In 2013, a dozen of Quebec’s fashion business leaders authored an impressive document, the Rapport du groupe de travail Mode & Vêtement. The goal? To increase the industry’s competitiveness and launch a series of concrete actions to help it survive one of the biggest setbacks in its history: the World Trade Organization’s 2005 abolition of textile import restrictions.
According to one of the group’s co-presidents, Peerless Clothing Vice-President Elliot Lifson, that report still accurately reflects the state of Quebec and Montreal’s fashion sector.
Historically production-focused, Quebec’s industry lost many of this sector’s jobs to China, which then became the world’s primary originator of goods. Yet Quebec was able to remain the main provincial player within the Canadian fashion market, with manufacturers’ annual revenue amounting to $8 billion, not including retail sales. Despite market shares falling by roughly 75%, Quebec also remains Canada’s main exporter.
Half of Canada’s fashion sector jobs are located in Quebec, and within the province, 70% of them are concentrated in Montreal, making the city North America’s third-largest clothing manufacturing employment market, after Los Angeles and New York. Approximately 21,000 of the province’s 30,000 clothing manufacturing and creation jobs in are based in Montreal; Canada’s main city for apparel, followed by Toronto and Vancouver. If retail were included, the sector would count 82,000 jobs (as of 2016).
The shake-ups faced by the Quebec industry in the 2000s led to major changes, mobilizing the industry to reorient itself towards new business models to stay competitive.
For example, industry players partially or totally outsourced their production in order to refocus on creation, product development, logistics and distribution. Several manufacturers today are wholesaler-distributors, a subsector that has continued to grow at a time when others are experiencing a business downturn.
Big provincial players like Gildan Activewear, Aldo and Peerless have looked to international markets to grow and achieve significant economies of scale. Numerous retailers, including La Vie en Rose, have hired large design teams to develop and sell their own exclusive collections, while on the other hand, Rudsak is an example of a manufacturers’ desire to own their own network of boutiques. Others still have created design or innovation niches, such as is the case with Maison Marie Saint Pierre or Harricana.
“The 2015 arrival of the Metropolitan Fashion Cluster gathered together various actors with collective goals and created a coordinated action to optimize industry growth and increase its ability to compete internationally,” explains Debbie Zakaib, Chief Executive of Mode Montreal. “Now there’s a feeling of mobilization within the industry.”
The good news: local manufacturing is still thriving. A strong manufacturing base has remained in the city, with 1,850 establishments offering roughly half of the available jobs in the sector. Experts view this as an undeniable competitive advantage in terms of flexibility and small-batch production.