Big Local Brands Talk Fashion-Forward Technology

Arc’teryx employs just over 500 between its North Vancouver head office and Burnaby factory.
Outdoor apparel company Arc’teryx keeps its manufacturing local with its Burnaby factory.

Lululemon, Arc’teryx and Indochino discuss the future of Vancouver’s apparel industry e-commerce, and trends in retail

The Vancouver Enterprise Forum (VEF) hosted a panel discussion on the future of Vancouver’s apparel industry and the technologies that allow Lululemon, Arc’teryx and Indochino to compete globally. A hub for performance apparel and eco-fashion, Vancouver’s apparel brands generated $100 million in sales last year.

Founded in 1988, the VEF is a networking forum for technology entrepreneurs in Vancouver. It holds eight events each year connecting financial agencies and investors with local entrepreneurs and students from UBC and SFU.

Moderated by John Catliff, former VP of sales at Helly Hansen, the panel featured Tom Waller, director of innovation at Lululemon; Dennis Rohm, CTO of Indochino and Carl Moriarty, senior design manager at Arc’teryx.

Consumers Want Custom Choices

“There’s a strong demand for custom, personalized apparel, for both fit and differentiation,” said Rohm. The Vancouver suit-making startup, which received $13 million in financing in March, offers customized menswear to consumers through its online store.

Vertically integrated, Indochino can produce, ship and deliver its suits from its manufacturing operations in Shanghai to customers in North America in four weeks. The quick turnaround time coupled with its ability to make small, custom batches of new features—such as smart pockets and water-resistant fabric—allow it to test new features within a period of two months without investing in thousands of units.

A Global Hub for Outdoor Apparel?

While Vancouver is a hub for performance, ski and technical apparel makers, few textile manufacturers still operate in the Lower Mainland.

Heavyweights Mountain Equipment Co-op and Lululemon moved production to Asia—mainly China and Taiwan—as they scaled up in the early 2000s, while small-scale manufacturers are undercut by low labour and real-estate costs in the developing world.

Arc’teryx’s factory in Burnaby gives the performance-wear maker a competitive advantage, said Moriarty. Its proximity to the North American market, which generates 50 per cent of Arc’teryx’s sales, and a six-week manufacturing period, has led Arc’teryx to invest in the 230-person facility despite comparatively high labour costs.

The closed facility also gives Arc’teryx access to contracts with law enforcement agencies and armed forces, like the U.S. military, and minimizes the risk of intellectual property theft.

But a shrinking skilled labour pool—the average textile worker age goes goes up every year—and an education system that churns out design grads more focused on building buzz than the process of product development, present challenges to B.C. apparel companies, said Moriarty.