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Stacey Zhang, fashion designer featured in The Gazette



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BUILDING A MADE-IN-MONTREAL WARDROBE
Thinking locally

BY MAXINE MENDELSSOHN

Karl Hearne and Stacey Zhang’s customers ask for locally-made clothes, so they have diverted some of their production to small sewing contractors in Montreal.

Think global but buy local. That’s the message these days when it comes to produce shopping, but what about clothes? Is it possible to stay on budget, look stylish and buy only locally made clothing?

“Absolutely. I’d even say it’s easy. People just have to ask questions about what they’re buying,” said Danny Lourenço, owner of St. Denis St. boutique Rien à Cacher. Lourenço’s ethical clothing shop stocks clothing made locally, as well as environmentally friendly fair trade frocks from developing countries.

“We don’t have anything that could be described as hippie or granola,” said Lourenço, who sells tees, sweats and dresses from Montreal labels like OÖM Ethikwear and Grace & Cello.

For some, buying local fashions is a way to support neighbourhood businesses, but for others it’s an environmental concern. Shipping clothes from the four corners of the world uses up tonnes of fuel and produces greenhouse gases.

It was a monetary rather than an environmental factor that sealed the deal for Brandon Svarc, creator of Naked and Famous jeans. When Svarc realized he would have to pay as much as 18-per-cent duty to import finished goods from Japan, he decided to make his jeans locally.

“I buy raw denim from Japan because it’s the best, but I have my jeans sewn in La Beauce because I like to keep my production close,” Svarc said.

Despite producing in Quebec, Svarc manages to keep the price of his jeans between $90 and $149, and says his customers appreciate his efforts.

“People love the Canadiana angle. I’ve gotten emails thanking me for making the jeans here. It’s like they’re grateful to see that something cool and affordable can actually come out of Canada,” said Svarc, whose Naked and Famous denim is sold at Three Monkeys in Les Cours Mont Royal.

Looking for a made-in-Montreal T-shirt to go with your made-in-Beauce jeans? Everything sold at Blank, a T-shirt emporium on St. Laurent Blvd., is made in Montreal, from dying of fabric to cutting and sewing.

“We started with basics, like T-shirts, socks and sweat pants. Now customers ask for shirts, jackets and jeans, but we’re not there yet,” Blank co-founder Martin Delisle said.

Blank T-shirts for men and women range from $22 to $25.

Although some fashion labels started out with an accent on local production, others in the business, like Stacey Zhang who just opened her second boutique on Ste. Catherine St. W., came to it as an afterthought.

“There’s a bit of a backlash about things made in China,” said Karl Hearne, co-owner of the Stacey Zhang label. “People would ask about it and I’d say: ‘Yes, it’s made in China but it’s a little family-run factory where they treat their workers amazingly.’ “

Those assurances weren’t enough for customers, so Hearne and his partner Zhang decided to divert some of their production to small sewing contractors in Montreal. Today, about one-third of Zhang’s summer collection of frilly dresses, linen shorts and cotton sweaters are made here, and they aim to have half the collection made locally in the fall.

“It’s sort of a struggle to keep the same prices when it’s made here, but we’re making it work. People like seeing the ‘Made in Canada’ label and we’re happy to support local producers,” Hearne said.

At Stacey Zhang, a made-in-Montreal cotton-and-silk blend dress is $175, and wide-leg trousers are $115.

When it comes to outerwear, apparel company APP Group is all about made-in-Montreal pride. The company makes 70 per cent of its Mackage and Soïa & Kyo coats right here in the city.

“We’re a Montreal company, so we obviously wanted to make our stuff here. It doesn’t have an affect on the price – most of the cost comes from the expensive cashmeres and wools we get from Italy,” said Alexandra Kokkinos, co-ordinator for Mackage.

A Mackage coat will set you back between $490 and $2,600 and a Soïa & Kyo runs between $175 and $425.

So there are quite a few stylish options for locally made denim, dresses and coats, but what about underwear?

Lingerie Belimage produces underwear and lingerie for men and women in Montreal.

“We’re proud to employ Quebecers and sew the Made in Canada label into our undies,” vice-president Éric Boisvert said. The company even offers men’s underwear with NOT MADE IN CHINA boldly emblazoned on the waistband, which cost between $20 and $30 a pair and are sold at www.wyzman.com

There are dozens more Quebec companies producing trendy and affordable clothes, so the options are out there. It’s up to consumers to ask questions and to shop with their conscience, not just their credit cards.

PHOTO CAPTION
Karl Hearne and Stacey Zhang’s customers ask for locally-made clothes, so they have diverted some of their production to small sewing contractors in Montreal.

CREDIT: PIERRE OBENDRAUF, THE GAZETTE

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2008