MORE THAN SIXTY FIRMS FROM NORTH OF THE BORDER MADE THE TREK LAST SPRING TO THE STYLEMAX SHOW IN CHICAGO IN AN EFFORT TO BOOST THEIR PRESENCE ON U.S. SALES FLOORS.
Byline: Kelley Buttrick
Offering low prices, high quality, close proximity to the U.S. and a shared language, Canadian women’s wear manufacturers bowled over attendees at last spring’s StyleMax show.
Sixty-five Canadian lines are currently represented at the Mart, and that number is growing, due in part to the efforts of the Canadian Consulate General in Chicago and the province of Quebec’s trade delegation. Last March, eight Canadian manufacturers, some of which had never shown off their wares in the U.S., shared a booth at StyleMax, as part of the Consulate General’s Apparel Rep Locator program.
“The whole Chicago experience was wonderful and a good way to test the waters in the United States,” said Pat Robinson, president of Toronto-based Henry John Sleepwear. “The cost of the show is quite high, but we were able to share the cost among ourselves and get exposure we might never have had individually.”
Robinson, and the other Canadian manufacturers face challenges when trying to enter the U.S. market, including understanding the complicated rules for exporting textiles and accessing contacts and representatives in the U.S. Rewards of being distributed Stateside include being in a market 10 times the size of the Canadian market.
“The United States is an exciting place to be, from every point of view,” said Robinson. “There is a certain energy to American cities.”
Robinson, whose company manufactures bathrobes, pajamas and nightgowns wholesaling from $39.50 to $69.50, said she can’t predict what percentage of her total sales volume will come from the U.S. If she participates in the Intimate Apparel Salon at the Millennium Center in New York in March, Robinson predicts her U.S. sales will become a significant part of total sales.
One major difference between the Canadian and U.S. customer is the American customers’ demand for a lower price point, Robinson said.
At StyleMax, Robinson said feedback from buyers indicated a new awareness that “Made in Canada” meant quality products.
Bob Kirk, director of the Ottawa, Ontario-based Canadian Apparel Federation, said women’s apparel exports in 2000 totaled $47 million, with total apparel exports at $1.8 billion (figures converted from the Canadian dollar at current exchange rates).
The Apparel Rep Locator trade mission hosted an educational session for Canadian participants covering a variety of topics, including negotiating distributor agreements and selling over the Internet. Each manufacturer also had the opportunity to exhibit their products at the Canadian pavilion at the StyleMax show.
Marc Beaulieu, president of Holiday, a Montreal-based swimsuit, jeans and sportswear manufacturer, said, “It was very interesting for us to be there and present our line. We exposed our products to many people and were able to secure a representative for our lines.” Holiday fashions wholesale from $15 to $20.
The program culminated in a reception, co-sponsored by the Canadian Consulate General and Quebec’s trade delegation, where manufacturers and representatives could meet face-to-face. More than 200 U.S. independent sales representatives and buyers attended the event, which offered a drawing for a trip to anywhere north of the border.
“The events allowed us to meet our objective of finding a representative,” said Eric Gonen, sales manager of North York, Ontario-based Artex Fashions. “I’ve been to the StyleMax show before, and it’s growing with a lot of variety.”
Gonen hired the husband-and-wife rep team of Karen and Harvey Dubin to represent Artex Fashions’ moderate separates, which wholesale from $18 to $35. Four years ago, the Dubins met Gonen, but the parties did not strike up a business relationship. After witnessing the success of a competing Canadian line, the Dubins were anxious to get reacquainted with Artex Fashions and will represent them in the Midwest.
“Compared to the competitor, Artex Fashions is a little more updated,” said Harvey Dubin. “We think we will be successful based on the profitable history of the competition.”
Participation in the Apparel Rep Locator program garnered Astrid Gjerlaud, president of Foremost, Alberta-based Scandi Fashions, a representative for her company. Scandi Fashions manufacturers blanket coats, jackets, vests and capes wholesaling from $90 to $200.
Jane Saunders, owner of Cincinatti retailer Cloud 9, was immediately drawn to Scandi’s coats. Being a Canadian herself, Saunders was raised wearing Hudson Bay Co. coats and contracted with Gjerlaud to make her a similar one to wear when she speaks at an upcoming fashion show for the Cincinnati Women’s Club. In addition, the store owner ordered coats for Cloud 9, where Canadian-made apparel is outselling her other manufacturers.
“Canadian fashion is snappy traditional,” said Saunders. “Carrying Canadian manufacturers allows me to fly the Canadian flag, and they are quality goods at good price points.”