GEORGE BROWN COLLEGE FASHION EXCHANGE

George Brown College (GBC) Fashion Exchange (FX) fosters collaboration between fashion educators, industry partners, community organizations, and fashion students from their location in Regent Park, Toronto, Ontario. FX aims to develop a sustainable, socially conscious, and economically viable fashion industry.  Recognizing gaps in available talent within the Ontario apparel industry; FX developed new programs to prepare qualified graduates with the missing skills to enter the workforce. Because most small and medium-sized local fashion companies were unable to find contractors willing to manufacture products in smaller order quantities, FX responded by creating a production facility to manufacture small runs at a fair price; helping firms move past the initial stages of growth. Leveraging experience with applied research projects, FX is now expanding research capabilities to support local companies with technology adoption and sustainability related challenges.

Following extensive industry and community consultation regarding challenges, forces of change, and the impact of issues surrounding sustainability and technology adoption; the concept of a community based, industry accessible, education hub for fashion emerged.  Education programming start-up was solidified with successful application to the Ontario Government’s Youth Skills Connections (YSC) Industry Stream grant, obtained with the support of 29 fashion industry partners in the Greater Toronto Area. New entry level programs for Apparel Fit Technician curriculum and Industrial Power Sewing were established and delivered starting in 2015. Grand opening of the new facility at 63 Regent Park Boulevard occurred March 2016. Over the next two years, additional Graduate Certificate programs in Sustainable Fashion Production and Apparel Technical Design were developed and launched in September 2017. Marilyn McNeil-Morin, GBC Chair Fashion Studies, led the initiative from inception and became full time Director Fashion Exchange in 2017. Gagan Singh, Production Manager, joined Fashion Exchange in fall 2016 to develop the manufacturing operation to provide sample and short run apparel production for local fashion industry companies.  Presently over 70 start-ups and SMEs are counted among FX clients.  Industry partners are also active in providing field placements and employment to FX students and graduates and ongoing input on the development of education programs.  Women in Fashion Technology is the newest employment program and is a one-year employment program for women to become digital technology machine operators.

All FX programs are unique and were developed to fill voids in skills needed by industry. Industrial Power Sewing trains industrial production sewers for the newly revitalized local apparel production industry. Apparel Fit Technician was created with the partnership of Stitch It to provide front line customer service technicians for alteration shops and retail fitting rooms.  Students in this program diagnose and correct fitting problems on ready to wear garments. Women in Fashion Technology trains machine operators for laser cutting, dye sublimation printing, embroidery and knitting where digital skills are used to program and operate equipment. Sustainable Fashion Production program examines the entire apparel supply chain to improve the environmental and ethical footprint of apparel products, while maintaining quality and economic viability for companies who practise sustainable choices. Apparel Technical Design graduates utilize technology to produce an apparel collection and experience the full production cycle, for a complete working knowledge of fashion product development and manufacturing phases.

FX prides itself on creating curricula that give students essential, relevant skills to quickly obtain employment and become productive in the fashion industry. Along with course-specific learning outcome requirements, students gain essential soft skills such as communication, resume preparation, interview, problem solving, and interpersonal skills. All programs include field placement, providing students with industry experience in the workplace of an industry partner. Through the generosity of corporate donors and government grants, entry level employment programs are offered at no cost to qualified applicants.

As a response to the often-cited challenge to find local, affordable sample and small run production; FX initiated manufacturing to bridge that gap. Prior to this, new fashion companies were unable to afford large production orders, and either lost money attempting to go to market or could not proceed. FX offers fee for service that covers costs but does not undercut local manufacturers. The goal is to allow smaller companies to manufacture right size quantities, allowing them to grow and eventually outgrow their need for FX. As a result, industry capacity is increased, as expanding companies require additional talent to support their growth. FX production team members are all experienced professionals, ensuring high-quality results and client satisfaction. Pattern making, digitizing, grading, marker making, technical packages, and cut and sew services are provided.

With concerns over the difficulty to manage control of quality and cost in offshore production, many local designers prefer to manufacture locally. They value honesty, transparency, access to their product, reduced time to market and lower shipping costs they can experience when they produce with a trusted local manufacturer. FX ensures that the client is constantly involved in the design and production process, also offering mentorship in design and product development when needed.

FX is well-integrated within the community as many residents benefited from training programs and from participation at FX learning events such as a Kimono Upcycling Workshop and Natural Dye Workshop. A new proposed “Hidden Talents” initiative would connect local artisans with companies to utilize their skills in their products and thereby provide employment for artisans. Workshops to share traditional skills would provide cross-cultural community building and preserve culture for the next generation.

The next phase for FX is expansion of applied research capacity through FX Leading Innovation in Fashion Technology (LIFT) equipment, obtained through federal and provincial infrastructure funding. FX LIFT and the School of Fashion collaborate with industry partners to resolve specific challenges related to the full spectrum of the product lifecycle from design to post consumer textile waste recycling. The new technology lab at FX will include research opportunities in laser cutting, 3D body scanning, dye sublimation printing, and technical embroidery (smart textiles and wearables) and on-demand custom manufacturing. Experimentation with new technologies to enhance creativity, uniqueness, quality, reduce time to market, and improve process will in turn allow companies to compete more effectively in the apparel sector. Textile waste research includes technology for sorting, shredding and textile recycling to meet the goal for a circular economy in textiles.  The School of Fashion Textile Testing Lab will be expanded and outfitted with standard conditions-controlled environment and additional equipment to supplement research capabilities and provide added service to industry partners.

