Skip to content

Fashion in rural Canada ignites Toronto

February 11, 2011

Last night I was on stage delivering a presentation at Ignite Toronto for Global Ignite Week.

Ignite is an event happening world-wide all at the same time with each city hosting its own chapter. Ignite welcomes speakers from all backgrounds and passions to give a quick presentation on the topic of their choice.

The Toronto chapter featured 12 speakers last night, each assigned the Ignite recipe: 5 minutes to present 20 slides automatically advancing every 15 seconds. It’s a race to ignite the crowd!

My presentation is titled Shop Till You Drop: Fashion in rural Canada and the power of the department store.

Here are the slides I presented, while my talky-talk video from last night is posted above.

Shop Till You Drop, by yours truly. Send me a line to discuss my presentation, research or just to say hi.

I'm from a small town and folks there don't dress like we do in urban centres. Why?


Access to fashion trends is a major factor to being able to express yourself through clothes.

Talking about access, the department store catalogue truly was the internet of its day. And to many Canucks, it still is.

So if rural Canadians have access to the catalogue, always have and still do, why aren't they wearing trendy clothes? Q: are catalogues not offering today's trends?

Is the internet impacting rural shoppers? (And urban shoppers?) Hm...

HBC: the first network of trade in Canada, establishing fur trading outposts across the nation.

At the turn of the 1900s, Canada's population was 90% rural, 10% urban. Fur trade outposts across the nation grew into general stores, and, as cities grew, the general stores in urban centres became large department stores as we know them today.

Today department stores continue to offer everything for your home, your self, etc. Furs, food, household items- you name it, it's available at the department store.

By WWII, Canada's population was about 50-50 rural and urban. As cities grew, transportaion roads improved and people moved out to the suburbs, now shopping in surbian malls. The result: downtown department store sales started to suffer. The pinnacle of the department store had been reached and a decline followed.

But the department store catalogue was continuing to spread to every corner of Canada with more sales counters established in smaller cities and towns. Catalogue sales continued to climb as the majority of Canadians continued to shop for fashion (and other goods) via the catalogue- the primary source for everything! Today most of us live within a 10-minute drive of a department store location and Sears' multi-channel sales network represents huge business in urban and rural Canada.

Fashion for the nation- and the department store's catalogue network delivered with impressive speed. Fashion trends were widely accessible as the catalogue enabled us to participate in what was happening trend-wise in the USA and Europe.

Before the department store, at the turn of the last century, fashion was only accessible to the upper class- the elite- because garments and accessories were all was custom-made by skilled artisans, and people of middle and low classes made all their clothes at home. With the industrial revolution and the rise of factories, department stores were now selling clothes at low prices affordable to low and middle class people. The tremendous power of this mass spending caused most small custom shops to go out of business, losing out to the department store. The department store's factory-made fashions became accessible to all.

Today's middle class is doing an about-face and now favouring the small artisan and rejecting the department store's factory-made, generic goods. While we still do love department store goods, today's middle class shopper wants fashion that is authentic and custom-made. This is helping support the small boutique shop owner that makes and sells these types of items- which are accessible to the majority of shoppers by the internet.

When it comes to access to fashion trends, the internet is a powerful network. Let's look at who's online in Canada, who's e-shopping, what they're buying.

Most Canadians have access to the internet. Being online is a generally a matter of demographic, most importantly education, income, age, etc. A "digital divide" persists in Canada year after year- those of us in rural locations don't have access to the internet to the extent that most of us in urban centres do.

Statistics Canada's research indicates that while there are far fewer rural Canadians accessing the internet, those who are online have higher odds of being online shoppers than Canadians with internet access who live in urban centres. Urban Canadians tend to "window shop" to research goods then go and buy it in-store.

Internet shopping is a compliment to rural Canadians' shopping habits. Rural Canadians are still shopping using traditional retail channels (the department store catalogue, the general store, the local boutiques) but now use the internet for items that aren't available to them from the networks they've always been using.

Rural Canadians have always been exposed to fashion via magazines and television but couldn't buy it unless it was in the catalogues. And so herein lies the answer to our question about trends in small towns: trendy clothes haven't been available via traditional networks (catalogues) because if they were, then we'd see rural dwellers wearing the trends like urban dwellers. The internet enables rural dwellers to access current trends. Now they can circumvent the catalogues' selection of clothes and buy the latest trends online, which is causing department stores to spruce up their wares and bring trends to their pages instead of generic non-trendy clothes (no pink men's shirts).

When it comes to access, Canadians are tapping into foreign-produced and managed department stores. The middle class' appetite for all things foreign seems unsatiable and unfortunately, competing Canadian businesses have lost the race. Very few Canadian department stores exist today, fewer still offer clothes. Canadians have been won over by low prices and irresistible foreign design. I hope we see Canadian department stores returning on the scene: we have a country that is brimming with talent and if anything, there's much to be learned from these foreign companies' success on our turf. We're a very profitable place to set up shop: a stable country only lightly hit by the recession. Let's put our country, our own designers, and ourselves first. Shouldn't we look after #1?

Thank you. I’d love your feedback- contact me!

I’m looking forward to attending the next Ignite Toronto event this spring!

View the complete list of speakers and their topics on the Ignite Toronto website.

Thank you to organizers Michele Perras and Peter Horvath for a fantastic evening of enlightening ideas from truly inspiring speakers.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Jordana permalink
    February 11, 2011 5:32 pm

    FANTASTIC!!!! So so so proud of you! Congratulations on a great presentation!

    • February 11, 2011 5:49 pm

      Thank you! A few stumbles but no bruises ;).

      It was an amazing night- I was in stellar company!

  2. February 11, 2011 6:41 pm

    Wow! You are great! Congrats on your pres – very impressive

  3. Rachel Collins permalink
    February 11, 2011 6:54 pm

    Great presentation Johanne! Great idea for the topic and great info! So so proud of you :)

    • February 14, 2011 10:45 am

      Thanks, Rachel! I’m happy that you liked it! There’s so much more I’d love to have presented but there’s only so much you can do in 5 short minutes!
      -J :)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: