#CanadaGoesDigital: Showroom Canada
- Deborah Chu
- 16 February 2021
The High Commission of Canada in the UK presents a virtual showroom of cutting-edge Canadian designers
Another day of lockdown, another set of endless hours spent transitioning from pyjamas to loungewear and back – or maybe not, if you, like many of us here at The List, have given up entirely and can only gaze wistfully at the 'going-out' clothes growing increasingly neglected at the back of our closets.
But there will come a time when we'll be dusting off the gladrags once again, and as London Fashion Week kicks off this month, so too will Showroom Canada be arriving on our shores (albeit virtually) with a showcase of 13 innovative Canadian designers, ready to whet our sartorial appetite in preparation for that glorious day.
Susan Langdon, Executive Director at the Toronto Fashion Incubator, has been bringing cutting edge Canadian designers to the UK market since 2018, in partnership with the High Commission of Canada in the UK. As the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic began to settle in, however, and travel bans fell into place, Langdon quickly realised that a new approach was needed – not only to maintain those vital pathways between the Canadian and British fashion markets, but also to support the retailers and brands that would be hardest hit by restrictions.
'When the pandemic struck in early 2020 and retailers cancelled in-person sales appointments, it became clear that unless an alternative solution was found, many fashion brands would suffer financially from a lack of sales and possibly close,' said Langdon. After doing her research on digital wholesale platforms and consulting with colleagues at the High Commission of Canada and the Canadian Apparel Federation, the idea for Showroom Canada was born.
Hosted on JOOR, an industry-leading B2B wholesale platform, Showroom Canada is an online showcase featuring 13 of Canada's most exciting designers, each bringing with it something different to conversations and developments around innovation, style, locality and sustainability in the fashion industry. Launching on Tue 16 Feb, labels with collections on display in the Showroom include luxury line FREED; FURB Upcycled, which focuses on creating sustainable pieces out of repurposed garments and fabrics; the eponymous brand of three-time Canadian Designer of the Year award-winner Joeffer Caoc; ready-to-wear basics from KUWALLA TEE; and one-of-a-kind jewellery from TORI•XO, already beloved by the likes of Jill Barber and Taylor Swift.
Helping select and mentor the brands through the process was Alison Lowe, acclaimed fashion entrepreneur and the founder of Start Your Own Fashion Label, an organisation dedicated to fostering emerging designers. 'Canada has a vibrant luxury market, offering a wide range of brands who are all enthusiastic, passionate and professional,' says Lowe. 'I've been impressed with the unrivalled quality of their products, many of them being proudly Canadian-made.'
Indeed, the 'made in Canada' label is one that many brands wear proudly, as it not only reflects the quality that the Canadian manufacturing sector is known for, but also the nation's proudly diverse heritage. 'Canada is a very multi-cultural country, and we're blessed with a skilled labour force of industrial sewers and fashion industry workers who immigrated to our country seeking a better life,' says Langdon. 'As such, most bridge, designer and contemporary fashion brands manufacture in Canada because the quality is consistently excellent. Producing locally is also a great way to keep an eye on the supply chain, to ensure workers are treated ethically and that they have a safe, clean, working environment. Although "made-local" often results in a higher price point than products made off-shore, the value is evident in the quality, and consumers can feel confident knowing that their pieces were made ethically.'
Though their roots may be distinctly Canadian, Lowe insists that this class of designers are primed for world domination: 'Personally I was looking for brands that presented collections that were appealing to an international customer base whilst offering a point of difference,' she says. '[There are] really high fashion brands, alongside athleisure, streetwear, jewellery, gender neutral and ready-to-wear – all at the top of their game and ready to grow into global markets.'
Despite the diversity on display at the Showroom, one distinct theme running through this cohort is a shared commitment to ethical and sustainable practices – reflecting an industry-wide reckoning with fashion's role in our current climate crisis. 'It's imperative that the entire fashion industry take ownership of all of the harm it's done to the world,' says Langdon. 'The problem is not just chemical dyes and harmful textile finishes infiltrating our water and air, but also about how workers in impoverished nations have been mistreated and exploited, and the throw-away nature of fast fashion contributing to pollution. Brands who do not embrace sustainability, ethical production and/or develop an after-life policy for their products will be left behind.
Companies – particularly fast fashion retailers – who continue on their path of environmental destruction and exploitation, will hopefully be criticized, challenged and ultimately avoided because consumers will not want to be called out wearing those brands,' says Langdon. Lowe agrees that a radical change in the industry is necessary – not only because it's the moral thing to do, but also because it's what consumers are increasingly demanding. 'Today's consumer is much more focussed on discovering brands that are authentic and transparent in their manufacturing and operating processes,' says Lowe, 'and the brands participating in Showroom Canada are all doing their part in making the industry more responsible to the environment, the workforce and the consumer.'
Though we all look forward to the pandemic weighing a bit less heavily on our daily lives and decisions, Langdon and Lowe both predict certain irrevocable changes to the way we shop in the future. 'Without wholesale orders, designers pivoted to e-comm to generate sales directly from consumers and for some brands, this was a lifesaver,' says Langdon. 'Many Canadian designers created and sold masks and other PPE online, and others developed new products that were more accessibly-priced and in-demand, such as washable separates. I see this trend continuing at least for another year, with online shopping continuing to grow.'
Lowe envisages retailers taking a hybridised, 'omni-channel approach' that will help people shop more easily 'both IRL and URL', particularly for those wanting to make an international impression. 'The current online focus has enabled the Canadian designers to reach new, wider audiences, but they also seek physical stores for the future to allow new consumers to discover the high quality they offer in real life,' she says.
But when that beautiful day finally comes – what will they wear? 'I can't wait to rediscover my designer pieces and heels, and the chance to dress up for parties again,' says Lowe. 'However I think the appeal of loungewear will last long in to the future, as we have become used to the comfort levels it offers – so I may run back home to snuggle up in my hoodies and sweats once the party is over.'
'I'm a designer by education and by trade, so knowing how challenging it is to draft or drape the perfect pattern, I appreciate styles that appear difficult to achieve,' says Langdon. 'I'm drawn to looks that are precisely engineered whether that's through seaming or a "placed" print, detail or pleat. If I could wear some of my favourite pieces tomorrow, it would be a sheer, pleated Sid Neigum dress worn under a long, black velvet jacket with exposed seams by Maison Marie Saint Pierre and topped off with a Joeffer Caoc metallic jacquard evening coat. All Canadian, of course.'
Showroom Canada will be open from Tue 16 February to Wed 31 March. To learn more about the designers featured, visit culturecanada.co.uk/showroom-canada.