As a full-service production facility backed by a team of expert production and faculty members, FX is ready to collaborate with companies, individuals and organizations for products, projects and education programs to build an even more vibrant fashion industry and community.

Published on August 12, 2019

Company Profile

Company Description

Overview

Located in Regent Park, Toronto, Ontario, George Brown College Fashion Exchange (GBC FX) fosters collaboration between fashion educators, industry partners, community organizations, and fashion graduates. Through these collaborations, GBFX aims to develop a sustainable, socially conscious, and economically viable fashion industry. The organization has become a key part of the fashion industry in Ontario by developing qualified graduates who have practical experience and can immediately enter the workforce, and by partnering with medium-sized local fashion companies to manufacture small runs of their products at a fair price.

Key Facts

Headquarters: 63 Regent Park Blvd, Toronto, Ontario, M5A 0K7

Executives:

  • Director: Marilyn McNeil-Morin
  • Facility and Production Manager: Gagan Singh

Year established: 2016

Number of employees: 16

Programs

Education:

  • Entry Level Certificate Programs: Apparel Fit Technician, Industrial Power Sewing, Women in Fashion Technology
  • Post-Secondary Post-Graduate Certificate Programs: Apparel Technical Design, Sustainable Fashion Production

Manufacturing:

  • Sample making
  • Small production run services: pattern making, digitizing, grading, marker making, technical packages, cutting, sewing, finishing of apparel and textile products

Mentorship:

  • Industry experts are available to guide, assist, and advise clients on preparing collections for successful production

Custom Training:

  • Workshops are designed to target specific fashion industry interest

Markets

Customers:

  • Local fashion companies who require samples and small-batch orders to be manufactured

  • Companies who previously tried to outsource overseas and did not enjoy the customer experience

Exports:

  • Clients sell through their own channels which include brick and mortar, online, pop-up shops, or specialty shows. Some export is known through online sales.

R&D, Skills and Educational

R&D: FX actively partners with local companies in applied research projects. FX Leading Innovation in Fashion Technology (LIFT) research program expands research capabilities.

Skills: Education programs are taught by industry professionals with extensive industry and teaching experience. Production employees are multi-skilled and capable of performing various tasks required to manufacture apparel, resulting in the organization’s ability to manufacture a wide range of products for clients.

Education: Three entry level Certificate programs (Industrial Power Sewing, Apparel Fit Technician and Women in Fashion TECH) are funded by grants, providing opportunities for students with barriers to employment to receive training at no cost. Two Post-Secondary Post Graduate programs (Sustainable Fashion Production and Apparel Technical Design) deliver sustainability and technology related programs in a production setting.

History

After two years of industry and community consultation, Fashion Exchange was initiated with successful application to Ontario Youth Skills Connection grant in 2015 to offer two entry level employment programs. In March 2016, FX was officially opened at 63 Regent Park Boulevard. Since that time, FX has experienced rapid growth, adding another entry level program, two graduate programs, multiple successful grant applications, various industry partnerships, and grew the production client base to over 70 companies. The next phase will implement the FX Leading Innovation in Fashion Technology (LIFT) applied research program.

Competitive Environment

Competitors

  • FX occupies a niche that was previously unfilled in the market, and as a result has had considerable success without significant competitive pressure.

Partnerships

  • George Brown College
  • The Daniels Corporation 
  • JP Morgan Chase & Co.
  • State Street Foundation
  • R. Howard Webster Foundation
  • City of Toronto Employment and Social Services

Government

  • Ontario Youth Skills Connections Industry Stream Grants 
  • Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
  • Canada Foundation for Innovation
  • Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science 

SWOT Analysis

Strengths:

  • Unique educational programs provide students with practical and transferable knowledge, giving them the tools to immediately enter the industry after graduation into positons where they are in demand.
  • Operating a lean manufacturing space allows for a wide range of client requests to be accepted and completed efficiently.
  • Multi-skilled FX workforce results in the manufacturing of a wide range of high-quality products.
  • Positive relationships with clients and partners contribute to effective word of mouth advertising.
  • High degree of interaction with industry and community partners provides close connection to current developments and structure of FX allows for ability to respond in a timely way.

Opportunities:

  • Become more involved within the community with the implementation of additional community-based programming
  • Capitalize on recently approved research funding for new equipment and technology, and work with industry partner to experiment and disseminating findings that will transform the apparel industry.
  • Continue industry consultations and membership on key committees to ensure continued relevance to provided needed programs, services and research projects.

Threats:

  • Challenges related to ongoing funding when tied to grants. 

 

Performance

Awards

  • Chatelaine Woman of the Year: Marilyn McNiel-Morin

Professional Associations/Affiliations

  • IntelliWear Leadership Council – Canadian Organization for Wearable Technologies
  • Ontario Textile Waste Diversion Collective- Member
  • Canadian Apparel Waste Reduction - Member
  • American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) Foundation Board of Directors
  • Canadian Apparel Federation - Member
  • Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards – Nomination Committee
  • Apparel Affinity Group- Member
  • City of Toronto Fashion Industry Advisory Panel

OTHER PROFILES

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