When first starting our journey to develop the world’s most comfortable boxer brief for men, we explored all avenues of manufacturing, including producing the products right in our own backyard of Montreal, Canada.
We learnt a ton about manufacturing locally and want to share what we see as challenges and opportunities for the future. There are 3 main inputs in the manufacturing process and we’ll dissect each one for our own use case: Materials, Labor, Machinery.
In this article, we'll share our personal experiences and knowledge, and explore the challenges behind manufacturing men's underwear in Canada.
Canada is known for many natural resources although relatively speaking, it is a large country with a small population. Materials needed to manufacture men’s underwear, such as Cotton, and Modal are not easily grown in Canada due to climate and harsh seasons. Some options do exist when speaking of polyester or nylon for example but these are synthetically made yarns, composed of petroleum - which are not a hygienic options for men’s underwear. As a result, many raw materials must be imported from overseas, mainly from Asia. Combined with the high cost of transportation, adds to the cost of production.
For our case at Manmade, we chose to use Modal, a yarn that’s sourced from Beech Trees that is known to be hygienic, breathable, and performant - the ideal material in our opinion for men’s underwear. Unfortunately, as it is less commonly used in manufacturing compared to Cotton, Polyester, and other synthetic fibers, this has raised other challenges when manufacturing in Canada aside from sourcing the materials itself. We can say that there are only a couple of fabric knitters in Canada and couldn’t achieve our desired performance and minimum standards for quality.
Availability of Sewers and Cutters
The labor market in Canada is highly educated with a high standard of living, and this is reflected in the labor market, industries served, and etc. The labor market within apparel manufacturing has been decreasing for decades, it’s truly a lost art and quality cutters and sewers are rare gems. Many manufacturers use sub-contractors when it comes to sewing, which is basically a network of semi-retired sewers that will have cut fabric received in their personal home, sewn on their personal machine, and then picked up as a finished product once ready. Fun fact: a couple of our grandmother’s (a.k.a. Nonnas) have worked the sewing machines in their careers here in Canada.
On the flip side, in countries like Egypt, Turkey, Sri Lanka, and so on, the apparel manufacturing industry plays a vital role in their economy, and an important, yet scarce opportunity for workers who have less than post-secondary education, or limited trade skills experience.
Labor Costs can account for 20-33% of the final cost of men’s underwear. It’s a garment that has many stitches and sewing points making it more complex to sew than a T-shirt for example while demanding a lower price point generally speaking. It also requires a low tolerance for margin of error. If specifications are not within a very small tolerance (⅛ of an inch for example), the fit of the underwear will not be satisfactory to end consumers.
Given that the US dollar dictates the price of raw materials and most trade in our global economy, the exchange rate heavily favours countries where the cost of living is low. This happens to include many developing countries across the world.
Developed countries like Canada and the USA for example, have a more educated and highly skilled labour force in comparison. The cost of living is exponentially higher compared to developing countries, and the exchange rate doesn’t cause a significant advantage when exchanging USD to CAD, compared to Pesos or Rupees for example.
As the apparel manufacturing industry is declining in developed countries, while simultaneously booming in developing countries (due to factors mentioned above), investments in capital expenditures (machinery, equipment, facilities, etc.) follows the same pattern.
Canadian manufacturers are investing less in leading edge technologies, while developing countries are. The outdated machinery and equipment is less efficient and less cost-effective compared to more modern machinery. Owners of outdated machinery must spend more on maintenance and repairs, which adds to the cost of production as well. In addition, the use of outdated machinery can result in lower quality products.
It’s our big hairy audacious goal to bring back manufacturing to Canada, and we believe we can do this by sticking to minimal selection of products, investments in leading edge technologies, and synergies of manufacturing only a couple of products compared to manufacturing hundreds of different seasonal products for dozens of brands.
Although the apparel manufacturing industry was one of the first to be revolutionized during the industrial revolution of the 19th century, it is one of the last industries to be revolutionized in the technological revolution of the 21st century. We are in a time of change, globalization is facing many challenges, benefits of manufacturing overseas are slowly declining, and we have the opinion that manufacturing may return to Canada in decades to come.