The fast fashion trend has swept over North America, with inexpensive, on trend designs that make all the latest fashions more accessible for everyone. However, that affordable yet trendy sweater comes at a cost less tangible than a crisp 20 dollar bill. Corporations are frequently under fire for poor working conditions in their overseas factories, resulting in unethical products for the masses.
There is still hope, it seems, for a world of ethical fashion. In Victoria, BC, Is This Menswear? has developed their own line of clothing made from high quality fabrics from Japan, Canada, and the United States. Manufactured in Vancouver, their clothing is as ethical as you can get.
Business partners Jason Niles and Iain Russell opened the menswear boutique (yes, it is menswear) back in September, 2014, carrying their own brand, as well as some additional brands. Since then, they have found that it made sense to carry just their own designs, and the response they have received from the surrounding community has been positive. It is highly likely, that if you ever find yourself in the store, you will witness the shop’s owners waving at people in the community through the front window, or sitting on the bench outside the store chatting with locals on warm days.
Niles says that the idea for Is This Menswear? came from “seeing something absent in Victoria, as well as internationally, in the fashion community.” Is This Menswear? is indisputably unique. Their store has a real west coast vibe that evokes a minimalist and fun esthetic. Propped up against a wall by the entrance are hockey sticks for playing street hockey on the quiet road outside. Button up shirts, some with solid colors, and some with elaborate prints, are neatly folded in wooden block shelves against the far wall.
“Really confusing,” Russell says when asked how he would describe his store to a first time visitor.
Russell and Niles, “naturally agreed on a lot of ideas that are completely against the grain.”
“We chose our location because it was south facing, had sunlight, and it’s on a quiet street. These are not things business owners usually think of. It’s more, ‘where can I get the most traffic? Where can I get the most sales?’”
Niles and Russell decided that instead of focusing on where their store would get the most traffic, that they would focus instead on factors that would make their store a destination.
“We are a neighbourhood store, so there’s an aspect of being connected to the neighbourhood,” says Niles.
Despite their use of high quality materials, their product is still approachable to young consumers. Russell says the age of their clientele ranges from 15 to 75. It seems that a younger generation is prepared to shop outside of big brands like Adidas, paying more for fashion that is held to a higher ethical standard. As Russell puts it, they are “subscribing to ethical ideals.”
“We have a following of pretty young high school students,” Russell says. “It’s cool to see kids who are like ‘I want stuff made in Canada. I will pay more for that.’”
“I’ve got 16 year-olds who believe in what I do almost more than my mom does. Even our new Prime Minister has one of our sweatshirts. Never in my life did I think that something I made would be in the Prime Ministers closet.”
“When you look at fashion as a business, people will look at successful models like H&M, Zara, Adidas, and Nike. Every single one of these companies has sold out to overseas manufacturers. They all claim to have value systems that are true and ethical”
Russell recalls a customer, who had come into the store from the pouring rain just the day before, looking for a specific kind of jacket. He wanted a raincoat made in North America or Western Europe and was willing to compromise on everything, including cost, to get to that goal.
“Our clients are usually on the happier side of things,” says Russell. “They’re definitely here for the right reasons.”
Russell talks about women’s fashion as well, saying that in the fashion world women are taught that they can never be in style. The trends in women’s fashion change so quickly that, in a matter of a few years, a women’s closet could potentially be completely out of style. Menswear, on the other hand, doesn’t change nearly as drastically.
“Menswear trends are stretched out. In women’s fashion, you can’t do that. Women’s wear is hard, because we’ve basically trained women that they’re not allowed to buy things that last a long time. Every time you try to trick men into buying fashion of the time, it kind of works for a small group,” Russell explains, adding that the majority “don’t buy it.”
The store has no plans to introduce women’s wear in the near future, as they fill a niche in the menswear market that only continues to grow their clientele. Russell and Niles say that their biggest accomplishment is “still being open.”
“We are an accumulation,” says Niles about the successes of their business. “To pinpoint one item is against our grain. There probably is one larger highlight, but there are highlights below it that are just as important.”
“One of our favourite jokes is ‘whoever owns that four lease business is really expanding like crazy,’” Russell adds. “Or when they talked about making Government Street spooky…because a lot of empty store fronts is really spooky.’”
“I’m lucky, because I don’t feel like it’s work,” Russel laughs. “I feel like I live my life like it’s one giant vacation. I live a dream. I know there are humps in the road, but it all works out in the end.”
Check out Is This Menswear? at 1014 Meares Street, Victoria, or visit their website, isthismenswear.com, to shop their store at home. Browse items made in Canada while you listen to their winter mix, which includes artists like Taylor Swift, M.I.A., and Bob Marley.
You can also follow Jason Niles on Instagram at @urban_planner_, and Iain Russell @isthismenswear to gain some insight into the inspiration behind Is This Menswear?