TORONTO: The textile firm “Silver Spider Knitting” had to think fast when an order for 20,000 units in time for the under-20 world football tournament came knocking on doors of the company. Silver Spider Knitting is one of the few surviving textile firms in Canada and a specialist in knitting toques and sweaters.
20,000 soccer scarves were required for the under-20 football world cup tournament. Soccer scarves – the colourful, logo-inscribed neckwear favored by fans of one of the world's most popular sports – have of late become a growing part of Ross Millar’s Toronto textile business Silver Spider Knitting Ltd.
"FIFA is a perfect example of why we are in business," said Millar, 48, in a small showroom inside Silver Spider's 8,700-square-foot plant located near Dufferin St. and Finch Avenue West.
Just a few feet away, dozens of high-tech knitting machines chattered away, pulling strands of yarn off hundreds of rolls and weaving them into intricate patterns. On the other side of the plant, about a dozen women wearing respiratory masks sewed toques and scarves and placed them into large piles or in the hundreds of boxes piled along the walls.
"We rattled them all off within a month," said Millar of the FIFA scarves. "Quick turnarounds are our specialty."
Millar says if FIFA had turned to a textile company that manufactured its knitwear exclusively in countries such as China, it would have been waiting for at least three months to receive its order.
Millar and co-owner Alexandre Rochtchine, a "master knitter" who was trained in Russia and originally launched the business, decided to pursue these sorts of time-pressed clients seven years ago when most other Canadian textile firms were either moving their operations overseas or closing their doors entirely.
Both knew that a "Made in Canada" pitch would not be enough to keep Silver Spider afloat in an extremely competitive and labour-intensive industry.
That's why they also formed a close partnership with a Chinese firm that can be called on when Silver Spider has a large run to produce – generally, anything over a 1,000 pieces. The arrangement allows Silver Spider to knit hats and scarves for major sporting goods brands such as Reebok, Nike, Roots and Hudson's Bay Co., as well as for smaller clients looking for promotional items or short product runs.
"We had to adapt in order to survive," Millar says, noting that a recent approval to manufacture Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic Games knitwear for licensed retailers is a testament to the company's successful business strategy.
With 25 employees and annual sales in excess of $2 million, Silver Spider has found other ways to compete with low labour costs overseas. The firm owns 22 high-tech Italian-made knitting machines, believed to be the only ones of their kind in North America.