Montreal’s Fashion Industry Jobs – Are they still around?

Montreal fashion industry majors often tell you that Montreal ranks among the three largest production centres, for fashion, in North America right after LA and New York. At the same time you will also hear about industry jobs going/gone abroad en masse. We’ve seen reports, blogs etc. mentioning a move to China, India, Sri Lanka or wherever, as a career strategy for one looking to work in the fashion industry. Should we stay put or pack our bags? The next flight to Shanghai or Colombo?

Take a deep breath y'all, lets dig a bit deeper. Try reading between the enthusiasm of the ‘all’s great’ gung-ho crowd and the ‘nay-saying’ doomsday crowd.

Needle Trade Image

Well it is true that the once mighty Apparel Industry (clothing and textile combined) has become much leaner an employer. This is in keeping with the Canadian apparel industry downward trending numbers, as in reports by Stats Can. It’s also obvious from the same statistics and reports, that the beneficiaries of this change have been China, India, Mexico etc.

On the other hand, according to the Ville de Montreal fashion industry portal more than 70% of Quebec’s apparel industry activities are concentrated in Montreal. The portal also touts the ‘Montreal top three’ line, probably to make up for the fact that nobody seems to have updated the ‘portal’ in a while. According to Elliot Lifson, head of the CAF, the apparel industry employs around 30000 people: Great Section on Fashion. Hope the CAF would also spend some time on online publications (including getting the Ville de Montreal to update that stagnant portal) to get the word out…haven't they heard yet that the average persons primary source of information is not the morning newspapers of a bygone (nostalgia...hear me) era? But I digress ;-)

Back to the question, should you stay or should you go? Pick up a Mandarin or Sinhalese dictionary along the way? Well, upgrading your linguistic capabilities is never a bad idea. However, I don’t think you have to forsake Montreal to be working in the apparel trade. It is true that manufacturing jobs of the apparel trade, like in many other industries, have moved to places where labour costs are significantly lower. However there are plenty of skills that are still in demand by the apparel sector right here at home. The fabulous pieces that are put together in  Bangladesh, China, Sri Lanka and so on…start their ‘Concept’ phase right here. Teams of dedicated designers, graphic artists, tech-pack experts, production coordinators, traffic coordinators, etc. do an amazing job to ensure that the threads we sport, make it from the realm of ideas - to the drawing board - to the mill in China - to your favorite retail outlet - to your wardrobe. After all, the bulk of the mainstream fashion-clothing needs are met by retailers, including the big chains.

So yes, some older skill-sets have been replaced by the demand for newer ones. That’s arguably, always been the price of progress. If the folk in Bangladesh and Cambodia have a better shot at life while making stuff cheaper for me...good for all of us! Maybe its a fine way to redistribute the wealth compared to a charity 'handout'.

Garment Factory

Given the option I would rather be working in an harried office environment than slaving on an assembly line, doing the same routine, day in and day out. That’s probably me…but then again it is something to think about, isn’t it?

As the industry here gains increasing specialization in design, concept and production co-ordination, so will follow the software tools and other systems that will be pioneered by these very specialists. This obviously means the creation of new opportunities for the industry. Specialization is often the catalyst for invention (ok 'necessity' you are still the mother). The way the industry interacts with media for recruitment, promotion, information dissemination etc...will undergo significant shifts too. will track these changes with a series of articles that pry into the changing face of Montreal’s Fashion industry. Also check our career focus section where we meet some of the hardworking Montrealers, from various segments of the production process, to find out how they make the magic happen.


Image from Cambodia :
Image from Bangladesh :

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