way it should be. Internationally we are acknowledged for our outdoor clothing, our workwear, and a rugged, unfashionable aesthetic. As long as we award Designer of the year to quiet, serious, tasteful (yawn) designers like Dubuc and David Dixon, we ignore success stories in apparel like Tilley, Canada Goose, and Dickies – labels which have greater international recognition than any designer in the insulated, obscure Canadian Fashion industry. Tellingly, part of the success story of each of these labels is due to domestic manufacturing. And unlike Dubuc, no taxpayers money was wasted on expensive international fashion shows.
Dubuc’s new venture is designing for a Quebec retailer… more inexpensive clothing, which will be imported from Turkey. Whether this is the first step out of Canadian fashion obscurity remains to be seen. Let’s watch.