May 21st, 2016
Not all hope lost for independent Canadian design and manufacture.
Outfit: Stripped high-low dress worn under black dress. Belted with grey skinny belt. Watermelon wedge sandals.
I believe right now I think we are at a turning point. Either we completely get rid of all manufacture and give up that industry to be fully dependent on other countries for a commodity that is a basic need or we reinvent the way we’ve been doing things and start to adopt a new standard.
What do I mean by all of that? Well, if having garments made in Canada is going to be so brutally difficult that it makes is impossible to for independent designers to produce their lines here, then we may have to simply give up the idea of having a manufacturing sector all together. This is not too far from reality already, as I’ve outlined in my previous blogs. Some people say this is just the way things need to go, that it is part of progress, to move from a developing society to a manufacturing one, to a one that only deals in research and development or other higher end jobs. But here’s what I don’t understand -and I am no economist, trust me, so it is not surprising that this goes a bit over my head- how is it, in a country’s best interest to completely annihilate a whole sector that would provide a basic need (such as clothing)? What happens if nobody in that country is trained to do such a job and suddenly tariffs change or politics get involved and we lose all suppliers of such goods? I know this sounds a bit apocalyptic, but it has happened before! Just ask a veteran about the clothing restrictions during World War II. The difference now is that most people can’t make their own clothing. I’ve been told that I’d be in high demand during a zombie apocalypse because I can sew clothing and cut hair –I’m set.
So if we do not want to completely deplete our society of design and creative innovators, but we cannot compete with the low-wage countries prices, then how do we keep this industry going? Well, it comes down to uniqueness. A few years ago, I read a study prepared by Richter Consulting for the the government of Canada in 2004, called “The Canadian Apparel Industry: The shape of the future”, it outlines the changes happening at the time in importing and tariffs, in it the writers predict a serious decline in the manufacturing sector if everyone ran to the orient based only on price advantages. It is almost eerie to read such a paper 12 years later and see just how accurate they were.
However, one of the points they raised on how Canadian designers could stay ahead, was to provide products with innovation (pg 40). This translates into amazing design features, new technical advances in design or fabrication, and uniqueness. The forum encouraged designers to be outside the box thinkers, to provide the public with pieces that were independent by design or function. This kind of thinking correlates with the sustainability model, where a new type of value is placed on the product other than the lowest price. Value in this case is placed on longevity due to quality of construction and fabric, or value placed on investing in pieces that are friendly to the environment, or value based on knowing that investing in such pieces contribute on a larger scale towards the local economy.
So as consumers we need to realize that the cost of making clothing is not reflective of the actual value of it. Once the consumer changes its own view on what value is, then we can begin to have a new standard of across the board. Only then will it be ‘fair’ for those who are trying to compete in a market that has brought everything down to the bottom dollar. But we will not be competing with the bottom feeders of the industry because our product will be set at a different standard, a standard that upholds values that cannot be measured by price alone.