Do you “buy local”? With the ever-increasing globalization of the market and the growing awareness of the unstable working conditions of overseas factories, the buy local movement is gaining a strong presence in the marketplace.
Kathy Cheng, president of WS & Co., strongly believes in supporting this movement.
“Each time a Canadian buys something that is Made in Canada, they are supporting not only their local economy, but also contributing to the continuation of a skilled workforce – that’s located on our very own soil rather than across the Atlantic.”
One of Canada’s leading apparel manufacturers, WS & Co. maintain a factory here in the Toronto area. As “crusaders for Canadian garment manufacturing,” the company has rejected the potential of increased profit through outsourcing, choosing instead to ensure that their employees are working in an environment protected by the rules and regulations of the Canadian government.
Started by Kathy’s father, Chak Wai Cheng, in 1988, WS & Co was originally a much smaller operation, employing only five seamstresses. Business improved and the company expanded; at its peak, it employed 500 people.
Growing up, Kathy spent a great deal of time in the factory, learning about the various steps of the production process. Then, in 2000, Kathy officially joined the team. It was a change from her previous role in financial consulting, but she feels it was the right thing to do.
“The factory and those who make it successful have allowed me to experience many privileges over the course of my life. So when my dad asked me to join in the family business, I believed this was my opportunity to give back,” she says.
In 2009, after surviving two recessions, the company went through a re-structuring process. Debra Tse and Gary Cheng, Kathy’s aunt and uncle and co-founders of the company, retired and Kathy became her father’s new business partner.
Her role was “to put a North American spin on a traditionally Chinese company and explore a new revenue stream for the factory.” It was at this point that Redwood Classics Apparel, WS & Co.’s in-stock apparel line, was created. The website for this division has proven to be very successful, increasing its search engine presence by 650% since its launch in 2009.
But Kathy’s pride and joy is a new division of Redwoods Classics, the Heritage Collection.
“Featuring a limited-edition lineup of classic fits, vintage colours and retro styles for men and women, the collection is proudly designed and manufactured in Canada with principles rooted in quality and integrity. The line is really a tribute to the preservation of our country’ craftsmen.”
The collection is being launched at an apt time. Given recent world events in the manufacturing industry and the increasing awareness of consumers as to where their products come from, WS & Co. is in the position to “expand and thrive” with their socially-conscious collection.
But expansion is about more than just the product, and Kathy is quick to point this out. Redwood Classics chose to partner with the Pay It Forward movement, giving a white bracelet to those who purchase a PIF x RW Kangaroo Hoody.
“[It] is a physical reminder to do good. It’s that simple: give someone the bracelet and ask them to pay it forward,” she explains.
As the market changes in the coming years, Kathy and WS & Co. will adapt and thrive, thanks to her clear understanding of the new world order.
“Business is no longer just about the bottom line. It’s about people first, the planet second and profit third. For a positive and fruitful business environment, all three of these components must be present.”