Fashion

Canadian designers embrace sustainable fashion

By: Natalie Wong

A dress from Elroy Apparel. Courtesy Leanne McElroy Author: Canadian Living Credits: A dress from Elroy Apparel. Courtesy Leanne McElroy

Fashion

Canadian designers embrace sustainable fashion

By: Natalie Wong
"You are what you wear." This quote holds true, at least in a social sense. Clothing may reveal your personality, your spending habits and even your type of employment. What you wear, however, represents so much more. Each garment has a story of its own, one that impacts us as consumers. Do you know how the shirt you just bought was manufactured? Have you ever questioned how much workers were paid to make it?
 
Today, it's becoming more and more important to choose your apparel consciously, and to make sustainable fashion choices. Fast fashion, a term describing low-cost clothing collections that are manufactured to mimic current luxury trends, is far from sustainable. The manufacturing of these garments often results in a high consumption rate of materials and the exploitation of workers who toil in mediocre conditions and receive low pay. But thankfully, more designers and clothing brands are recognizing the importance of eco-friendly and ethically made garments, and this has led to rapid growth of sustainable fashion.

Harricana: A Montreal fashion label that saves animals
Sustainability is clearly on the radar in the Canadian fashion industry. Harricana, a Montreal clothing brand founded in 1993 by Mariouche Gagné, designs clothing with recycled materials such as fur, leather and cashmere. "I decided to try fashion in a different way by using recycled or long-lasting materials as much as possible," says Gagné. "I've been doing for that 21 years now. I'm starting to recycle products that I made 21 years ago," she adds with a laugh. According to Gagné, Harricana has recycled about 100,000 fur coats and saved the lives of about a million animals.
 
Harricana offers made-to-measure options for its customers in addition to off-the-rack pieces. "For a lot of Canadians, fur is a legacy that's passed on from generation to generation. The later generations come to our store with an old fur and choose the products they want us to make out of it," says Gagné.
 
When asked about the stigma that may come with selling fur, Gagné says that Harricana pieces are well received. "Some people are conscious about fur, but they realize it's the same thing as leather—it lasts for 150 years, so it's not that bad for the environment and it's easy to recycle."
 
Harricana ready-to-wear clothing is already available in Canadian stores such as The Bay, Sporting Life and Simons, but Gagné has her sights on expanding to become a luxury brand. She also hopes to see increased sustainability practices across the fashion industry, through recycling materials and greater awareness of the manufacturing process. Gagné finds that due to the growth of fast fashion, it's still a challenge to buy clothing consciously.

Elroy Apparel: A Vancouver-based brand with far-reaching effects

Leanne McElroy, a creative director at Vancouver fashion company Elroy Apparel, takes pride in her ethically conscious company. "Strict labour policies are a key responsibility for the companies to adhere to, but the consumer also has to change their mindset around fashion for real change to occur," she says. "Fast fashion needs to take a step back and learn more about how clothes are made, who makes them and how quality is more important than quantity."
 
Elroy Apparel produces eco-friendly women's clothing and accessories. The company creates product samples in Vancouver, then manufactures garments in Indonesia with a team of between eight and 15 workers, using sustainable, organic and upcycled materials. McElroy worked in developing areas of Indonesia in 2009, where she established a grassroots sewing cooperative through a sustainable employment project. "Our production prices ensure that each worker gets paid well," she says. "Prices per piece are not that far off from production costs in Canada," she says. "Elroy has grown because of our quality and the way we are able to find unique fabrics in small batches."
 
These are only two of many Canadian designers who have embraced sustainable practices in fashion. But, we, as consumers of fashion, also have a part to play. The next time you're shopping for clothes, consider investing in garments that are eco-friendly and made ethically. What do you want your clothes to reveal about you and the world you live in?
 
To find more eco-friendly fashion, check out these five eco-friendly fashion labels we love.
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Fashion

Canadian designers embrace sustainable fashion

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