Through our short history, we realize that at the beginning, our clothes had a utilitarian role, that of protecting us from the cold, bad weather and mosquitoes. Today, our wardrobe is a means of expression, it represents our identity. But for the Canadian textile and fashion industries to become what they are today, it took several revolutions.


Métier à tisser - Par Jerzy Górecki
Weaving loom - By Jerzy Górecki

Before Confederation, Canada was marked by its relationship with France and then with Great Britain. The colony supplies raw materials to the “mother country”, while the latter exports manufactured goods around the world.

When they arrived, the first settlers brought with them only the spinning wheel and the rudimentary loom, precious possessions for the household. With these, they make everyday clothes and bedspreads. From the First Nations, they borrow clothing made from skins and furs which are much better adapted to Canadian winters.

The clothes are then made by hand and at home. The process is artisanal, a few meters are manually woven at a time and each piece produced is unique. The natural fibers used are difficult to collect and then spun. The colors are neutral, made with natural dyes. The rich have a little more choice because they can import textiles from Europe but this is very expensive and you have to wait a very long time for new products. As production is difficult and the choice is limited, we have few clothes and they must last a long time. We repair and reuse them, we rarely throw them away.

Our ancestors were therefore eco-responsible before the term existed!

The industrial Revolution

Fileuse dans une usine de coton, 1908 - par By Lewis Hine
Spinner in a cotton factory, 1908 - by By Lewis Hine

With the industrial revolution taking hold, weaving looms and spinning wheels became obsolete. The cotton fiber is wound on industrial spinning machines, powered by steam. The amount of fabric that can be produced is spectacular. This is the beginning of the large-scale textile sector.

Despite technological developments, it was still necessary to wait until 1820 for the first wool factory to be built in Canada. Several others will follow, most of them in Quebec. Let us mention that in addition to the factory transformation of raw materials, the commercialization of the sewing machine, around 1850, will forever change the creation of products.

Fashion has never been the same!

Montreal is gradually becoming a hub of the Canadian fashion industry. Clothing production is dispersed across a large number of small workshops located near its city center. The textile industry was established in huge factories in Hochelaga, then a suburb of Montreal.

People are moving from the countryside to the city to find work, forever changing the Canadian economic model.

Mass production and new textiles

The 20th century was marked by new innovations in textiles and clothing. The appearance of synthetic fabrics and dyes as well as new production automation processes continue the revolution. At the beginning of this century, knitted material (jersey) and an increasing quantity of synthetic fabrics began to be produced. Across Canada, there are nearly 2,000 clothing and related product manufacturers.

Canadian industry is so well organized and efficient that it supplied the army during the two World Wars while continuing to satisfy up to 60% of the demands of its domestic market.

After the Second World War, clothing was now mass-produced. The quantity of products produced increases and people begin to have a greater choice of clothing, becoming more fashion conscious regardless of their social class. People now buy clothes for their style rather than out of need. The industry is thriving and with unionization, Canadian textile workers become the highest paid in the world in this sector.

It's easy, it's cheaper and you can get more right away. It’s also the golden age of shopping centers!

The deindustrialization of Canada

At the end of the 20th century, the WTO Agreement on Textiles and Clothing (ATC) led to a transfer to developing countries. The year 2005 marks the end of import quotas and Canadian protectionism, which leads to the decline of our local production. We can now produce outside the country at a lower cost. Factories and factories here are closing in large numbers and the workforce specialized in this field is rapidly disappearing.

This production diverted to other countries exploits a workforce that is often underpaid and where there are few or no environmental standards.

The Canadian fashion industry is reducing its manufacturing costs to the detriment of respect for workers and their environment.

Today, the majority of textiles and clothing found in Canada are imported.

Today - “Fast-Fashion”

Before 2005, the industry released a spring-summer collection and another autumn-winter collection. Today, we often see the collections being renewed every month. By doing so, there is so much clothing on the planet that we could stop producing today and have enough for the next 5 generations.

As we constantly want something new, we buy without thinking much and end up with disposable fashion with a lifespan cut in half. It is indisputable, the industry has an enormous environmental and human impact.

The more we overproduce, the more we overconsume, the more we throw away.

Fortunately, the industry is changing. It is quietly implementing initiatives aimed at reducing its negative impact.

A new revolution is brewing: the shift towards eco-responsibility.


Our clothes now have a function that is much more than utilitarian, they are a reflection of our identity, our culture, our values.

While we wait for the industry to evolve, each of us can do our part:

  • We reduce our wardrobe by choosing quality clothes and fabrics that we love and that we will keep for a long time.
  • We favor companies that do “slow fashion” or “upcycling”
  • We buy local and eco-responsible
  • And above all we consume less

Recycling/Reusing our clothes or doing clothing exchanges are all ways of participating in this new revolution which is in itself a return to basics.


  1. Woven textile -
  2. Industrialization in Canada -
  3. Textile industry, late 19th century -
  4. History of clothing and textiles -
  5. Rewinding the Thread: The Brief History of the Textile Industry in Canada -
  6. History of fashion – A brief story of the evolution of fashion -
  7. WTO: The Agreement on Textiles and Clothing -
  8. Spotlight on the 2nd most polluting industrial sector in the world: fashion -
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