The Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal

The fashion industry and the implications of change

How does the fashion and clothing industry currently position itself at local and national levels? What are the challenges these businesses face? Answers from Debbie Zakaib, executive director of mmode, the metropolitan fashion cluster, Gisèle Paul, owner and president of Dino Gaspari, and Laurent Perez, president of Scapa Lauren Perre.

A changing industry

The world of fashion and clothing is currently undergoing enormous change. The opening of the local market, the emergence of global brands and international retailers, robotization, the rise of online commerce, social and economic changes… These are all factors that have disrupted the industry and Quebec businesses must adapt their way of marketing fashion. “In this context, we want to unite all the players of the metropolitan area’s fashion ecosystem – organizations, companies, and governmental bodies – in order to come up with solutions,” said Ms. Zakaib. For the fashion cluster, change also brings with it business opportunities. And a united future starts now, as exemplified by the organization’s motto: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

It is apparent that this is a sector that is undergoing great changes, especially when it comes to the way it approaches internationalization. “The local market is quite small. If a company wants to expand and grow, they must export their products and be organized to do so, especially when it comes to deliverables,” said Ms. Zakaib. The challenge is to implement a more inclusive international strategy to unite the industry’s players, from manufacturers, to retailers, to wholesalers, to distributors, to designers, and studios. We need to work on the differences and attractivity of each player. The common denominator? The desire to benefit from support, training, mentorship in order to better export what they produce.

Essential support to break into foreign markets.

The importance of the United States for the industry

Although various players in the fashion and clothing industry have differing opinions on how to export their products and ensure a presence in a foreign market, they all have one thing in common: their first business destination is the United States (70 to 80% of exports). A lot of effort is made to ensure their presence in trade shows and to maintain relationships with commercial delegates.

Gisèle Paul, owner and president of Dino Gaspari, shares this view: “Our two export destinations are Canada (50%) and the United States (50%). Why the US? First, they are geographically close to Quebec, and second, the exchange rate is more attractive than in other foreign markets such as Europe, which is too expensive and does not produce the immediate results we get from our neighbours to the south.”

Laurent Perez, president of Scapa Lauren Perre, agrees: “The United States is our first export destination and we only go on trade missions there. Our company is one of the rare ones that does everything in Canada, including manufacturing. Americans are fond of products that are made locally.”

Because the United States is essential to the industry, the fashion cluster wants to create an export strategy to better support its members. “We are examining our practices: taking part in trade shows, establishing contact with commercial delegates… are these the most efficient ways to reach consumers and retailers? Are there other concrete actions that could generate more profit? For instance, show we add showrooms to trade shows, emphasize reverse trade missions, and welcome buyers to Montreal? Do we need to change the way we enter a market?”

Pending this strategy, it would seem that trade shows are still the most efficient solution for some companies, including Dino Gaspari. “Even if we can rely on a network of agents in the US, a trade show allows us to measure how our clients react to a new collection,” said Ms. Paul. This is especially true in New York City: “We are not represented by agents there. Having a showroom was less cost-effective than taking part in a trade show, which we have done for the last four years. Having a direct access to our clients allows us to generate a lot of sales.”

If exportation drives growth, how can you break into a new market?

Tips for breaking into a new market

Network. Start by building your network, by developing relationships with suppliers and partners for two or three years in order to plan more long-term options for the international market.

Trade missions. “It’s a way to gain recognition,” said Laurent Perez. The director of mmode also shares this view. “A designer alone in their studio will not have access to the same resources as a delegation supported by the Chamber of Commerce and Export Québec. This support is a significant leverage for our companies,” said Debbie Zakaib.

Discover our trade missions.

Often, the goal of companies that join trade missions is to find agents to represent them. This was our case when we took part in the trade mission to Dallas a decade ago. The mission was a success: we found agents that had an in-depth knowledge of our target territory. We built a showroom there that has served us very well,” said the president of Dino Gaspari.

E-commerce. It’s a way to speed up your growth on the international market. But you need to be wary, you need to understand every country’s regulations, especially when it comes to their customs laws.

Even though the United States remains the first export destination for our companies, we need to find a way to position ourselves in Europe. Especially since our fashion and clothing industry is very well regarded internationally. Quality products, expertise for products suitable to northern climates, creativity… The strength and talent of this industry will allow companies to stand out on the international scene. Think of the global success of Frank + Oak and Aldo for instance.

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