When I was a kid, almost all of my clothes were made in Canada. Now it is rare to find anything made here. In trying to avoid fast fashion and sweatshop goods, I’ve been looking for domestic lines, without much success.
I have to admit, I struggle with buying used clothes. If I need a pair of perfect-fit black pants (trousers) for work, usually they’ll be replacing a pair that has met with misfortune: faded, stained, etc. I can look at 50 pairs of black dress pants at Value Village, Frenchy’s and the Salvation Army Thrift Store, and never find a pair that is just right. Or, I can just go to Reitman’s and find a pair marked down from $45 to $25 that are exactly what I needed.
I am not much of a fashion shopper and I keep my clothes a long time, so I tend to buy new. This month I bought two items at a consignment shop, but they were impulse purchases and not on my “need” list!
When I bought spring clothes for a vacation recently, I was disappointed (but not surprised) that the more expensive brand-name clothes were made in Bangladesh and Malaysia, just like the generic clothes.
I did some online research to see what was still made here. The iconic Canadian brands are NOT.
The Bay was sold to the USA firm that owns Lord & Taylor a few years ago. Its distinctive Bay blankets, coats and other “Bay stripe” merchandise is not Canadian-made.
I adore my Canada Olympic shirt, similar to the hoodie above. It, and the whole Canada Olympic line, was made in China.
What could be more Canadian than Roots? Everything, apparently. Only its genuine leather goods are made in Canada. Not your classic Roots Cooper T-shirt! Danier Leather works with Canadian designers and it labels the items from its line-up that are made in Canada. They are much pricier than the globally-sourced ones.
Speaking of animal products…Canada Goose parkas are made 100% in Canada, if you are OK with buying real coyote fur and duck down.
Canadian snow boots like Sorel and Kodiak were once highly esteemed, but are now made elsewhere. Baffin makes some of its boots in Canada, in particular, the Terra line of work boots. Bata shoes has moved its operations to Switzerland, and Aldo/Globo shoes are made internationally.
In the intimates sector, La Senza doesn’t make anything in Canada, but the more traditional Stanfield men’s underwear are made right here in Nova Scotia!
One renowned specialty product is the Tilley hat, made entirely in Canada. Every well-to-do person I know over age 50 has one for gardening, hiking and boating! They will only set you back $82.
Parkhurst had always made their conservative women’s sweaters in Canada, but has recently started producing some of them elsewhere. Recent estimates say 75% are still made here? I have two which I snagged on sale for $45 each.
Reitman’s and Mark’s Work Wearhouse, two Canadian-owned stores I truly like, don’t carry Canadian-made apparel, except for the afore-mentioned work boots at Mark’s! I read that about 20% of the stock at Jacob’s is Canadian. Interestingly, Le Château was known for its sparkly night club wear for a long time, but is now trying to appeal to more quality-conscious mature shoppers (that is, people my age) and they have boosted their Canadian content to as much as 40%.
One of the best-known Canadian brands, lululemon athletic wear, is designed but not made in Canada. A plus for them is that their workout wear is designed to last for 5 years of use.
Finally I will mention Joe Fresh. Everyone I know wears Joe Fresh. It’s sold at the supermarket (and now at JC Penney in the US). It’s priced the same as Wal-Mart clothing and it’s genuinely fashionable. I got my first pair of skinny cords there last December. Joe Fresh was one of the many brands manufactured at the Bangladesh garment factory that collapsed in April, killing 1129 people. The brand owner, Loblaws, has said it will continue to produce goods in Bangladesh, using suppliers that conform to “local building codes and labour laws.”
I‘ve been out shopping a few times since April and I haven’t noticed any slow-down whatsoever in sales at Superstore, Wal-Mart, Giant Tiger and other fast fashion retailers. Now that super-cheap prices for clothes have become the norm, it’s harder to give up other products and pay more for clothes when you know you can buy them at rock-bottom prices. And as I’ve shown above, even when you want to, it’s usually not possible.
I certainly don’t think that making one’s own clothes is the best option. Virtually all textiles and thread are made in the same conditions in which global apparel is made. Supporting local designers would be great – paying them for their design sense and expertise.
I believe in mending and modifying clothes, avoiding trends and making things last. For me right now, the only viable option is buying less. That could be through buying used, or doing without.
Somehow I always surprise myself when I realize how much I do, in fact, care about what I wear and how I look.
Have you found any solutions to your fashion dilemmas?
This issue concerns me greatly. I’ve spent a lot if time researching suppliers in Australia. The most recent thing I bought was a $250 mohair jumper. *So* expensive, but locally-grown and knitted wool – I hope it lasts years!
We still buy department store products if they have clear “ethical supply chain” info. But overall, I’m moving more to natural materials (organic cotton, wool, bamboo) or if synthetic, then ultra long-life. My Goretex jacket is still “good as new” after 18 years – makes the original $400 price tag ok!
I’m becoming lots less-obsessed with the “local” aspect vrs sustainable + fair-wage and conditions (which could be Bangladesh, as they need their exports, too.)
Interesting topic as always, Dar!
I completely agree – it makes sense to shop for clothes that are long lasting, have less environmental impact, and whose companies are proud of how and where they’re produced. You know my opinions on local goods. If everyone bought local only, then no area with a surplus (or with an expertise) would have an export market. But grave attention to working conditions is needed.
I had no idea La Senza was Canadian (we now have them in Australia). Most of the companies you mention I didn’t know, so it was partly a cultural eye opener! I have lululemon gear – all bought in the US and Canada (two pairs of leggings) – making them 2 and 4 years old respectively. I don’t wear them super regularly, but they have lasted AMAZINGLY which is good given the price. It’s such a balance between convenience (I too don’t have the patience to sift through thrift stores for ages), as well as ethics… And money. Always gosh darn money!
It sure is about money: if a seasonal construction worker needed work boots, they might love to invest in a top quality pair of Terra boots for $200, but they’re more likely to go through 4 pairs of Wal-Mart boots. You need serious up-front cash for “investment clothing”! You’re like me, always trying to find a balance!
PS – This is the 2000th comment on the blog (really 1000 since half of them are my replies!)
Yippe! – such a milestone – congrats. Mine ticked over to more than 10,000 view recently, it was weird to see another digit!
It’s hard to know if something pricey will last though, and that’s the real kicker!
I think the retail world is changing so that nobody is able to produce products affordably at home. I suppose it’s ok, as long as they take a responsible approach to ensuring the conditions of workers are acceptable. The problem as a consumer is knowing which companies are doing a good job and which are not. Maybe the recent disasters and negative press will spur more of them on.
I guess I need to do some research before shopping. I do these days pay more for quality to know that the clothes will last, but I don’t take that extra step to find out where they come from.
It’s hard to tell which companies with international manufacturing are responsible. I found big differences in company websites. Some said nothing about sourcing (bad sign, I thought), some said they observed local laws (probably not sufficient), some had ongoing monitoring and inspections of their factories, and some signed specific ethical agreements. I hope that corporations will increasingly be held to account!
I agree with you, Dar: If everyone bought local only, then no area with a surplus (or with an expertise) would have an export market. But GRAVE attention to working conditions is needed.
So although I used to be obsessed with buying local (to support the local industry, manufacturers, farmers, etc., never mind the perceived better quality, even safety), now, like you and Fiona, I am definitely more concerned about sustainable and ethical buying.
I love supporting local producers when it all “makes sense” to me; for example, Nova Scotia grows wonderful apples and I never buy them from elsewhere. But I probably wouldn’t buy clothes made in NS (from imported fabrics) unless I was trying to support a local designer. So I guess I have my own logic!
Great post as per usual!! Shared on FB, and you’re very right.. it’s hard finding “Made in Canada” !!
Great post. Where our clothing comes from, and how it is made, is such an important subject. Wal-mart still does huge business, none of the deaths in the sweat shops has seemed to matter to so many. I have a hard time putting out large sums of money on clothes, such a tightwad, so I resort to thrift shopping instead. I look for natural materials when possible but going into a thrift shop I find one needs to have an open mind and be open to what you can find. We are having the same problems trying to find clothes produced here in the US. On the subject of fabrics, when I need to purchase fabric I first look for them at yard sales, thrift shops and the like, then I search for vintage fabrics. It’s my way of sending a message that I won’t buy what is made in poor conditions. There is also the issue of the cost of transporting goods from overseas. By trying to keep my footprint as small as possible I try to limit what has to be shipped from a great distance.
I had never thought of buying vintage fabrics – that is a good idea, and it would also be possible to take apart vintage garments to make something new. Lots of people here buy New Balance sneakers and American Apparel clothes because they still make some or most of their lines in the US. You are right about thrift shops. They definitely work best if you are not looking for anything in particular and you can be open about what you find.
