HQ Vancouver: Growing a global hub of premium and performance apparel in B.C.Jan 21, 2016
Unbeknownst to many of its residents, British Columbia is home to a cluster of head offices in the premium and performance apparel sector – and the province should strive to leverage the unique advantages it has to offer to entice organizations to set up head offices here, and nurture those less-developed ones that already call B.C. home.
This was the prevailing message at a special HQ Vancouver event, held at the Segal Graduate School on January 15. The event focused on the success within B.C. of globally recognized and innovative brands in premium and performance apparel, and how the province can support the sector’s continued growth.
Chaired by Yuen Pau Woo, President of HQ Vancouver, the event featured guest speakers Marcus Ewert-Johns, head of Canadian Manufacturers & Exporters’ (CME) operations in B.C., Jon Hoerauf, Vice President of Arc’teryx, and Susan Gelinas, Vice President of Health, Wealth and Mobility at Lululemon athletica.
Earlier that day the Beedie School of Business had hosted a historic event where Han Jun, Vice Chairman of China’s Office of the Central Leading Group on Financial and Economic Affairs and Central Rural Work Leading Group, presented China’s thirteenth Five-Year Plan. Woo noted that he had been surprised by one revelation from Han at the presentation: that the main purchase by Chinese tourists traveling to the US and Canada is shoes and clothing – an extremely relevant statistic given the topic of conversation at hand.
Providing some background on the function of the CME, Ewert-Johns said that its mandate is to ensure that there is a thriving manufacturing cluster in Canada. Stressing that manufacturing is more than just fabrication, he revealed that B.C. has more than 100 apparel companies headquartered within it, employing 7000 people within B.C. and some 14000 globally.
“If you look at the colleges and universities in Vancouver, there is some amazing textile research being done,” he said. “In B.C. apparel is fourth behind only wood, food, and paper production. It’s flying under the radar, and our goal is to make sure it gets the attention it deserves. Both Lululemon and Arc’teryx started in garages – we want to turn some of the 60 or so small labels in Gastown into the next Lululemon.”
Gelinas then described Lululemon as “vertically integrated”, meaning that the company’s business encompasses everything from sourcing, raw materials, creative design, and commercialization through to their stores. They now have over 1200 staff within their head office, which is now split over three different locations in Vancouver. Though the company has grown at a fast pace, it is still looking at opportunities to expand, which presents unique challenges.
“Talent has been an interesting journey,” she said. “Growing at the rate we have, it’s been challenging to find the unique skillsets to grow the business, so often we look outside of Canada to find it. So the cost of living and the dollar are real challenges. In the long term we have a great opportunity to partner with schools, and look at how we can build out a functioning curriculum so they have the education within Vancouver to succeed.”
Also hailing from Vancouver is Arc’teryx, with Hoerauf emphasizing how proud the company is to call the city its home. He revealed that the combination of big city living with world-class outdoor terrain on the doorstep makes the city an ideal testing ground for their products, as well as providing inspiration for their designs. Indeed, once the designers have an idea, they can have a sample ready within an hour and be testing it within B.C.’s backcountry an hour later.
Like Lululemon, Hoerauf said that Arc’teryx has a commitment to remaining in Vancouver and recruiting local talent.
“We are going to quadruple the size of our facility in B.C. in 2016,” he said. “Our goal is to recruit and train local talent. We have over 800 employees in the lower mainland and are growing by around 40 per year in head office. When we put our big factory online we will need another 250 employees there.”
For more information on HQ Vancouver, visit hqvancouver.ca
Watch the full event below: