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Canada’s Fine Cotton Factory Touts Benefits of Nearshoring

A Canadian textile and apparel supplier is betting on a nearshoring boom as it expands its capabilities after 26 years in business.

Fine Cotton Factory has been a fixture of Ontario’s manufacturing sector since 1997, but the group is branching out from the bedding, mattress and home textiles it’s known for with a vertically integrated operation offering extensive knit fabric capabilities for apparel. The producer has upped its investments in technology, sustainability and talent in pursuit of domestic business.

According to co-founder Biren Patel, Fine Cotton Factory got its start as a leading supplier to fashion brands, but shifted substantially to sleep products during the early aughts as many firms moved their production overseas. The pendulum could be swinging back to favor North American sourcing, however, as geopolitical tensions with China deepen and the cost of doing business in far-flung locales continues to rise.

“In 2018, we started our own process house,” with the aim of regaining footing in the world of apparel production, he told Sourcing Journal. The factory moved into an 80,000-square-foot facility five years ago, outfitting it with the circular knitting machines, jacquard machines and dye equipment needed to support the production of 250,000 yards of fabric each month. Patel also recently brought Paris-trained textile designer Nathalie Camier to lead product development.

The company creates jacquards, ribbed knits, pointelles, jerseys and a variety of performance fabrics for apparel, uniform and specialty garment makers, while also designing its own finished goods, frequently working with Canadian retailers on private-label products. Its dye house and finishing facility is the only one that remains in Ontario, and one of the few in North America, giving the company “a tremendous competitive advantage and enables us to offer private label packages that encompass everything from exclusive design to production,” Patel said. “You can call us a custom factory—sometimes a company gives us an idea of what they need, and sometimes we present existing designs from our own line,” he added.

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As its name would suggest, the firm creates a substantial volume of product with cotton, and has incorporated more sustainable fibers, like organic cotton, recycled cotton, Tencel and pre- and post-consumer recycled polyester into its offering, sourcing yarns globally. Patel said the firm has noted the growing importance of environmental stewardship and traceability for both brands and end consumers, and pursued Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) and Global Recycled Standard (GRS) certifications. The factory’s dye equipment is also designed to utilize less water and chemical inputs.

With new machinery at her disposal, Camier has been experimenting with fabric constructions, augmenting the group’s portfolio with more than 50 styles, including copper-infused fabrics that lend antimicrobial properties to sleep products and sportswear. A graduate of the Esmod design school in France, the designer also worked for a now-defunct knitwear factory in Montreal for 15 years, developing a special expertise in jacquard fabrics, which are a staple in mattress production. But in her current role, Camier said she has been allowed to experiment with the large-scale machinery, bringing a more creative edge to the creation of jacquards for apparel. “When you’re in a very big company, sometimes they don’t want you develop—they just want to get to production,” she said. Fine Cotton has given her creative license to conceptualize specialty fabrics applicable across product categories, like sportswear and dresses.

Jacquard fabrics made by Fine Cotton Factory.
Jacquard fabrics made by Fine Cotton Factory. Courtesy

“Most people right now are looking for fine-gauge fabrics made from different fibers, like Tencel, wool, cotton mixes” influenced by lightweight European jersey fabrics, Patel said. State-of-the-art machinery allows Fine Cotton to create knits that mimic woven fabrics, he added. They can be used for dress shirts and even suit jackets, with the benefit of softness, a hint of stretch, better wrinkle release and ease of care compared to products made with woven textiles.

“We saw the writing on the wall and began making significant investments in technology, equipment and talent,” Patel said. “Our goal has been to expand our capabilities well beyond the basic fabrics like fleece and jersey that we were always known for, to much more sophisticated offerings aimed at better sportswear makers.”

Skip Kann, the company’s executive vice president of sales and marketing, said the group believes its new capabilities will be a differentiator in the North American market, and Fine Cotton has seen more domestic companies exploring producing closer to home. “We’ve been able to increase our customer base because we are being a lot more aggressive” with product offerings, he added. While it’s tough to compete with China on all fronts, the company has found a sweet spot with jacquards and fleeces, which take up more space in a shipment than goods that can be folded flat and packed densely. The factory’s proximity to its end market eliminates those concerns, he said.

Nearshoring is really a principle based on speed to market,” he added, along with inventory control. There remains a great deal of uncertainty in the global market, as brands and retailers have been battling production and shipping slowdowns and high duties and inflation for several seasons. “Not having a product on the shelf is lost margin, and having too much product on the shelf is also lost margin,” he explained. “Nearshoring presents a better balance for margin and offers more predictability than then buying from offshore.”

“Times have changed once again and interest in North American apparel manufacturing is on the upswing,” Patel added.