Justina McCaffrey is Canada’s fashion tour-de-force

ABOVE: Ottawa fashion designer Justina McCaffrey is taking her new collection to Paris fashion week — recently postponed due to C-19 until late February.

Justina McCaffrey has enough energy to light up her entire neighbourhood, and with her creative business ambitions, she’s going to need it.

The Kanata resident’s name once labelled a fantasy destination for brides-to-be at the corner of Sussex Drive and Clarence Street, branding what was perhaps the most luxurious retail store in the city. Residents of the federal riding of Kanata-Carleton will remember McCaffrey as the Tory candidate in last year’s election, an experience that taught her a lot about people, organization, and the power of networking.

Justina was born in Winnipeg, and attended the prestigious Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles at the age of 17. She’s stitched together an extraordinary CV that makes her the first internationally recognized fashion designer based in Ottawa. Consider these samples in her collection: the only North American representative at St. John Paul II’s Fashion Jubilee held at St. Peter’s Square; designer and creator of a pluvial cope for the Pontiff himself that is now held in the Vatican archives; first award-winning wedding dress designer to receive over 20 retail accounts following her first show in NYC, and imminently; first wedding dress designer to ever be invited to present a collection at Paris Fashion Week! The event was originally scheduled for October but, due to C-19, has been pushed back until February/March of 2021.

In spite of the accolades, Justina faces a challenging world as she works with gusto to get her designs to market. “I’ve been such a fierce supporter of Canadian-made goods, particularly in the fashion industry,” Justina says, “which is a bit of a microcosm of manufacturing in this country. It brings a tear to my eye to see an entire industry dismantled.” Homemade, high quality clothing is something she can proudly offer at a time when most other North American designers are going off-shore for production.

Being a one-woman tour-de-force means a job description that runs from creative designer to marketing rock star to delivery boy. Justina pivoted from retail stores on Sussex and in Toronto’s Yorkville to international markets with great panache. “I showed at New York Bridal Week for a couple of seasons, doing everything by phone. I gave all of these students from the New York Fashion Institute co-op hours. That helped me crush the Japanese market in 2014, where I had the number one dress in Japan that made all the magazine covers!” She managed the entire production remotely, relying on the energy and strong work ethic of the industry.

Ottawa is not really a fashion town, unless you consider Gore-Tex to be haute couture, but Justina loves to call it home because it has so much to offer her. “Ottawa has it all for me. It’s 40 minutes from a really easy border crossing to the US,” she says. “I also like being between Toronto and Montreal because both cities offer me resources and contacts that I’ve built up. Both cities also have things that the other doesn’t.” She’s spent this summer on the 401, “grabbing supplies in Montreal, getting to Toronto to get it made, and then at the border packing and shipping.”

Top retailers have been lining up to acquire Justina McCaffrey apparel for their stores. There’s Kleinfeld of New York, the holy temple of wedding dresses and sacred destination of brides-to-be on a “Say Yes to the Dress” pilgrimage. There’s a group out of LA called Panache, and another out of Florida called Collection. “I have sales reps all over the world. Amanda, for one, had the retail store I sold out of in Chicago. She also had the retail store for Vera Wang, so she is super connected. She told me my dresses sold more than the whole Vera Wang store put together!”

Justina McCaffrey tossed her hat into the political arena with the goal of advocating on behalf of Canadian fashion manufacturing. This one-woman powerhouse may inspire the revitalization of that industry by bringing her own stunning collections to the world.