Ottawa fashion industry on the rise

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When you catch the attention of celebrities such as Drake, you know you’re doing something right.

Arfie Lalani, marketing instructor, Richard Robinson Fashion Design Academy

by Michael Hammond

That was the case with Ottawa designer clothing label Oxyrotin, but you’d be forgiven if you weren’t aware of the label or the growing stable of celebrity fans who wear Oxyrotin gear.

The same can be said for Ottawa’s fashion community.

Marc McArthur, founder of Style Identity, wants to shine a light on Ottawa’s style and fashion designers, whose numbers he estimates to be around 150 and growing. Not all have established their own online boutiques or sales channels, but Mr. McArthur thinks Ottawa’s fashion community is set to make the jump from cottage industry into legitimate fashion force.

“Ottawa has a big disconnect between the public and fashion community,” he said. “Most residents don’t know how active our community is.”

Mr. McArthur’s company aims to bridge the gap between the city’s designers and customers by launching a fashion portal in July on an informal basis. The portal,, will give designers and boutique clothing companies the ability to sell their wares in return for a subscription fee. Revenue from all sales will go directly to the designer. The site will be set up so consumers looking for locally produced designer clothing can search by designer, fabric or clothing item, for example.

The company plans to focus its efforts on a formal launch for the fall, which will coincide with the start of the fall fashion season, generally seen as the start of the year for designers.

Mr. McArthur, who has always had an interest in style and fashion, said he aims to eliminate some of the largest barriers to designers by selling them what he calls “fashion templates” on the portal.

Arfie Lalani, a local designer and marketing instructor at the Richard Robinson Fashion Design Academy, says the school produces about 60 to 70 graduates per year, but only five to 10 are able to establish themselves as designers.

“A lot of designers come out of school wanting to do their own shows,” he said. “But we’re artists, not entrepreneurs.”

For example, of the 150 active designers, Mr. Lalani said about 40 or 50 have established their own boutiques or sites. A few have their own shops, like Stacey Bafi-Yeboa, who operates her own Kania Studio Boutique in the Byward Market.

Mr. Lalani, who recently joined Mr. McArthur’s company, hopes Style Identity will become a hub where the city’s fashion community can gather and share information. In addition to providing an online sales portal, Mr. Lalani and Mr. McArthur said Style Identity will provide young designers with marketing advice, social media strategies and contacts for manufacturing, silk screen shops and other practical matters that go into the production of a clothing collection.

Mr. Lalani said the Style Identity portal’s launch will come at an ideal time for the community, which is in search of another way to promote itself after the recent demise of the twice-yearly Ottawa Fashion Week event.

Organizations: Richard Robinson Fashion Design Academy

Geographic location: Ottawa

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