Interview: Toronto Fashion Incubator
Updated: Mar 25, 2021
In celebration of the latest issue of Textile View magazine, we sat down with Toronto Fashion Incubator's executive director, Susan Langdon to find out more about the amazing not for profit, fashion business support programme.
Tell us about Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) and what services you provide?
The Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) is an award-winning not-for-profit organization that was established by the City of Toronto in 1987. It’s the world’s first official fashion incubator and Toronto’s first business incubator. TFI provides B2B opportunities, studio space and mentoring to fashion entrepreneurs to help them launch and grow their businesses.
One of our key B2B events is our London Fashion Week export development initiative that we present each season at Canada House. With help from the High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom, Global Affairs Canada Canada-UK Foundation and City of Toronto, we showcase Canadian apparel and accessory designers and invite UK retailers, sales agents, distributors and media. It’s been a wonderful experience and all of the designers have made valuable connections.
How did TFI start?
Back in 1987, the fashion industry was the second largest industrial employer in the City of Toronto; that translates to a lot of jobs and tax revenue for the City and for Canada. The government was concerned about the future of the industry because employment figures were starting to decline so a group of fashion industry stakeholders were asked for ideas about how to keep the business of fashion thriving. The unanimous decision was to offer support to fledgling designers who needed help the most because typically 3 out of 4 new businesses don’t survive the first three years. It was thought that if these new designers could make it past year three, they would go on to hire workers, attract investment and generate wealth.
The TFI has showcased Canadian designers within embassies around the world - how did this start and what effect does this have on the designers showcased?
A few years ago, I noticed that many of the world’s top grossing e-commerce retailers were based in the UK and that consumers were abandoning bricks and mortar stores for shopping online. I realized what a great (financial) opportunity it could be for Canadian designers if their lines could be picked up by Net-a-Porter, Matches or ASOS but the challenge would be how to get the Canadians noticed by these companies. Retail buyers and sales agents from London (as well as Paris and other international fashion centres) rarely, if ever, come to Canada to source collections
I decided to fly to London at my own expense and pitch the idea of a Canadian designer showcase to the decision-makers at Canada House because I would need their help in order to get my idea off the ground. It took two years of pitching, but eventually we came up with a plan and an agreement. Our first event was February 2018 and since then we’ve been back at Canada House with a new batch of designers every season at London Fashion Week. While no one from our group has landed an order from any of the big e-comm sites yet, many designers have received orders from other retailers, several are carving representation deals with UK sales agents and distributors and all of the designers have made incredible B2B connections.
What is next for TFI?
When you run a non-profit it’s always good to be positive but also realistic so I don’t usually make long term goals. In the near future, we hope to continue showcasing Canadian designers in London each season and perhaps explore other markets too such as Paris or Tokyo but we are dependent on government funding so our fingers are crossed that grants will continue to become available to us. We’d love to secure some corporate and event sponsorships too so that’s one of our key goals moving forward.