How designers throughout the nation reacted to a necessity — and what it meant for his or her enterprise.
In early March of final yr, Greta Constantine designers Kirk Pickersgill and Stephen Wong had been returning to Toronto from Paris, the place they’d introduced their Fall 2020 ready-to-wear assortment to keen consumers. “We had a extremely nice season,” Pickersgill remembers. 13 days later, the world floor to a halt. “Orders had been cancelled left, proper and heart,” he says of the chaotic early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the sudden, shuttering their 15-year-old model was an actual risk: “It was a sink or swim second,” he provides.
Throughout a yr the place there was nowhere to go and nothing to decorate up for, non-medical face masks had been the one must-have accent; with the Public Well being Company of Canada suggestion that masks be worn inside two meters of any particular person exterior of your family, you’ll be able to’t get far with out one. For a lot of Canadian style designers, producing face masks grew to become a strategy to generate some income amidst sluggish gross sales; but it surely additionally allowed them to attach with their trade friends and provides again to the group.
Pickersgill discovered himself personally slicing and stitching for the primary time in a decade, utilizing discarded bits of the model’s signature machine-washable Italian microfibre knit to create elaborately ruffled (and different very on-brand) masks, which had been intentionally offered through retailers relatively than direct to client.
“[The face masks allowed] the retailer to have a dialog with the buyer to say, ‘I do know it’s not the second to go searching for occasions, however we’re nonetheless right here for you,’” says Pickersgill. The work, he says, additionally bolstered his psychological well being.
Likewise, Julia Barnes, the Calgary-based designer behind the inclusive swimsuit line Honubelle, discovered making masks gave her a way of objective early on within the pandemic. “It was by no means meant to be a large-scale manufacturing,” says Barnes, who handcrafted masks from upcycled materials she sourced from second-hand shops. The aim wasn’t to show a revenue, she says: “It was extra about giving again.”
As Canadian designers made masks, Canadian consumers had been keen to buy them. There was a groundswell of assist for native companies through the pandemic — one Nina Kharey, designer of womenswear line Nonie, says she noticed first-hand. Whereas her model was hardly under-the-radar (Nonie items have been worn by the likes of Meghan Markle), Kharey says new shoppers found Nonie when searching for out Canadian-made masks.
“I bought so many emails from individuals saying, ‘I by no means even knew you existed and I’m so excited to search out you as a result of I’m at all times in search of a Canadian style line to assist,’” says Kharey, who, along with promoting non-medical masks, secured a authorities contract for her enterprise to make medical-grade masks for healthcare employees.
“We had been producing 5,000 to 10,000 every week,” she notes. (The Calgary-based designer’s different pandemic undertaking, Folds — a line of recyclable and sustainably made antiviral, antibacterial and antimicrobial scrubs for medical professionals — launched in January of this yr and promptly offered out. Kharey says they’re now taking pre-orders and fielding curiosity from hospitals wishing to order scrubs for his or her whole employees.)
The patron need to buy a masks from a Canadian model, nevertheless, doesn’t at all times translate to purchases from its core assortment — and for a lot of designers, they by no means noticed face masks manufacturing as a long-term technique, anyway.
Regardless of demand being so excessive that Barnes needed to enhance the worth of her masks to cowl the price of transport to prospects throughout Canada, she doesn’t plan to renew manufacturing. “Honubelle is only a small staff,” she explains. “If I wish to keep true to the model and what we do, there’s not sufficient sources proper now to get into [mass] face masks manufacturing.”
At Greta Constantine, masks sought to assist with model visibility and assist retailers through the downturn in gross sales. After they launched in Might 2020, face masks had been 25 % of the model’s complete month-to-month income. In June, they had been 50 %. By August, masks gross sales had been solely 20 % of income — an indication that prospects had been prepared to start buying ready-to-wear and eveningwear as soon as once more.
However for different Canadian manufacturers, masks have grow to be a part of their core assortment. David Torjman, founding father of 18Waits, calls masks “an actual pure development” for its menswear line. 18Waits masks borrow best-selling prints from its well-tailored shirts: suppose charcoal herringbone and indigo paisley. “Equipment have at all times performed an necessary, however sartorially enjoyable, a part of providing,” says Torjman, who sees the potential for masks to be one other modern outlet for artistic expression (the model additionally created tutorials for the right way to make their masks patterns) — although the flexibility to be selective about your masks model is, after all, a luxurious not all can afford. Whereas masks weren’t a giant income driver — “we’ve in all probability given away extra masks than we’ve offered,” he says, noting the model relied on e-commerce to interchange misplaced gross sales from their shuttered brick-and-mortar location — promoting them aligns with their model DNA.
Whereas designers all over the world are nonetheless reeling from one of the vital difficult durations in historical past, Pickersgill says he’s optimistic in regards to the future — and Canadian style. (And with good motive: simply earlier this yr, inaugural poet Amanda Gorman wore a Greta Constantine robe on the quilt of Time journal.) “It made for a very totally different ambiance within the firm and a brand new method of shifting ahead,” says Pickersgill of the pandemic. “Proper now, I can say I’m ready for something.”