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Manufacturing an Industry Revival: Vancouver Garment Districts
Written by Jessica McIlroy - Tuesday, 23 July 2013


Nicole Bridger factory 

There was a time when garment manufacturing was an important part of many North American cities’ economies. Before trade was extensive and tariffs were relaxed, each major population centre had its own garment district, and Vancouver is no different.  Starting back in 1925 when Albert O. Koch opened Vancouver’s first garment factory, National Dress Co., after arriving from New York via Montreal.  But now clothing manufacturing goes on mostly unnoticed, and like other cities, factories have gradually closed down as manufacturing moved overseas in an attempt to compete in the global market.  Once thriving garment districts are known as “fashion districts” and centres for shopping.

Decreasing manufacturing capacity is not the only concern around keeping a garment district alive; we are losing our seamstresses and laborers.  Go into the garment factories around Vancouver today and many of the workers are older women.  In a city with so many industries and employment options, who would think, I want to go work in a garment factory.  A new focus on garment manufacturing for eco fashion product development hub may just revive an interest in all areas of the clothing supply chain.


lululemon lab

An important part of sustainable fashion is having control over all aspects of production, from textile sourcing to shipping. This is part of the reason why local designer Nicole Bridger took the leap and bought the factory where her clothing was being made. Lululemon has also been operating a “lab” on one of Vancouver’s busy streets for a number of years where people can easily watch the garment production process.


Combine the interest in local production with the recent events in Bangladesh and the conditions in factories around the world, and we just may see the return of a Vancouver garment industry.  When you stop and look at all the pieces, Vancouver has all the elements to create a hub of eco fashion development. There are strong design schools, a number of independent designers and artisans working in studio spaces, eco textile supply companies such as Kendor Textiles, fabric re-purposing organizations like Our Social Fabric, garment factories and ateliers, and neighborhoods known for their stylish boutiques. The textile testing and certification company Oeko-Tex also just opened a Tes-Tex office in Vancouver.


C&O Apparel

One of the most important pieces of how this all helps build our local fashion economy is that these factories will do small runs for new designers. The factory owned by Nicole Bridger will do a run as small as 30 pieces of clothing. Put all this expertise and services together with the fact that overseas manufacturing is no longer as cheap as it used to be, especially if you want to keep an eye on quality control and sustainability, and the local industry becomes far more attractive.  As Vancouver moves to become the Greenest City by 2020, eco fashion could be one of its key niche markets.





Jessica McIlroy is a sustainability consultant with extensive experience in the renewable energy industry, climate change policy, gender equality and community development. She has worked for a number of non-profit associations and is the founder of the BC Women in Energy Network. Jessica is also working to increase the sustainability of the garment and textile industry, working as the Chief Awareness Officer for Eco Fashion Week, and contributing eco fashion pieces to online publications. Jessica holds an MSc in Environmental Sustainability, an MBA in Executive Management, a certification in Climate Change Decision Making, and has completed The Accountability Project Sustainability Practitioner Course.   


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