Your source for made-in-Canada ac­tivewear

The Province - - NEWS - EL­IZ­A­BETH CHORNEY-BOOTH

The con­cept of buy­ing “Made in Canada” prod­ucts is more pop­u­lar than ever — many of us want to sup­port Cana­dian em­ploy­ers while hav­ing the peace of mind that the goods we buy are pro­duced in an eth­i­cal way.

When it comes to mass-pro­duced cloth­ing, it can be dif­fi­cult to find items that are 100 per cent Cana­di­an­made, but a Cal­gary com­pany has been proudly pro­duc­ing sports­wear do­mes­ti­cally for more than a decade.

King Ath­let­ics spe­cial­izes in hoodie sweat­shirts and also makes T-shirts, shorts, sweat­pants and other ap­parel. The items are typ­i­cally sold through whole­sale dis­trib­u­tors to schools, sports teams and cor­po­ra­tions, with the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s logo printed on the gar­ment. Most of us have th­ese kinds of items in our clos­ets, but how many of them are truly made in Canada?

“Man­u­fac­tur­ing in Canada is our niche,” says Phong Vu, King Ath­let­ics’ owner and pres­i­dent. “Many of our dis­trib­u­tors started car­ry­ing us at first be­cause we are made in Canada — al­most ev­ery­one else is man­u­fac­tur­ing over­seas. When you hear about cloth­ing man­u­fac­tur­ers you au­to­mat­i­cally think that the prod­uct is be­ing made in China.”

The only non-Cana­dian el­e­ment at King Ath­let­ics is the cot­ton yarn that comes from North Carolina be­cause cot­ton doesn’t grow in Cana­dian cli­mates.

The yarn is shipped to Mon­treal where it’s trans­formed into a knit fab­ric that is coloured with high-qual­ity re­ac­tive, en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly dyes at a plant in Ajax, Ont., be­fore ar­riv­ing ei­ther at King Ath­let­ics’ in­house fa­cil­ity in Cal­gary or a sub-con­trac­tor’s fac­tory in Toronto for cut­ting and sewing.

Ev­ery­thing is done with sus­tain­abil­ity in mind, as well as sup­port­ing lo­cal work­ers and part­ner­ing busi­nesses.

“It’s all eth­i­cal and our staff are well paid and well taken care of,” says Dar­ren Barker, King Ath­let­ics’ gen­eral man­ager.

“Peo­ple can even come here to Cal­gary and see the place for them­selves. Cana­dian made still mat­ters to a lot of peo­ple — it’s a pri­or­ity for a lot of us.”

Vu started in the gar­ment busi­ness al­most 30 years ago when he started King Fash­ion. His wife had a job work­ing at the ac­tivewear com­pany Su­nice and Vu re­al­ized that there was a mar­ket for Cana­dian-made cloth­ing.

In 2007, he changed the brand to King Ath­let­ics in an­tic­i­pa­tion of the Van­cou­ver 2010 Olympics and a grow­ing de­mand for Cana­di­an­made ath­letic wear.

While whole­sale distri­bu­tion to groups look­ing for lo­goed ap­parel will al­ways be King Ath­let­ics’ bread and but­ter, late last year the com­pany also started sell­ing logo-free items di­rect to con­sumers via its web­site.

“We have the stock, so it’s a good way to sell to peo­ple who were just ask­ing for one piece or two pieces,” Vu says. King Ath­let­ics is also see­ing a gen­er­a­tional change. While Vu jokes that he isn’t plan­ning to re­tire any­time soon, his son Andy has taken over the vice-pres­i­dent’s role at the com­pany, which will help set King Ath­let­ics up for the fu­ture. Vu is look­ing for­ward to the 2026 World Cup, when the de­mand for Cana­di­an­made ath­letic ap­parel will be even higher.

“Visi­tors want some­thing that says ‘Made in Canada’ on the la­bel,” Vu says. “We of­fer that, as well as high qual­ity — you know that our hood­ies aren’t go­ing to fall apart in the wash.”

For more in­for­ma­tion or to pur­chase some­thing from King Ath­let­ics’ re­tail col­lec­tion, visit kingath­let­ics.ca.

PHO­TOS: SUP­PLIED

Andy Vu, right, with his fa­ther Phong Vu, in the Cal­gary plant where King Ath­let­ics’ Cana­dian-made cloth­ing is as­sem­bled.

One of King Ath­let­ics’ pop­u­lar hood­ies.

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