I was thrilled when I heard The Bay would stock Canadian-born, New York-based designer Christopher Lee Sauvé's satirical tees that poke and prod the fashion industry in all the right places. No target is too big for him to skewer with his signature pop art portrayals: American Apparel, Anna Wintour, Terry Richardson, Kate Moss's infamous "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" quote.
It's that last one that got him in trouble.
While he's been wildly successful in New York, Sauvé's "skinny" tee was apparently too much for Canadian shoppers to handle. The t-shirt became the outrage du jour on Twitter, and The Bay backed down almost immediately, releasing a statement via Twitter that the shirt would be removed from online and physical stores immediately.
It's this sort of move that sends a powerful message to Canadian designers: Don't take risks, because one of the biggest power players in Canadian fashion won't have your back. Creativity is bad for business.
""In lieu of the recent allegations insisting that one particular t-shirt I designed for my last CLS collection, ‘Nothing Tastes As Good As Skinny Feels,' is in any way celebrating the severity of eating and body disorders is just not the case. As an artist, I got my start by making a mockery of the fashion industry as a whole.... Like all of my designs, it's a glorified warning, an ode to the farcicality of the fashion industry and the obsessives that surround it," said Sauvé in an e-mail statement.
"Hudson's Bay is committed to providing an enjoyable shopping experience for our customers. We always take into consideration what our customers want and need in our offerings and constantly evaluate the products we provide.... while we respect the designer's art, due to the overwhelming response and the sensitivity of the matter, we made the decision to promptly remove the T-shirts from our stores and from thebay.com," read a statement from The Bay's public relations team.
Christopher Lee Sauvé's isn't the only Canadian line The Bay has backed off on in recent months. Lazypants, a local brand known for their comfy sweats, faced an unpleasant surprise when they decided to move their production back to Toronto from Istanbul.
The move was an ethically responsible choice that created numerous local jobs in the fashion industry, but it also caused a small delay in deliveries. Despite this, all of Lazypants's retailers stuck by them... all but one.
The Bay stopped carrying Lazypants, presumably because the inconvenience of the delay outweighed their desire to support a thriving local business just trying to do the right thing. At time of press, the retail giant has not responded to requests for comment on the matter.
I wish I could say that the Sauvé and Lazypants cases reveal a surprising lack of loyalty to Canadian fashion on the part of The Bay, but they don't. While The Bay is in a unique position to support emerging Canadian designers and grow the country's fashion community, they choose not to in favour of protecting and padding their very fat bottom line (they reported first-quarter net earnings of $176 million earlier this month).
We then wonder time and time again why our most promising designers feel they have to leave the country in order to ‘make it.'
I spoke to Canadian designer Evan Biddell earlier this year for a piece about the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFAs), whose organizers hope to help design talent stay in Canada. Biddell's response: "Why would they want to do that?"
"I did the whole ‘I believe' thing in Toronto for a long time; I tried to push new ideas and I tried to give people something else to look at in terms of what fashion could be, but it was never met with any sort of "can I buy that from you?" So I had to leave," said Biddell. He now works out of New York City, which is great for him and a shame for Canada.
Also announced this week was a new Toronto Men's Fashion Week (TOM). A nice initiative, but without the support of industry players like The Bay, what good is another runway that leads to nowhere?