It’s ironic. We want our apparel made in Canada but we don’t want to be the ones making it. So it appears in Vancouver at least.
Four of our six contract factories in Vancouver are looking for sewers. Some have even posted "sewer wanted" placards on their front doors. Factories are having a hard time finding workers because the work is tough, repetitive and at minimum wage. It’s also sporadic meaning periods of no work (and no pay) or too much work (long hours) for minimum wage plus overtime. With this in mind, it’s easy to figure out why the Asian immigrant women who fill these ranks have fled to more stable and less assembly-line rigid occupations in the local labour market.
Factories running short on workers have significant financial implications for MEC. Namely goods not delivered on time translate to lost sales. Here’s how it works. Some products are season specific like winter wear. The best selling period for this merchandise is just before the temperature drops (sometime in the fall) and a few weeks before it warms (in advance of spring). If MEC can’t get product on the retail floor during this period, it’ll miss the market demand. MEC will frustrate customers who will eventually shop elsewhere. To compound matters, the goods will gradually arrive but will likely be out of synch with the selling season. Hence, MEC will be stuck with too much winter merchandise that will need to be either discounted or "inventoried" for next year. Given that MEC has strict policies on marking down prices, the winter gear will likely be stored until next year. Merchandise packed away in the back of the stores or at our warehouse is underperforming capital. It’s money not earning money and it’s expensive when we’re dealing with millions of dollars locked in inventory that can’t be sold.
Our strongest factory in Vancouver making world class products just informed us that it will be four weeks late with its delivery because many of its workers quit. Delivering on time is important. It’s as important as quality and price. When any of these variables are compromised, retailers begin to search for options including sourcing off shore.
It appears Canadians want to buy clothes that are made in Canada but they don’t want to be the ones making them. The workers who make these clothes, Asian immigrant women, are finding more attractive occupations and are leaving behind their sewing jobs.
Personally, I like my clothes to be made in Canada but at the same time I’m torn because the work behind making this stuff is hard, repetitive and poorly paid. It’s an occupational ghetto that only attracts Asian immigrant women. If I can live with this inequity then I’ll have no hesitation in buying locally made clothing. For those who vigorously demand "Made in Canada", can you?