Vancouver's menswear gets a Brazilian boost

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      There was a large hole at the recent B.C. Fashion Week promoting collections for spring and summer 2007—actually, two holes. One was due to the absence of the large international athletic-apparel companies that put Vancouver on the map as a world leader in active wear. The other was a yawning gap in which tumbleweed rolled and coyotes yowled where new menswear collections by local talent ought to have taken centre stage.

      Leave it to two ambitious young Vancouver companies created by people who came from somewhere else to identify a niche that needed filling and do something about it, with impressive results. Hong Kong–born Wanny Tang added some splendid casual men's items to complement her notable new line of women's wear: tailored linen shorts-and-suit-jacket combinations; sensual, formfitting long-sleeved Ts with deconstructed hemlines; meticulously engineered track pants and tops with reinforced waistbands and sculptural pocket details; and more. But it would be gilding the lily to say much more about Tang, who was profiled in last week's Style Watch, except to suggest keeping an eye out for her label in local stores. (And visit Straight.com for more on her.)

      Less than a year after setting up shop, Brazilian expats and married couple Mario and Ananda Gomes of Vata Brasil (420 Richards Street, vata brasil.com/) included a range of men's items that is now available alongside their women's athletic apparel, a one-size-fits-all line that is receiving favourable reviews from female athletes. In a city with almost as many yoga-wear companies as Starbucks, Vata Brasil's clothing is designed to offer sports and workout enthusiasts an affordable alternative. The unique designs stand out due to their hot-hot-hot Latin American flair.

      “We're not targeting the yoga market, even though some of our customers are yoga teachers or take classes,” says Mario Gomes during an interview in the store. “They like some items, like the capri pants that don't have any flare. I think the cuts really differentiate us.”

      Vata Brasil's soft, body-hugging clothing is designed for optimum movement without chafing. It's made of a super-flexible cotton-and-synthetic blend called FreeFit, which Gomes says isn't available anywhere else in Canada. Breathable, wicking, nonpilling, and durable, the fabric originates in Brazil, where all Vata Brasil's material is sourced and all the apparel is manufactured.

      Due to its size and infrastructure, Brazil is one of the few countries able to wriggle out from under China's virtual global lock on apparel manufacturing. The Western Hemisphere's second-most-populous nation is one of the world's biggest cotton producers, and has the technological capability and factories to construct clothing for a fraction of the cost here at home.

      Gomes, who worked for many years as an information-technology specialist, visits his suppliers regularly to ensure that the quality of all items remains consistent. Although not formally trained in textiles and apparel, he developed an astute eye and considerable knowledge growing up. “My family has been in apparel retail for many years,” he says. “My mother had three different stores [in Rio de Janeiro]. It was her own label.”

      Gomes's entire family moved here 10 years ago. (His brother Pedro works in the store.) Ananda's family still lives in Brazil. The two met through a mutual friend when she was studying English in Portland, Oregon, and a long-distance courtship ensued. Soon after they married, they attended an introductory session on freediving at SFU, became hooked, and joined Canada's national freediving team. In 2005, Ananda placed fourth in the world freediving competition in France.

      Their fondness for athletics, Ananda's background in graphic design, and Mario's business sense were the right mix for starting a business. And if anything is going to prepare you for a start-up in the apparel trade, freediving is it. Plunging into the murky depths with no support (and the occasional shark circling for scraps) pretty much sums it up. Nonetheless, they are cheerfully determined to make a go of it.

      “We get a lot of concepts,” says Mario, all smiles. “We're always searching for trends, and shopping for colours and fabrics. Then we get sketches together and work with patternmakers at the factory in Brazil.”

      Based on the results, the judges should proclaim a winner. The vivid-red tracksuit with black racing stripes I tried on was perfectly cut. Not only did it feel comfortable and supportive in all the right places, it looked fantastic. Rifling through the racks, I was struck by the stitching, reinforcements in areas vulnerable to wear and tear, and attention to other details.

      Vata Brasil's unusual colours and tailoring set the line apart from others, and the prices are excellent, considering the quality. Workout shirts are $48, training jackets are $98, and shorts are $68. Men's Speedo-style bathing suits are $68. When you put 'em on and—to paraphrase the old song—smile at your baby, she'll go to Rio.

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