I am fortunate not to work outside the home and need specific colors, it makes thrift shopping easier. We don’t have access to many vintage fabric locally, but I have found Etsy to be a great resource. I also believe by shopping Etsy maybe I am helping another family to make ends meet.
I have never used Etsy except to order gifts for Link; I should check it out.
It’s difficult to find Australian made in Australia too. My grandmother worked sewing flys on pyjamas for years in an Australian factory, but I think all their products are made in China now. As Fiona mentioned above, I think the main thing is that who ever makes the product should be paid fair wages and have reasonable working conditions. When I see a new tshirt for $4.00, I wonder how on earth that would be possible.
I think the same thing. I’ll be writing more about it soon.
I would run myself ragged (and not end up with very many things) if I tried to buy only “made in America” products. It’s just too lucrative to make products overseas using labor that cost a dollar or two a day. While I used to shop religiously at Nordstroms and Macys (and I LOVED The Bay when I was in Canada), these days about 95% of my wardrobe (except shoes, purses, and underwear) comes from the Goodwill and I totally love it (already broken in and washed a dozen times which is what I do with new clothes as I don’t like the texture or smell of new clothes). p.s. I don’t have a creative bone in my body so making my own clothes is out of the question–I would end up with a blouse with three arms or something!
I think that buying used is a great way to go, if you are open about what you may find. I haven’t decided on a strategy for myself yet!
Gosh… these sorts of posts make me feel like I really am living under a cabbage leaf. I’d be hard pressed to name 5 clothing companies, let alone have any clue what kind of clothes they make, where they sell them or where the clothes are made.
I guess that’s because with the exception of a very small handful of items, I haven’t really bought new clothes in my adult life. The only exception is bike shorts and underwear – both of which I buy new for the same obvious reason! Although finding decent bike shorts is such an uphill challenge that I’m actually modifying a few pairs and seriously considering trying to sew my own in the future. I’d probably still have to buy the chamois pads, but at least I could have shorts that fit, and probably for a LOT less than the typical $85-$100 that a good pair of bike shorts costs.
I’m also chuckling about the comment of not being able to find what you want in the thrift store because I generally have the opposite experience. Maybe it’s because I don’t know the brands etc, but if I want jeans, I can just go to the thrift store and have 30-40 different styles/cuts/kinds to choose from in my size, but at a department store, there’s only one or two, and the chances of them fitting right are slim to none. Of course, if you’re looking for something really specific, I guess it doesn’t work quite so well.
Anyhow, I applaud your efforts to bring some consciousness to this topic! 🙂
I think the items for sale in thrift stores vary a lot depending on your region. For example, where I live, everyone is quite frugal and we’re likely to keep our clothes til the end of their lives, and we don’t have wealthier people donating last season’s fashions. (I know you probably don’t in your area either). It also depends a lot on whether each person is willing to buy purely functional clothes (e.g. black pants that fit) versus fashion items – such as black low-rise pants with a curvy cut that are the right length for my work shoes, and made in a shiny but not evening fabric…yes, this is my mind at work 🙂
I don’t consider myself terribly brand conscious but sometimes I save money by buying a quality brand and keeping it forever. However, the brands have to be re-evaluated every time I buy them because their standards change dramatically (to cut costs and increase profits). Have you heard about the case of lululemon’s see-through yoga pants? As if yoga pants are not revealing enough 🙂
Ha! I’ve heard lots of people complaining about see-through bike shorts, but that’s probably only because I’ve been reading tons of reviews in an attempt to see if there’s anything better out there. Haven’t heard about the yoga pants controversy though!
I’ve got a pair of yoga pants that I totally love – no idea what brand they are, they arrived in a box of stuff from a FreeCycler – the only problem is that they attract cat fur like a magnet! And, ahem, there’s no shortage of cat fur in this household! I suppose I could look at it differently though and use them as part of my cleaning routine. You just wear them around the house and they suck up all the cat fur… sorta like a wearable lint brush! 🙂
I’ll remember that when I am cutting up old clothes for rags 🙂
I try to buy everything from op shops (thrift stores) but I have more success buying pants than tops. One of my friends solves the textile problem by making clothes from second-hand sheets, but I’m not that talented!
Making clothes from used fabric would be very impressive. It’s not among my talents, either!