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Will Menswear Save the Canadian Fashion Industry?

For years, womenswear has long dominated the Canadian fashion industry. But with men becoming one of the fastest growing market segments out there, brands and retailers alike are starting to pay attention. Here, a word on the matter. Plus, a comprehensive guide to the best menswear you should know about here on home turf.

It’s no secret that the Canadian fashion industry has its struggles. Nonexistent government funding, dismal retail support and low consumer interest create a revolving door of talented young designers who disappear into the abyss when they tire of living below the poverty line.

But there’s one oft-overlooked bright spot in the industry: menswear.  Not only are many Canadian men’s lines succeeding at home, they’re gaining traction around the globe. Just maybe, the future of made-in-Canada fashion isn’t glitzy gowns and cocktail dresses — it’s suits, shoes and outerwear.

“We’re seeing some real momentum around Canadian-based menswear right now. There’s a real resurgence of talented players in the marketplace,” says Belinda Yu, senior buyer at Harry Rosen, which now carries homegrown lines like Patrick Assaraf, Stolen Riches, United Stock Dry Goods, Herschel, Canada Goose, Mackage and more.

“The menswear market has just exploded in the last five years,” agrees Melissa Austria, owner of Toronto-based retailer, Gotstyle.

Proudly Canadian labels like Naked & Famous, wings + horns, Sully Wong, Bustle, Want Les Essentials de la Vie, Patrick Assaraf, Reigning Champ and Mackage are making it big and show no signs of slowing down.

“We launched the brand in 2008 and have had great reception from luxury stores both domestically as well as in over 30 countries worldwide,” says Brandon Svarc, the designer behind cult denim brand, Naked & Famous.

While part of these brands’ success can certainly be attributed to their innovation and business savvy, it’s undeniable that the fast-growing demand for stylish menswear has provided a unique window of opportunity that narrowed long ago for womenswear.

Since journalist Mark Simpson coined the term ‘metrosexual’ in 1993, it has become increasingly acceptable for men to openly display an interest in how they look. The recent spate of male-centric, yet sophisticated, TV shows like Mad Men and Suits, as well as the rise of stylish athletes like LeBron James and David Beckham also encourages men to jump into the world of fashion.

“Men are becoming much more sophisticated fashion consumers, which I love.  When I used to work on Bay Street, I caught a few sideways glances for my attire,” says Shawn Hewson, co-designer of Bustle. “Today, guys everywhere are dressing like they care; it’s no longer a sea of navy suits and white shirts.”

According to a report in The Business of Fashion, a mostly digital publication that focuses on the business side of the industry, men’s interest in fashion is growing so fast that they are now outspending women on items like shoes and other accessories in the U.K.  A Bain & Company Worldwide Luxury Goods report found that growth in the market for men’s ready-to-wear has outpaced that of womenswear since 2009, increasing between 9 and 13 per cent year-on-year.

“There are definitely more opportunities in menswear. The women’s market is oversaturated, convoluted and so celebrity-focused that it’s a shame,” explains Svarc.

While many womenswear brands have been slow to transition from physical retail spaces to the online world, men’s lines have embraced cyberspace from the beginning as a vessel for success. In addition to being the way of the future, e-commerce also has the added advantage of helping nervous male shoppers feel more comfortable.

Even with all their success, there’s a very Canadian tendency to overlook the success of these brands. Sure, they’re not as glamorous as some women’s labels, and aren’t often spotlighted in major fashion glossies like Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar, but they are changing our industry’s international reputation.

“Overseas retailers have always been good to our brand.  They tend to love all things western, “ explains George Sully of the sneaker brand, Sully Wong. “Many Canadian retailers only discovered us because they heard of our success overseas.”

“Japan is one of the best markets for us because consumers now see Canadian brands as great producers of winter gear, outerwear and tough, heavy, durable products in general,” says Svarc.

At home, Austria notices local shoppers gravitating towards fashion labels that promote Toronto pride. Suddenly, it is cool to be from the 416­ — no small thing for a city notorious for coveting the cool of cities like New York and Miami. This exercise in reputation building doesn’t just benefit brands’ bottom lines today. It secures their future.

“Men are also getting into fashion at a younger age. We have grade eight boys who come in and buy $800 suits for their graduation ceremonies,” says Austria. “They’re growing up with an interest in fashion, and an awareness of Canadian fashion. It’s not going to slow down.”

For brands like Sully Wong, the future is ripe with opportunity: “Everybody gets their time, and it’s Canada’s time now.”