NORTHERN INVASION
CANADIAN MAKERS FIND THE CHICAGO MARKET RECEPTIVE.

Byline: Georgia Lee

The Canadians are coming, again.
After a Canadian showcase drew more than 150 people and landed 15 of the 20 lines shown with Chicago sales representatives, the Canadian Consulate General is sponsoring what will become an annual event at the Chicago Apparel Center.
This year, approximately 11 Canadian lines will be featured at a showcase Monday, April 3, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Pavilion Suites (11-110 through 110125) in apparel center. The reception is designed to introduce Canadian manufacturers to Chicago reps and buyers.
Categories range from casual sportswear to outerwear and eveningwear, and also include accessories. The companies showing are from Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
The Canadian Consulate’s effort is actually a two-part exchange program. The other part was a two-day trip to Toronto, taken earlier this month by five Chicago sales representatives. The trip, to meet with Toronto-area manufacturers, was sponsored by Ontario Exports Inc., a Toronto-based trade organization.
With the currently strong U.S. dollar, NAFTA’s looser trade restrictions, and always advantageous geographic proximity, the U.S. is Canada’s number one export market for apparel.
In 1999, Canadian apparel exports totaled $2.3 billion. Women’s apparel exports for 1999 were $1.26 billion, according to Ann Rosen, business division officer, consumer products, Canadian Consulate General, Chicago. Total trade between Canada and the U.S. generates $1 billion per day, said Rosen.
Rosen said that U.S. buyers appreciate the Canadian manufacturing community for its role as an alternative to the high volume U.S. lines that are often carried by department stores or discounters. Canada’s strong domestic manufacturing base allows for attention to quality and quick response, she said. In addition, Canadian lines often use European fabrics and styling that appeal to U.S. buyers, she said.
The manufacturers, in turn, hope the Chicago market will serve as a great gateway and catalyst for their initial inroads into the U.S. market, Rosen said.
Quality is a key selling point for Signature Renaissance Inc., a Montreal manufacturer that makes the Giancarlo Paventi label of pants and jackets, and offers private label programs for similar garments. Though only six years old, the company took over the former Progress Clothing, a manufacturer with 100 years in business. The entire manufacturing process, from pattern-making up, takes place in Montreal factories.
“Forty percent of the process is hand-made, and we do finishing as it was done 50 years ago,” said Isaac Suissa, president. “The line is known for durability and fit.”
Targeting the career woman, the company uses Italian fabrics, including gabardine, flannel, wool, cashmere and stretch wool, at wholesale prices from $55 to $110. With around $1 million in total annual sales, 20 percent of business is currently in the U.S.
The Chicago showcase includes young companies seeking U.S. exposure, such as Boxxe Design, a Toronto women’s special occasion line.
The company, formed six years ago, started in men’s and women’s wear, but evolved into women’s evening separates. Designer Wayne Box is a former Toronto retailer, who once specialized in novelty T-shirts and sweatshirts.
The Boxxe Design line is a step or two away from that; a 19-piece modular collection of evening separates designed as coordinates, it offers a wide range of looks.
“We’re all about range and flexibility, with a sportswear coordinate approach to eveningwear,” said Boxxe. “A woman can put together these pieces for a classic, traditional look to wear to a wedding or create an extremely fashion-forward, funky look to wear to a nightclub.”
For example, a taffeta ballgown skirt can be paired either with a corset, a tank or a more demure cropped jacket. The same corset could be paired with leather pants. Highlights of the fall line include snakeskin embossed velvet pieces and metallic gold reflective jersey separates.
Pick Up N Go, is a Toronto-based “travelwear” collection that offers an entire wardrobe in mix-and-match pieces that fit into a shoulder bag. The 22-piece polyester line is washable and wrinkle-resistant. It is sold as separates priced from $31 to $59. Coordinating pieces are often reversible and come with a shoulder bag that sells for $18.
Designer and chief executive officer Pia Killen, a former flight attendant, created the line in 1998, after her luggage was lost on a trip to the South Pacific.
“I had to make do with three pieces I bought on the spot,” she said. “I realized that a few key items could take a woman anywhere, from office to beach to evening.”
Each collection, which includes solids, prints and textures, coordinates with previous seasons. Designed to fit a range of customers, sizes are XS to XXL.
Ideal Knitwear, a Montreal-based knit accessories company, produces hats, scarves, headbands and other cold weather accessories, priced from $5.99 to $12.99 for men, women and children. With both basics and more novelty pieces, the company targets primarily volume stores and bigger specialty chains.
With 20 percent of sales in the U.S. now, all in men’s and children’s product, the company will use the Chicago show to expand women’s wear here.
“We want to get into the cold weather states in the Midwest,” said Sheldon Mulman, sales and marketing manager. “Chicago’s market is a great place to start.”

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