Montreal fashion industry suits up, uniting to regain city's lost glory

MONTREAL – Montreal’s fashion sector is trying to regain some of its lost glory as designers, manufacturers and other players in the apparel industry unite in a bid to expand the city’s sartorial footprint.

They have established “mmode,” an industrial cluster that aims to reassert Montreal’s place in the world of fashion.

The move comes seven years after the industry began consultations and 12 entrepreneurs wrote a report calling for the sector to work together.

“The competition has become so strong that there’s no way anymore that our industry can work individually,” designer Philippe Dubuc said.

“We must get all together to make our industry stronger.”

At its peak in the 1970s, Montreal’s apparel industry employed more than 70,000 people and was the home to many top brands.

These days, Quebec’s fashion sector is less than half that size but still accounts for more than 45 per cent of all employment in the Canadian industry. The Montreal region, which is home to 70 per cent of the province’s apparel companies, is North America’s third-largest clothing manufacturing city after New York and Los Angeles.

Dubuc said the cluster will allow different interests within the fashion world to speak with one voice to push its interests with all levels of government and boost public awareness of its economic benefits.

The group also aims to establish more high-end factories in the city’s garment district, bring together designers and manufacturers to create new products and reach out to U.S. retailers to sell their clothing.

It is Montreal’s ninth industrial cluster, joining aerospace, audio visual, life sciences and financial services, among others.

Eric Wazana, co-founder of Second Clothing said Montreal should strive to be “the Silicon Valley of fashion.”

“It’s going to help us all work together and really create our own identity and be able to help us export and become a player in the world,” he said in a video discussing the cluster launch last week.

The video included some of the city’s top designers interspersed with black and white photos from the apparel industry’s heady days, before jobs were lost to cheaper production in Asia and other developing countries.

Quebec is home to large fashion companies — Aldo, Gildan, Logistik Unicorp and Peerless — recognized designers and growing online sellers like SSENSE, Beyond the Rack and Frank & Oak.

With the importance of e-commerce growing, Montreal needs to look more globally, said Frank & Oak CEO Ethan Song.

“But to do so we have first to connect internally and then maybe create brands and great products that we can then bring outward.”

Jacques Daoust, Quebec’s economy, innovation and exports minister, said the mmode cluster will support the industry’s growth and competitiveness. The province and municipality are providing a total of $200,000 in startup funding.

Follow @RossMarowits on Twitter.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version incorrectly spelled SSENSE as Essence.