PAVING A HERITAGE | BY BARRY CHONG
When you buy an OSC Cross product, know that you’re getting more than just a coat. OSC Cross is a fashion-conscious alternative to traditional outerwear. Handmade entirely in Toronto, OSC Cross’s down jackets and vests cater to the tastes of Canadian urbanites. Less focused on extreme weather than its sister company, Outdoor Survival Canada, OSC Cross wants to jive with the look of the city. More important than its aesthetic, though, is the brand’s driving philosophy. “None of my clothes need to be extremely popular,” says OSC Cross president and designer Johnny Yiu. “Once your brand enters the mainstream, it loses its uniqueness. I’d rather have a brand that is appreciated.”
Yiu’s commitment to quality began in 1985 when he founded OSC Cross’s parent company, Duvet Comfort Inc. Being a well-travelled man with a passion for clothes, Yiu believed his designs needed to take on a lasting cosmopolitan style. And he knew that he had to make them at home, in Canada. “Designing is a very personal thing,” Yiu says. “I want every detail done right. It’s hard to communicate what you want to someone who is 10,000 miles away.” From design to production, making clothes is about making adjustments that ensure the designer’s vision. However, OSC Cross needed a slightly different approach.
And OSC Cross’s products are certainly new. Consider the bold, brick-red St. John’s, a playful take on a men’s parka. The jacket’s most striking feature is its detachable hood with removable Canadian Coyote fur trim, further emphasized by an exaggerated collar. It also boasts an array of zipper and snap pockets—inside and out—and sophisticated Georgian Twill elbow patches, quirky features for the detail-oriented sartorialist. Consider also the ladies’ Laval. With its slim-tailored silhouette and cascading wool collar, the jacket has Old World elegance. Its colourations, though, are decidedly contemporary, coming in variations like Pine and Brick Red.
These designs feel and look like they are made in Canada, for Canadians—because they are. OSC Cross’s east Toronto headquarters is like a Willy Wonka factory dedicated to contemporary clothes. Stepping through the front door, you’re greeted by a gurgling fountain (made by Johnny, of course) full of large fish, a go-to symbol of Chinese good luck. Hallways are lined with colourful fabric and posters of bygone lines; offices house hundreds of jackets and prototypes hanging on racks; a giant sewing floor full of people and mammoth machinery hums away. Despite the quickly advancing onslaught of “the busy season,” everyone seems to be at home. One of the most impressive features of the OSC Cross factory is the custom-made, computer-automated down filtering machine. Surrounded by computer-run embroidery and inking machines, this old school contraption prepares the finest duck and goose down for the OSC Cross jackets and vests.
Still, challenges remain, namely, keeping focus on what will bring the brand long-term success in the face of rival outerwear companies. “What I’m trying to do is make the OSC Cross [sales] cycle as long as possible,” Yiu says. “A cycle can be very short—five, six years—but then you’re dead. The brand has to represent an outerwear behaviour.”
Despite OSC Cross’s growing ambitions, becoming a cookie cutter company was never the goal in the first place. That’s why the OSC Cross team has spent the last two years tapping into the local community, organizing projects and events that bring together likeminded artists and entrepreneurs. “I often forget that we’re part of Toronto’s fashion community,” says marketing manager, Shayda Omidvar. “I think we’re more a part of the maker’s community.”
The work that goes into building a fledgling brand is taxing. “Getting things done with a small team requires a lot more emotional involvement,” says Tammy. “But it’s also more satisfying; when something positive happens, you know that it’s a direct result of your effort.”
OSC Cross is moving along. Today, its gear is sold in Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal, Quebec, parts of Europe, and 13 Toronto stores. The already substantial collection is growing too, with down shirts, vests, and limited edition Varsity-style jackets now available.
“We want to connect with people who appreciate the concept,” Tammy says. Like its team, OSC Cross’s concept seems to be working.