By Will McGuirk
South Oshawa based FRÈRE DU NORD is going even more Nord, bringing manufacturing back to the motor city’s core
The clothing company, co-founded by Milena Holmes (soeur du Nord?) and her brother, Duey Vlajic, will be moving in the Spring to new digs in the city's downtown.
Milena and Duey have been successfully designing, patterning and making clothing for two years but see the move to the core as a way of pursuing the retail side of the business.
Originally from Kingston, the D.I.Y. duo say it was only in Oshawa they could realise their childhood dream of fashioning clothes together. Milena has an engineering background and Duey’s is in fine arts and design, both were in Toronto but it was in Oshawa where they first entertained the idea of actually making stuff in Canada, in Oshawa it became possible.
“I didn’t realise you could manufacture in Canada until I moved to Oshawa,” says Milena. “Growing up in Kingston, that city is very particular; hospital, prison, university. . . Toronto, the rent’s are so high, its unsustainable and it wasn’t until we came here that I was exposed to people who are very happy to make things. That’s the culture here.
Oshawa has been a centre of manufacturing since its beginnings, It hasn’t all been GM however; it was once known as the Manchester of North America because of the many industries located here. Most of the large manufacturing businesses have closed but the history, the culture of making, as well as the infrastructure of industrial parks and old buildings, is attractive to a new generation of makers.
These two Gen DIY reps are making it their business to makeover the downtown too. They have purchased the former Corner Pocket building at Prince and Bond with plans to open a retail/ manufacturing space, apartments above and artists studios in the basement.
We live in this community, we have to invest in it, there is no other reason,” says Milena. Made in Oshawa being part of the brand is very important because of its manufacturing history. We are new here but we want to continue that tradition. We are here and the downtown needs a lot of help. Businesses have a done a lot of good things in past years and this is our part. We have friends already in business downtown and every year we just need more people to invest.”
Downtown barber shop Johnny Cuts were among the first friends to seek out the company to collaborate on a limited edition customised sweatshirt.
“We do a lot of custom work for our customers and we have clients who are repeat. Once we have your sizing on file it’s easy to print and run off. Designer, patternmaker, manufacturer and retailer that’s our strength,” says Milena
Sweatshirts, sweatpants and hoodies are their focus products as the fabric is one they can find easily and locally. Thread is from Montreal, the dying of material done in Ajax. The heavyweight 100% cotton fabric is knitted in Toronto, napped on the inside, sueded on the outside. Everything but the heavy duty hoodie zipper (only available from China) is sourced in Canada.
“And the way Duey designed it,” says Milena, “it has doublined shoulders, double lined hood, for warmth and structure. Everything is topstitched so they are very durable. The idea is this is a hoodie you are going to pass on your kids because it’s going to last.
“When I design I use a 5 F principle, which is fabric, fit, form, function, future,” says Duey. "Fabric is number one, it’s the first thing you do, touch that garment. We sourced the best possible fabric we could. Next is Fit - you try it on and you see how it feels on you. We usually going for a tailored fit similar that you would find in suits or trousers. After that you look in the mirror; Form - does it look good on me? Depending on the style the form changes but I usually go for a broader shoulder. Function, what do I need this garment to do? When and where am I wearing it? Everyone has a cell phone, so many of the garments have cell phone pockets. Some garments are double layered for warmth and most pockets are lined for comfort. When you combine all these design principles it would hopefully lead you to think about the garment in the long term and what does the Future hold; I’m going to have this for the rest of my life."
The personal care in each garment carries through to the personal care FRÈRE DU NORD has for its employees. FDN is not your grandfather’s factory, instead it’s more like a quilting bee.
“Every garment is made by one person start to finish,” says Milena, “It’s not good for a sewing operator to be sitting at a machine eight hours a day doing one repetitive motion. It’s one of the reasons we wanted to get into this, as well as loving to make clothes we love giving people a safe happy environment to do meaningful work in. It’s very rewarding to do this and a lot of employees in this trade are women so its rewarding for me to provide a safe place and fair pay.”
The company has hired three part-time seamstresses but from Aug to December its full-time. FDN also provides a cut and sew service with many Toronto brands coming in for brand development. They also provide short runs for other start-ups.
“Besides making our own brand of clothing which we are very passionate about we are also very passionate about enabling others to make their own brand with world standard quality. We don’t see them as competition. We think it a very important thing to have a rich diverse selection of Canadian made clothing,” Milena says.
Non-competitive, collaborative, considerate, kindness in commerce, sounds as close to being all Canadian as you can get.