sports polo paid off for Kathy Cheng
As a child, Kathy Cheng spent weekends and summer days sitting atop rolls on rolls of colourful fabric at her family clothing factory in Toronto east end. She played with her toys and colouring books, gazing at the seamstresses and fabric cutters working around her.Today at 39, she is at the centre of it all in a different way: Kathy is now her father business partner as president of WS Co. Ltd., and founder of its promotional apparel division, Redwood Classics. The company co founded by Chak Cheng in 1988 is one of a few full service garment manufacturers left in Canada.The Chengs built and rebuilt amid mounting pressure from offshore competition. And despite their immigrant roots tracing back to Hong Kong and Asia clothing factories, WS Co. has remained fiercely Canadian. So much so, that Kathy now calls herself a for Canadian garment manufacturing. so proud of my Chinese heritage, and so honoured to be Canadian, said Cheng, who came to Canada from Hong Kong at the age of four, one year after her father arrived in 1978. had so many opportunities to go offshore but we chose not to. In our little way we want to give back to the country that given us so much. a niche in the marketplace for brands looking for locally madeSince its launch, WS Co. estimates it has made enough zip polo sweatshirts for every Canadian to have one. In the past 27 years, its clients have included Roots, Polo Ralph Lauren, J. Crew, Holt Renfrew, Club Monaco and Hudson Bay Co. athletic brand Champion, and is a domestic knitwear supplier for luxury brand Coach Inc.Consumers are becoming more conscious of where their products come from after the Bangladesh factory collapse in 2013, Cheng said. and Canadian brands are also showing increasing interest in having a North American component to their sourcing strategy.not just social, but also proximity, she said. a niche in the marketplace for brands looking for locally made due to a number of reasons. One of them being quality but also the flexibility, the quick turnaround, the proximity, the cultural understanding. comes from a line of textile manufacturers. Her grandfather was a manufacturer in China. When her father first came to Canada he worked as a fabric cutter by day, and delivered pizzas and waited tables at Chinese restaurants to make ends meet. Cheng mother worked as a seamstress. wasn a luxurious upbringing, but I don regret any moment of it, Cheng said. grew up understanding that money didn grow on trees. her father and his siblings pooled their money and opened Wing Son Garments Ltd. It began with just five workers and 10 machines. By the 1990s, it grew to nearly 500 employees.The ‘Made in Canada’ brand: Does it even make any economic difference?Class action suit seeks $2 billion from Loblaw,
Joe Fresh over 2013 Bangladesh garment factory collapseTheir fortunes changed in the early 2000s, with China accession to the World Trade Organization and its dominance for production offshoring. By 2008 when the recession hit, the garment maker had close to 200,000 square feet of facilities and had downsized to as few as 100 staff.most textile families, we were left with the decision: Do we retire or not? At that point my aunt and uncle had both retired from the business. It was just my dad holding on to this thing, Cheng said.In 2009, the company restructured with 40 staff, moved to a smaller facility and re branded as WS Co. Cheng brought sales and marketing experience to complement her father textile experience creating a niche line, Redwood Classics, for producing high end, made in Canada corporate apparel.I founded Redwood Classics, we were probably the first supplier to be able to say, every single SKU in this [promotional apparel] catalogue is proudly made in Canada, said Cheng, who was one of three Canadians named to the EY Entrepreneurial Winning Women program for 2014.a way for Canadian companies to show they loud and proud. Their branding comes with a tag that says in Canada and on a product that of great quality. Why put your company branding on an inferior shirt? rebuilding at WS Co. appears to have paid off. Last year, the company expanded to a nearly 50,000 sq. ft. plant from 30,000 sq. ft., with its staff of 100.Kevin Van Paassen for made in Canada approach is less important than fair market value, Silva said. a market where fast fashion and online shopping is gaining in Canada, it got to be tough to compete for made in Canada brands. Redwood Classics has only made a dent in the promotional marketplace. It the tip of the iceberg, she said. Redwood Classics works with eight of the top 40 promotional wear distributors, whose combined sales are about US$1 billion in North America.Cheng has helped WS Co. innovate in another way: giving a voice and face to a Canadian manufacturer that was always behind the scenes. Her plan is to continue building the brand online and sharing their craftspeople stories. Redwood Classics latest lookbook featured the product developers, sewers and cutters that have worked for their factory for decades.look at our family struggles, our humble beginnings to building the factory to something big and then the demise of the domestic textile industry, and rebuilding into and creating a niche for domestic production, Cheng said, adding that is not a goal and that big for me. It a byproduct of our hard work and integrity, and not forgetting where we come from.