June 18, 2020 4 min read
“Designed in Canada”. You’ve likely seen these words on a brand’s website, social media accounts, or even a product’s hangtag. What does it actually mean?
“Designed in Canada” simply means that a company has an office in Canada where they design products from, nothing more, nothing less. Companies use these words as a way of distracting consumers by having them focus on the narrow Canadian connection they have, while often utilizing cheap manufacturing overseas.
A good habit you can adopt when embracing a more sustainable wardrobe is to read labels.
Before you buy a garment, check inside for a care label. The care label will state where the product was made, what it’s from, washing instructions and likely have the brand name as well. Every Canadian brand will also have a CA number, which is required by law by manufacturers or retailers of apparel sold in Canada.
When a label says “Designed in Canada”, it doesn’t tell you much about a brand. So long as they have some part of their design process happening in Canada, it’s a true statement. However, what does it actually mean? It means somewhere in the design process, someone, located in Canada participated. There are no other qualifications brands must meet in order to make this claim. However, there are two other labels you should be looking out for - “Made in Canada” and “Product of Canada” are both claims that are regulated by the Canadian Competition Bureau.
In order to make a “Made in Canada” claim, the last substantial transformation of the goods must have occurred in Canada, and at least 51% of the total direct costs of producing or manufacturing the goods is Canadian. There’s also a statement of “Made in Canada from Imported Parts/Materials” which simply denotes that the product was assembled in Canada but the majority of cost of the materials are imported. Encircled uses the made in Canada claim across many garments as both our materials and labour are Canadian-made. For garments where fabric is imported, we still meet the threshold of cost with our labour costs.
For a “Product of Canada” claim, the last substantial transformation of the good occurred in Canada; and all or virtually all (at least 98%) of the total direct costs of producing or manufacturing the good have been incurred in Canada. “Product of Canada” examples could include Maple Syrup, and gold jewelry.
Now that you know what labels to look out for when shopping Canadian-made, here’s background on why that matters.
Shopping locally-made is much more sustainable than buying clothing made overseas. By working with sewing studios less than 35km from our Toronto office, we’re able to significantly reduce our environmental impact from transporting clothing. This goes for any product made locally. It’s got an intangible positive environmental benefit.
The fashion industry is responsible for around 20% of wastewater worldwide, which comes from fabric dyeing and treatment. Canada has very stringent regulations covering the dye and finish industry, making Canadian-made clothing much less environmentally harmful. So, when we dye locally, we can ensure that wastewater is not being dumped into waterways like rivers and oceans, like what happens overseas. It’s properly disposed of as to protect people and the planet.
Shopping Canadian-made clothing supports the Canadian economy. Between 2004 to 2015, the percent of clothing made in Canada decreased from 40% to less than 5%. Unlike other industries, there is no government support for Canadian apparel manufacturing. So, when seeking investment or grants, this must be self-generated. In addition, there’s very little infrastructure left in Canada for knitting, dying and sewing. So, this can make it challenging to find production, and even impossible for some garments to be made here.
Purchasing Canadian-made supports the fair treatment of workers. Canada has strict labour regulations to ensure workers receive fair compensation and have a safe work environment. The labour regulations also control working hours, allow for unionization and payment of wages. These are benefits that we take for granted often in Canada but these same regulations don’t exist in many overseas countries. This is one of the key reasons fast fashion brands are able to sell a t-shirt for $8. They’re exploiting labour, and usually underpaying and underworking garment workers to get the maximum output for the lowest cost.
We want to point out that these benefits come from manufacturing in Canada, not the design process. Of course, having an office in Canada will create jobs locally and better the Canadian economy, but we can do more.
For more information on the benefits of shopping Canadian-made, read the “Why Made in Canada Matters” blog post.
The goal is not to write-off brands when you see “Designed in Canada” on their website or social media. Instead, we encourage you to see this as a queue to look into that company and their manufacturing. They’re clearly aware of the value and demand for Canadian products, so what are they doing about it?
Ask questions. Email. Check out their FAQs. Demand transparency on where and how their clothing is made from the workers to the materials.
Although, shopping Canadian-made does require a fair amount of research, it is a key part of the slow fashion movement - to educate yourself. Luckily, there are great resources available to make it easier.
Here are several of our favourites for finding made in Canada brands:
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