Theories on Vancouver’s fashion industry

August 24, 2009

One of my daily reads, The Business of Fashion, came out with a post earlier this month, Vancouver’s new Fashion Cycle. I thought, cool, an article about Vancouver and fashion! Turns out the article had slightly more to do with lifestyle than solely fashion, but put a lot out there for me to think about. As part of my program, we have to design a collection in 4th year based off a niche market. In other words, we can’t just design what we “feel like” designing – we have to prove that there is a viable market and an underserved niche. A few years ago, this may seem more like a hindrance to students who think that all they want to design are pretty dresses for “real women”, and by real women, they are thinking women who look and dress like celebrities and socialites. When I first applied to the program almost 4 years ago, the concept of a niche market was foreign to me, a criteria for a school project, at best.

There is a lot to say and observe when it comes to Vancouver’s fashion scene, one that I think links a lot more to lifestyle than the traditional fashion capitals do. Vancouver seems to be starting to make an appearance on the list of “hot” cities on the international cultural who’s-who and what’s what. We’re young and have so much to build on, with tons of creative energy. What I’ve really noticed is lacking are the resources to really harness that creativity and create a strong industry base that could rival New York or London or even Toronto or Montreal (though organizations like Fashion West, formerly Apparel BC, and Fashion High are bravely trying to change that around). We don’t have a centralized location for apparel businesses. You can’t just walk out the door of a fashion company and pop down the street to look at fabrics or get retail inspiration. Everything is so spread apart in this city. I guess that’s because our infrastructure was built primarily before we even had an apparel industry to speak of. Our main purpose as a city is its convenience as a port location between North America and Asia – we weren’t built for manufacturing, we were built around trade. Of course, out of that comes what we are known for now: our beautiful landscape and natural environment. Though, when it comes down to it, what we have is, in my mind, not that unique. We’ve just marketed it well and as a city, have the right balance between an urban setting and a natural, clean, fresh environment, all due in part because of the fact that we are not a very large city in the grand scope of things. And because of this, we’re just the right size to be able to take on the new creative model. And this all leads to my theory, that we are well poised to become a big player in the fashion world not by competing with the traditional model of a fashion capital, but by paving the way for a new one: one that makes sense for the new knowledge economy focusing on holistic aspects of living, not just aesthetics. Gregor Robertson, mayor of Vancouver, is a big advocate of not only sustainability, but creativity as well:

“A world-class city needs to foster entrepreneurial and artistic creativity, and attract innovators from all sectors around the world. It’s time we ditched the red-tape, ‘no-fun city’ label and embraced a culture of creativity, entrepreneurship, and innovation, to help our artistic and small-business sectors thrive in a competitive economy.”

I’m interested in how Vancouver’s fashion industry will play out as this city makes strides forward where many cities have already plateaued. Our fashion industry is not at all big, but yet, we have many internationally recognized companies based out of here. As the article on BOF pointed out, there is huge potential for a niche market in lifestyle apparel for fashionable cyclists in the city. It’s interesting how Vancouver was singled out for this – as I was saying, we are seen as a fresh city with room to grow, and our international presence is about to get bigger with the 2010 Olympics slated to take the city in just a short 6 months.

I am excited to see Vancouverites making a splash on the fashion scene through innovative ways of looking at design, fashion, lifestyle, and marketing. Fashionable cyclist wear is one idea, but there are so many others to be dug up in this city that have to potential to percolate internationally. Plus, the only fashion degree program west of Toronto has as part of its criteria that the 4th year collections be based off a niche market. It’s not just a coincidence; someone was smart, and recognized that doing this was crucial in moving Vancouver fashion forward and creating careers in a city that isn’t known for Veras, Calvins, and Karls. I myself am examining niche markets in deciding my market and vision for my grad collection. Hmm, hmm, food for thought!

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One Response to “Theories on Vancouver’s fashion industry”


  1. […] Annching at Fashion 2.0 ponders the state of Vancouver’s fashion industry. […]


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