Susan Langdon was just awarded the Order of Canada for services to Canadian fashion. Here’s why that matters


TFI executive director Susan Langdon wins the Order of Canada for spreading the good word about Canadian fashion

Canadian fashion powerhouse Susan Langdon has been at the helm of the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) since 1994, championing our country’s most talented designers to the world at large. She recently was honoured for her tireless sartorial advocacy with the rarest of accessories: the Order of Canada. “I’m just a girl from the Danforth who grew up in Scarborough, who hoped that one day her dreams would come true,” says Langdon. “I’m sincerely honoured and grateful to be recognized by the country I love.”

Langdon chatted with us about shopping local, how we can help out designers mid-pandemic — and which Toronto fashion brands you should add to your cart pronto.

Where were you when you found out about the Order of Canada?

“It was early December and I was at the office. I got a call on my cell and the caller ID said, ‘Government of Canada.’ Because I deal with the federal government quite regularly, I thought it was someone from there. But I also wondered if it was one of those telephone scammers so I didn’t pick up. My landline then rang and, since we don’t have caller ID on our land lines, I answered. [They told me] I was appointed in the fall selection and the inductees would be announced on December 30. She made me promise not to tell anyone. I think at that point I realized this was true and I started to cry. I told her that it had been a dream since childhood to receive the Order of Canada because I wanted my parents to be proud of me. Since I couldn’t tell anyone, I went home and enjoyed a glass of champagne in a bubble bath.”

What is your mission for the Toronto Fashion Incubator?

“As the chief executive, I’m responsible for the daily operation of the organization including all financial management, government relations, promotion and marketing, fundraising and sponsorships, programming, community outreach and developing special events. My background as a fashion designer gave me valuable insight as to what designers need in order to succeed, so I added mentoring to my list of duties because that was something I really wished I had access to when I was starting out.

My mission at work is to lead by example. Leading by example means demonstrating that a creative, non-white female can manage a successful organization. It means banishing racial, gender and intellectual stereotypes from our place of work, and it means that I carry a huge responsibility to serve as a role model to others.”

The shop-local movement has exploded during the pandemic. How have you seen this movement grow?

“When I had my own line in the late ‘80s, retailers and consumers took pride in buying and wearing Canadian designs. In my first season, I generated $500,000 in wholesale sales and gained 700 or 800 stockists from across the country. It sounds like a lot, and it was, but all of the stores bought Canadian back then. This was before fast fashion when consumers valued quality and didn’t mind paying more for something produced locally.

As soon as fast fashion became popular, consumers were attracted by the cheap prices and quality became less important. Consumers didn’t care how or where those garments were made; their purchases were price-driven. As a result, retailers started to buy more products made offshore and less from Canadian firms. It’s taken almost 10 years for consumers to comprehend and appreciate what ethically-made-in-Canada means and to resume interest in buying locally made products once again. Groups like Toronto’s volunteer-driven Fashion Industry Advisory Panel have been working to promote the shop-local movement and it’s wonderful to see consumers embracing it. Our industry needs consumer support, as does our economy.”

What would you like to see happen in 2021 for Toronto fashion?

“I would love to see financial institutions and corporations that made millions or billions during the pandemic to step up to their corporate social responsibility and give back to the community. That includes giving back to Toronto’s fashion industry and the many designers, manufacturers and businesses who have been severely financially impacted by COVID. Giving back could include offering small business grants, lowering interest rates and service charges on credit card transactions or even investing in fashion businesses.”

Shop Toronto

These five local brands will be featured in Showroom Canada, a digital wholesale showroom launching on February 16 ahead of London Fashion Week.