There are opportunities in the Canadian apparel market for experienced exporters who are serious about trying to enter the Canadian market and for creative entrepreneurs who can supply innovative and fresh products to this market. Some retailers and producers have focused their efforts on the younger market because of the higher spending trends in this sector; however, with Canada’s ageing population, fashionable designs for an active older generation will be well-received.
Suppliers should also look at opportunities within the immigrant market since many of these consumers are fashion conscious and prepared to shop for the latest, unique styles. Efforts should also be made to obtain contracts from Canadian designers and manufacturers who are increasingly seeking to bring their products to market at competitive prices.
Canada is not the market to test your first export experience; a history of exporting to a market closer to home is invaluable before attempting this one. Show the potential buyer that you have done your homework and are serious about a long-term relationship. Research, planning and commitment are essential in establishing a good reputation in trade with this country.
Key issues to note:
•    Seasons
The key consumer spending seasons are spring (March to May), summer (June to August) and Christmas. In addition, other religious or cultural festivities (Chinese New Year, Eid alFitr, etc.) are increasingly important dates to watch. Importers make their purchases well in advance of these seasons, for instance, placing orders from China 6 or 7 months ahead, or from Bangladesh 9 months ahead. Exporters must therefore begin their marketing efforts well in advance of these dates.
•    Labelling
Labels on imports must conform to Canadian standards. Exporters should consult with and have the buyer approve drafts prior to printing. If any requirement of the Canadian labelling regulations is missing, the goods cannot be sold. Exchanging or attaching additional labels is time consuming and expensive. Imports bearing a description in a foreign language must have a separate label in English and French which complies with labelling regulations. The importer in this case is responsible for the labelling. Pictures and illustrations on the label must correspond to the contents of the package.
•    Access to raw materials (fabric and accessories)
Brands are increasingly demanding environmentally sound practices at every stage in the process, from field to market. To this end, suppliers are encouraged to pursue long term relationships with nearby fabric producers rather than using multiple producers in farther off locations; this makes it easier to solve fabric defect problems. Since fabric costs are a huge proportion of the apparel cost, (in woven apparel, it can represent approximately 50%), local control of fabric sourcing is so important that some buyers have set the following requirements for their suppliers:
  •  80-85% of fabric and accessories should be sourced in-country;
  •   95% should be a maximum of 7-day transit;
  •  99% should be a maximum of 14-day transit.

•    Labour Rights
Labour rights issues are viewed by most buyers as being as important as environmental issues. Major violations of human rights and/or political or social instability can affect sourcing decisions. Brands clearly want governments in producer countries to improve on environmental and labour standards regulations and their enforcement.
•    Responsible and Sustainable Apparel:
This trend goes well beyond organic cotton. While organic styles will continue to be popular, focus is also shifting to two other categories of sustainable apparel. The first is recycled fabrics — from post-consumer recycled soda bottles to pre-consumer recycled fabrics — and these blends have made a strong debut. Another important consideration is apparel manufactured by Apparel and Textiles corporately responsible companies. Exporters should try to market themselves by offering buyers their published CSR statements and try to choose to work with vendors committed to the same level of compliance.
•    Retail Styling
In general, Canadian consumers demand quality fabrication, construction and fit similar to high-end retail brands. Many brands have introduced wrinkle-free woven shirts, and many options are available now with multiple convenience qualities such as stain resistance or stain release, adjustable collars, no-curl collars, fade resistance and non-pilling properties. For the executive consumer, styles with these features also come with fused collars, cuffs and placket and taped seams to reduce puckering and collar curling after washing.
•    Quality
Careful attention should be paid to overall workmanship and the quality of detailing. A voluntary sizing system, the ‘Canada Standard Size’, is in place in Canada. The system is based on actual body measurements and covers both regular and irregular sizes. The most popular widths for consumer (home sewing) fabrics are 115 cm (36”) and 150 cm (54”). For upholstery and other industrial uses, the fabrics are generally wider, varying with the requirements of the production. Hand loomed textiles are generally sold in a narrower market such as stores or manufacturing facilities specializing in hand crafted products.
•    Consistency and reliability
Quality and supply must be consistent and reliable, and the product must offer real commercial viability to the Canadian buyer. Close communication is critical, since the buyer needs constant feedback from the supplier. Make yourself consistently available to answer questions and provide information, and ensure that someone in your group can speak English or French. Send photographs and where possible, samples of your items, since this is a very visually oriented sector. Larger retailers insist that suppliers have internet access capabilities for quick communication.

The above factors are all crucial in affecting the decision of the buyer, who can source items from many other competitive sources. Canadian guidelines for apparel and textiles affect imported and domestic products equally. Imports sold on the Canadian market must meet minimum requirements based on factors such as flammability (especially for children’s sleepwear), durability and strength. In many cases, buyers also have their own specifications for imported textiles (e.g., colour-fast, pre-shrunk, sanitized, and stain resistant, etc.).
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