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Alberta Apparel: Q and A with Founder, Thomas Mo

February 5, 2015

ALBERTA APPAREL: Q&A WITH
FOUNDER, THOMAS MO

By Tera Swanson

Make local. Buy local. Source local. Thomas Mo knows it’s easier said than done. As the founder of Alberta Apparel, he’s working to highlight the unique culture of Alberta and tap into the talent and resources that exist in our province. Writer Tera Swanson interviews him about his new clothing company and how he’s growing it from the grassroots. 

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TS/ What’s the story behind the name?

TM/ As the name alludes, Alberta Apparel is a locally-run clothing design company based out of Calgary, Alberta. We focus on very simple items that are made in Canada, such as T-shirts, long-sleeves, polos, hoodies, crews, hats and toques.

I really wanted to target designs, photography and motifs that relate to the heritage and history of the province. I’m trying to support the local economy by having it eventually all made in Alberta. Every single one of my contractors is based in Alberta, so the idea is that my company, unlike many others in the clothing industry, is one that really tries to adhere to only using local talent and resources. Even my business cards, for example, are printed at a locally-owned Calgary print shop.

There are certain products, such as the fabric itself, that always comes from overseas, but it’s brought into Canada and I only buy from factories that I’ve actually visited. I have relationships with the owners of all of them, whether it’s my hat company out in B.C. or the two or three main manufacturers of my clothing in Toronto.

TS/ Why a clothing company?

TM/ I saw this idea years ago when I was travelling through Colorado, when I noticed a clothing company called Colorado Limited and thought, “this doesn’t exist in Alberta.” They’re pretty straightforward, and basically take the Colorado flag, change the color combinations and print it on everyday clothing items. So, very simple stuff, very basic, but as a visitor going through there, I liked it.

I’m taking that idea and expanding it further than just the flag. My pieces do have the Alberta flag on them, but I want to include photography and designs from Alberta sources and talent. I think it’s really important, not just for people who are visiting Alberta, but also for people who live here to have a sense of pride about where they live, and to have an understanding of the history of this place. I want to get people to ask questions; to encourage people to keep exploring; to go to the mountains and do activities out there and to think of buying local. I think that’s a huge part of it.

TS/ What are some of your Alberta-sourced photos and designs?

TM/ I have worked on a T-shirt with a Banff photographer, Dan Evans, where we did a limited run print of 50 shirts in white and grey with his image of Castle Mountain (women’s/men’s). The idea is that not only is Castle Mountain in Alberta (it’s iconic and most people should know it even if they don’t know the name of it), but I’m also trying to promote Dan’s work through my company. Both of us are donating a portion of profits towards causes, mine being the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

As well, I’ve talked to and bought some images from the Glenbow Museum here in Calgary, and have the distribution and commercial rights for them to sell and reprint them. And I’ve already spoken with the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, as well, just to go through their images, because they have half a million archival images that no one else in the world would have.

TS/ Where do you hope to see this company grow in the future?

TM/ Eventually, I’d like to cut and sew the clothing entirely in Alberta. Right now, we don’t really have much of a textile industry, so to speak. The goal is to potentially verticalize my processes so that I might one day buy into a cut and sew shop so that I can make my own clothing and control the timing and control the costs. That’s a pretty big endeavour, which involves land, leases, buildings, insurance, workers, unionization, all that good stuff.

I also want to hone in on specific projects with the Nature Conservancy of Canada, so it’s not just the Alberta region, but more focused on, say, flood relief mitigation or animal protection, or maybe it’s new land stewardship programs that they’re working on in the province. 

My main goal in terms of sales is to target mid-sized companies and events here locally that utilize local talent and events that Calgary is well known for, such as the Calgary Folk Fest, Calgary Stampede, and One Yellow Rabbit’s High Performance Rodeo, which is a well-known theatre production.

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“I want to get people to ask questions; to encourage people to keep exploring; to go to the mountains and do activities out there and to think of buying local.”

TS/ What have you taken away from the process from the first time you saw those souvenir T-shirts?

TM/ When I look at items in a store or online, I used to say “why is it so expensive?” and now I know why. There are so many processes a physical product or a service offering goes through, from its first inception in someone’s brain to the actual delivery into a customer’s hand or into a work environment. 

My products pass through so many hands and travel so many kilometres that it’s understandable why my T-shirts cost what they do. There’s a lot of transport and supplies involved, and many years of experience that go into making the shirts. They’re not special T-shirts that will never wear down. But because they are made in Canada, the wages we pay our workers are higher than what they would get in developing countries. Our workers have benefits. So when I look at products that cost a lot of money I think I have a better respect and understanding as to why they cost what they cost.

The whole mantra of my company is to make things local, to buy local, to source local. If you look at what’s happening in our economy, tens of thousands of people lost their jobs and we’re very reliant on one industry. It’s not to say that a clothing company is going to save the day. But, if you want to explore your own ideas, there is the infrastructure to support that. You just need to follow through with it and pursue it.

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Whether she’s booting down trail runs, trekking up peaks or travelling the globe, Tera Swanson is never content idling for long. Pairing this with her love for writing came as natural as her Bow Valley backyard.

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