August 14, 2022


Forget Mediocre Fashion

Canadian fashion brands buck Black Friday mayhem

“It’s mass production and over consumption.”

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While most companies prepare for Black Friday by dropping prices, a few Canadian fashion brands are choosing instead to mark the shopping holiday in other ways.


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“Black Friday and Cyber Monday are among the world’s largest pollutants. Most of the goods purchased during this timeframe are usually thrown out after only a few uses,” Mackenzie Yeates, co-founder chief brand officer of the Toronto-based clothing company Kotn , says.

That “hyper-discount culture that leads to the overproduction and overconsumption of goods” is in direct opposition with the company’s values, Yeates says.

“We want to encourage people to shop consciously and shop for a good cause,” Yeates says. “Support small, local and BIPOC-owned businesses, skip plastic packaging, invest in items because you’ll wear them for years, not because they’re on sale, and shop with brands that are committed to our planet.”


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Instead of dropping prices, Kotn has partnered with a group of artists — Lilian Martinez of Los Angeles, Ryan Vicente Lee Grees of Cairo, Luis Mora of Toronto, and Julia Gr of Montreal — to create limited-edition designs inspired by what “lasting community means to them.”

The company will be donating 100 per-cent of all proceeds, up to $250,000, from Black Friday through Giving Tuesday toward building schools in rural Egypt, where most of the cotton for the company’s designs come from.

The schools project is part of the company’s “ongoing commitment” to its “literacy initiative” called The ABCs Project, which has seen approximately $500,000 towards the creation of 10 schools in the Nile Delta and Faiyum regions in Egypt since 2017.


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“It’s important for us to lead by example, flipping that narrative to instead empower people to use their dollars for good,” Yeates says of the initiative, which started five years ago.

In lieu of markdowns, Victoria-based sustainable clothing brand Ecologyst has partnered with multimedia artist and Hereditary Chief Makwala Rande Cook to create a limited-edition collection called Ecology Today that includes unisex t-shirts and a pullover, along with an original artwork by Cook — a wood carving that is up for auction. Twenty per-cent of the sales from the products, and the total of the auction, will go toward the Ma’amtagila First Nation.

The initiative also includes a fundraising partnership with Cook and Sierra Club B.C to help with legal fees related to the protection of their territory, according to the brand.


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The Ecology Today hoodie from Ecologyst.
The Ecology Today hoodie from Ecologyst. Photo by Ecologyst

Stephanie Sonya Ibbitson, owner and designer of the Vancouver-based accessories brand Sonya Lee , says her brand will be skipping Black Friday entirely, as it does with all sale cycles and fashion calendars.

“We make all of our pieces by hand, mostly made to order. Therefore we are not trying to sell out already purchased merchandise, which is why most brands decide to participate in these sorts of events,” Ibbitson says. “Additionally, our bags are not a seasonal product, so we do not need to unload products before the next season comes.”

Ibbitson says she recognizes that “not all brands can abstain from the sales cycle,” and that not all participants in Black Friday markdowns are perpetrators of the fast-fashion industry.


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“They might run a small brand, make things ethically, with small runs and still need to ensure they are not holding on to seasonal stock,” Ibbitson says. “The majority of the Black Friday sales are not that.

“The sale season starts earlier and earlier every year. Stores and brands are buying merchandise solely for the purpose of unloading it on Black Friday to obtain a larger customer base and increase their Q4 sale numbers. It’s mass production and over consumption.”

The Maya handbag from Vancouver brand Sonya Lee.
The Maya handbag from Vancouver brand Sonya Lee. Photo by Sonya Lee

Ibbitson makes all Sonya Lee creations by hand herself using ethically sourced leather, she says. The handbags come with a lifetime warranty, which further contributes to the inability to markdown her merchandise, she says.

“In order for our business to continue to grow we require the full amount of what we charge,” Ibbitson says. “Selling items at a discount only creates more work for us — and less money.”

As the owner of a small, slow-fashion line, Ibbitson says the pressure from the industry, coupled with consumer expectations of snagging a deal, can make it hard for companies to opt out of these types of markdown models.

“Consumers expect things to be on sale earlier and earlier, and therefore push smaller brands to participate or face lower sales numbers,” Ibbitson says. “I think we get the squeeze on both sides.”

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