Lyndsay Borschke found success bringing Canadian-made winter-wear to North America.
Her Toronto-based company, Tuck Shop Trading Co., sells vintage-inspired outerwear and accessories, including lumberjack-inspired coats with leather-patch elbows and cabin-shawl-collar sweaters reflecting the colours of autumn leaves.
Her City of Neighbourhoods tuques are modelled after the winter-beating hats worn by coureurs des bois – French and Métis fur traders – centuries ago.
Chief designer Ms. Borschke started with styles commemorating Toronto neighbourhoods. She then expanded to include Montreal, Hamilton, Vancouver and the Atlantic provinces.
Then, for the United States, she created tuques for the cities and neighbourhoods of Boston, Chicago, New York and Los Angeles.
Last year, Ms. Borschke wanted to build on her momentum and move into new markets south of the border, but she perceived a stumbling block: Her tuques are made in Canada.
For her, it's a source of pride. But "my American customers value products made in their own country," Ms. Borschke said last year. "Should I make the move from producing entirely in Canada and use facilities in the U.S. to better service that market?"
Her dilemma was featured in a Small Business Challenge feature in The Globe and Mail.
The panel of experts included Bonnie Brooks, vice-chairman of Hudson's Bay Co., who urged Ms. Borschke to find a U.S. manufacturer, saying, "There is a huge movement building around 'made in the U.S.A.' right now, and so I think it makes sense to do it."
Roger Edwards, designer of Parks Canada Original, a line of made-in-Canada casual apparel, also advised Ms. Borschke to "find a manufacturing partner in the U.S. that does similar products and already has distribution in that market, as it is expensive and risky to set up a manufacturing facility in a foreign country without proper sales and distribution."
On the other hand, Elisa Dahan and Eran Elfassy, owners and designers of the Canadian outerwear brand Mackage, said to stay the course, and continue manufacturing in Canada: "All in all, 'made in Canada' has a lot of value in the world, and keeping your product Canadian will continue to open doors."
In the end, Ms. Borschke decided to keep manufacturing in Canada.
Informing her decision were the strong relationships she had forged with local factories since first launching her company in 2013.
"We decided to stick with local production and use the fact that we source and manufacture as locally as possible to our marketing/brand advantage. Who better to make tuques than Canadians? We understand winter and know how to stylishly stay warm," she said in a recent interview.
Staying in Canada has ironically boosted Tuck Shop's presence internationally, she says.
"We have grown. In addition to our awesome independent retailers, we are now carried across North America in iconic department stores Hudson's Bay Company and Lord & Taylor."
She has also expanded her City of Neighbourhoods collection to include Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Quebec City, Philadelphia and Washington.
Ms. Borschke also opened a bricks-and-mortar shop on Toronto's Yonge Street after nearly three years as an online-only retailer.
She also designed Tuck Shop's first spring-summer collection, which included swimwear, and presented her first runway collection at Toronto Men's Fashion Week.
These new ventures have planted the seeds for other collaborations and partnerships in cities as far as Nashville, Paris and London.
Participating in The Challenge was a game changer. "We received invaluable advice from experts in our field," she says.
"We'd be very happy to one day be as highly regarded as Mackage, or taken as seriously in the industry as Bonnie Brooks. We can only grow with help from others. In fact, I believe that expert advice becomes more important as a business grows and becomes more complex."