Commonwealth MFG: Pride in Process

Since 2015, Andrew Doerksen has been fulfilling the need for transparency in the apparel industry, responsibly manufacturing quality collared shirts in an historic Exchange District studio.

“There is so much mistrust in the apparel industry and I think it’s important for makers to be transparent,” says Andrew Doerksen, owner of Commonwealth MFG. It’s why each of his shirts include “transparency pricing”, showing the breakdown of suppliers, fair labour and markup costs.

Commonwealth is all about taking pride in the manufacturing process—a response to unethical offshore production that still dominates the apparel industry. Doerksen’s collection is proudly made here in the Exchange District at 290 McDermot, a sunny 4th floor studio he shares with Wilder Goods.

The story behind his brand began in a social ethics class in university when a deep dive into consumer fashion trends for a final paper awakened him to the injustices of the industry. It was a revelation. Either not enough people know about the dark truth behind their clothes, or they were simply unbothered by it. Learning to sew his own clothes was his humble way of not taking part in the ugly side of the apparel industry.

It took him nearly a year to construct a shirt he was happy with, and by then he was having entrepreneurial thoughts. “My first studio was directly above Parlour, so working there actually helped get the word out,” he shares. He served coffee there for six years while he steadily grew Commonwealth. The demand for his impeccably tailored button ups continued to climb until it was time to make the leap and go full-time with his business. “The whole CMFG story is the epitome of slow organic growth.”

He works hard to source high quality materials that are easy on the environment, opting for natural fibres only. Most often it’s BCI certified cotton, which ensures that farmers are paid fairly and no unnecessary chemicals are added. “It can be tough to find mills that will work with small businesses” he explains, but is excited about working with a new supplier based in Spain which produces organically grown and dyed fabric.

Rather than creating a huge number of different designs, he fell in love with the process of perfecting a collared shirt, a style missing from his wardrobe at the start of his sewing endeavour. Doerksen worked relentlessly to develop his craftsmanship, even taking pattern making classes at Red River College and travelling to New York and San Fransisco where he gained invaluable insight from local producers. The result: a few incredibly versatile fits that are responsibly made to last. Small details, like the slim pen slot in every pocket, show the care and attention that go into each piece. 

The effect of COVID-19 forcing Doerksen to close his studio to the public gave CMFG the push it needed to expand its e-commerce—something he’s very grateful for. He’s learned that buying clothing online can be done right as long as you have consistent, dependable sizing, a detailed fit chart, and really good photos to show off the product. The demand for digital goods is rising, and he isn’t expecting it to go back down. And although the business has expanded its online retail presence, the shop is open Thursday to Saturday 11 am-4 pm for try-ons along with a glimpse into his design process.

Commonwealth MFG is a lesson in slow fashion, sewing together social and environmental awareness with lasting quality.