Oh, Canadian fashion, how do we define you? What does it mean to be ‘Made in Canada’? And what is it really like to work in the fashion industry now that we’re having “a moment in the sun”? That high praise came from a New York Times article about this year’s Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards—the gala’s biggest iteration to date. And the NYT story was followed by an even more glowing Business of Fashion piece that referred to our homegrown talent as “visionaries.”
With this newfound spotlight in mind and a few days before we celebrate the country’s 150th, FLARE asked some of the most prominent Canadians working in fashion—both at home and internationally, or, more commonly, some combination of both—about what it’s like to make a living in the industry, what the rest of the fashion world thinks of Canada, and whether homegrown talent needs to move abroad to truly make it.
Click through the slideshow to find out why living in Canada is the only option for fashion bloggers Samantha and Cailli Beckerman (“When people hear we are Canadian, we get hugs!”) and why a “superstar salary” made celeb hairstylist Harry Josh leave Vancouver for New York.
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Byron and Dexter Peart
Co-Founders, WANT Les Essentiels
Hail from: Ottawa
Home base: “Our head office is in Montreal. We have our stores in New York and there’s a lot of opportunity there, so I formally moved there three months ago, but we’ve had offices there for 17 years. Now I’m splitting my time between New York and Montreal, with primary residence here in New York.” —Byron
Byron and Dexter’s assessment: “Over the last couple of years, there’s been a special effort, especially with the introduction of CAFA, to have Canadian fashion coalesce around a common goal and build stronger networks. In the past, with fashion weeks in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, it was very fragmented and disorganized and unclear when it came to trying to create a narrative around Canadian-based design and fashion. For the most part, a lot of Canada-based talent—and there has been a lot—have chosen to leave the country. But now it seems like there’s talent that sees an opportunity to build companies here—top of mind would be Ssense, Frank & Oak, and hopefully us as well.” —Dexter
Basing themselves in Canada has been an advantage rather than a handicap: “For the past 17 years, we’ve found that living and working in Montreal isn’t a major barrier to our business. Quite the contrary: there’s a lot of great young talent here. But ours isn’t a company that singularly looks at the Canadian market. From the outset, we were looking at the global market to find our customers.” —Dexter
….but New York is the second base their business needs: “From the get-go, we felt that New York and Montreal were actually quite close and there was a lot of synergies between the two cities. It’s easy to go between—when we first started the business we’d drive with our families—and it felt like it was as easy to do as going to Toronto. The one big difference between New York and Montreal is the amount of people and relationship building opportunities. That said, going back to Montreal and having the business rooted here does give it a high level of grounding and consistency. The downside of being in an environment like New York, which is so fast-paced, is that it’s sometimes hard to find that balance.” —Byron
Made in Canada: “We absolutely present ourselves as being based in Canada; we always have. We’re very proud of that. The Canadian sensibility is literally and figuratively a halfway place between an American and a European sensibility. We feel that gives us a position of advantage. At the same time, when we think of great exports of Canada, whether music, television, film, or business, they’ve always had a global perspective, even if they were routed in a Canadian sensibility.” —Dexter
Why the country is suddenly in the spotlight: “Fashion in general wants to represent itself as change, inclusivity and youth, and right now Canada is projecting all of those things more than almost any country around the world. It feels like a modern conversation—when people are thinking about where fashion is going and who’s telling an interesting story, the Canadian lifestyle and idea feels very relevant right now, more than ever.” —Dexter
But if we want fashion to blossom, there’s a lot of work to do: “There’s no cultural conversation about design and fashion and its relevance in Canada. There has to be a heightened level of importance. At school, students should feel valued for being part of the design community. Maybe because we’re a nation of immigrants and our parents all wanted us to be doctors and lawyers, or now, in technology or finance, but when we look at other countries that have more advanced industries, it’s because they put a much higher regard, from a community and cultural standpoint, on design. That’s a big missing piece. It’s great that the New York Times is writing an article, but what goes on permanently to get Canadians funds and support? CAFA is a start, but I think there are many broader things to do.” —Byron
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This post is part of The Canada Project, a representative survey of Canadians from across the country. You can find out more right here.