As part of our collaboration with Lee Vosburgh — an expert on style and slow fashion — we talked about the merits of Canadian made goods and why we should support our local manufacturers. In fact, “Made in Canada” is a pillar for the Vestige brand.
Lee: What are three things about made in Canada products that you wish more folks were aware of?
Aileen: How the higher cost is justified (#1), the difference in quality (#2) and how supporting our local businesses benefits the customer in return (#3).
Aileen Lee (creator of Vestige) and Lee Vosburgh (creator of StyleBee) both wears the front-back reversible Hyle Top.
#1 Slow fashion cost more, but justly so.
Aileen: For folks who buy fast fashion, the price tag of a Canadian-made garment might seem intimidating, or even unjust. However, after delving in this industry for five years, I can say otherwise.
Aileen: For example, take a simple piece, such as a top with some details. When made locally in a small batch, the sewing alone ranges from $35 to $50 per piece. The cost for fabrics, pattern making or sampling amounts to another $20 to $50. Then, we need to factor in the time to design, market and sell. Finally, a wholesale markup is added to help boutiques cover their overhead.
Aileen: So when a small business sells a well-made top for $200, the pricing is most likely not a bloated number. A healthy markup ensures our Canadian craftsman, retailers and designers all receive a sustainable, living wage.
Snippets of our factory, located in the heart of Vancouver, BC.
#2 You are investing in quality.
Aileen: Since most Canadian factories work with smaller quantities, it is easier to maintain good quality control. I can also detect a genuine sense of passion among our local seamstresses. Whenever I visit my production team, we would talk about how to work around a challenging seam or discuss the interesting hacks they came up with to improve a piece. It is evident that they, too, are proud of their own work.
#3 Shopping local nourishes all Canadians!
Aileen: I recently had a conversation with the owner of my partnered factory. I brought up the fact that folks might pay more attention to “Made in Canada” in our post-pandemic future. However, he explained that we are still a long way from shaking off our offshore production dependency. The most basic materials and parts, the crucial nuts and bolts, are still being made outside of Canada today.
Aileen: His partner added that Vancouver once possessed a vibrant garment manufacturing scene. This industry has been in rapid decline for a long time. I also questioned — do we really want Canadian craftsmanship to disappear altogether?
Aileen: In the long run, shopping locally provides Canadians with jobs, keeps money circulating in our country and trains our future craftsmen. With a stable economy, the positive benefits will trickle back to the consumers themselves.
Aileen: How would you justify the higher price point on slow fashion pieces?
Lee: The value of high-quality craftsmanship and an appreciation for the talents of others were things that my parents, both artists themselves, instilled in me from a young age.
Lee: My Mum is a talented sewer and was often working on something exciting. I remember picking patterns, sifting through button collections and exploring the fabric store. I think that’s where my love for clothes and my appreciation for what goes into them first sprouted.
Lee: There is a beautiful symbiosis that occurs when we value ourselves and the other humans that are connected to the physical elements in our life. To me this energy is tangible and can’t be mass produced. I also recognize the privilege I have in being able to choose slow fashion over fast fashion. This is not lost on me.
Lee: For me the justification of a higher price point comes through understanding, balance and patience. Understanding that there is so much work and vision behind the products a small brand creates. Finding balance in knowing that spending more on something I love means that I will treasure it for much longer than something I didn’t have to sacrifice much to have. Patience in accepting that it can’t happen all at once and the best things in life take time to come to fruition.
Number of clothing imported to Canada from 1992 to 2019. (Sources: Statistics Canada, Statista)
“Less than 20 years ago, about 70% of the textile and clothing products consumed in Canada were made right here at home. Since then, however, imports have soared, and it is now these offshore products that satisfy the majority of Canadian demand.” - Statistics Canada
Lee: How has your relationship with the production team for Vestige Story influenced both your design and the brand overall?
Aileen: My partnership with my current production team gives me peace of mind — and that’s an understatement!
Aileen: The factory I work with is run by a Caucasian husband and wife duo, each with decades of experience in the garment industry. This means I am constantly learning from them. This in turn enables me to create designs that are more cleverly constructed.
Aileen: Our relationship is also built on trust. I pay promptly right after each delivery (deferred payments is a persisting issue of ethics between fast fashion companies and their factories). I also never feel the need to badger for discounts. I trust that the pricing they set is calculated fairly, based directly on our seamstresses’ wages and the factory’s operation costs.
Aileen: And above all, we have become good friends! Sometimes, a quick meeting turns into an hour long discussion on social issues or politics. It just feels right to be partnering up with like minded individuals who care about our community.
Number of Canadians employed in the clothing industry. (Sources: Statistics Canada, Fashion United)
Aileen: Do you think it is important to support Canadian designers and buy locally-made pieces? If so, why?
Lee: Absolutely. Throughout the years of working in the slow fashion space, and even more so during the experience of COVID-19, I’ve seen how much the community has stepped up to support one another. I think we’re all craving connection to something tangible and supporting Canadian designers is one way we’re able to do that. Shopping from faceless mega-brands only seems to contribute to a feeling of isolation. When you know your dollars are going to a real person with real hopes and dreams, it feels like you’re investing in something much bigger than just your personal style.
Lee: How do you think the experience of COVID-19 will change the landscape for slow fashion in Canada?
Aileen: I am no market forecast expert, but I do hope that Canadians will come to see the merits of locally made slow fashion! On top of nourishing our economy and returning the lost jobs to our own people — the reduced bulk shipping of offshore goods will lower our carbon footprint. Shopping small may mean higher price points, but that will encourage us to consume less and fill our home only with well made necessities.
Aileen: I believe these are some efforts that will lead to a healthier Canada. Maybe Vestige won’t need to create new products then! When that happens, I will happily move on to my next creative endeavour.
Our Hyle Top in production at our Vancouver factory.
The new Prose Collection is meant to make "made in Canada" more accessible with lowered price points and an expanded size range.
Aileen: Lastly, as a brand owner, I asked myself: how can I make slow, locally made fashion more obtainable for my community, especially in the face of a dangerously slowing economy? My answer was the Prose Collection — a new line with accessible price points and sizing. It is a made in Canada line dedicated to all North Americans!
The Prose Collection -- a made in Canada collection dedicated to all Canadians.
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