If he doesn’t know it, Roger Gingerich knows somebody who knows it. The “network whisperer” of Toronto’s fashion world has his finger on the industry’s racing pulse, making deals and connecting people in fashion. You won’t see him on the cover of a magazine, but that’s the way Gingerich likes it; his domain is behind the scenes.
A self-described “value-add”, Gingerich wears many hats in the fashion industry. From brokering fashion deals and managing celebrity fashion brands to teaching at the Academy of Design and Technology and interviewing with CBC about the global supply chain in apparel, his almost infinitely varied roles make it clear that he knows the value of versatility.
“I’ve been blessed with so many facets of the fashion industry, not just one…. Someone will hire me for here, knowing I have this massive contact base over here. If it’s something to do with fashion, I probably have my hand on it somewhere.”
The road to his current success began, strangely enough, with the NHL. In high school, Gingerich worked as a pattern maker and sewer, re-palming hockey gloves and repairing equipment for NHL and CFL teams. When the company he worked for went out of business, he took out a family loan for $1100, bought himself an Adler sewing machine, and set out on his own in partnership with the Edmonton Eskimos. Gingerich worked closely with the Edmonton Oilers during the team’s golden age and handled equipment for some of hockey’s biggest names, Wayne Gretzky among them.
Gingerich credits this experience with helping him understand garment construction, as well as the importance of being aware of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. “It taught me many life lessons… I realized early on, I’m a dime a dozen, so I had to quickly turn that around and find my point of difference. I had to stand out somehow,” he says.
After his start in sewing, Gingerich switched to apparel promotion at Stormtech in Vancouver. When he started, he was the company’s eighth employee. When he moved to Toronto six years later in 2001, the company had 65 employees and the sales had jumped from 5 million to 50 million. After that, it wasn’t long before Gingerich was doing business independently once again and moving toward the centre of Toronto’s fashion scene.
His advice to anyone in the fashion industry: “Leave the ego at the door… [And] be willing to share.” For a man who’s all about connecting people and bringing them together, it only makes sense that sharing is something he values. Gingerich celebrates the collaborative nature of Toronto’s fashion industry, and notes that the city is unusual in this respect.
His company, the Gingerich Group, is continually evolving to meet the ever-changing demands of Canada’s fashion marketplace. It’s now undergoing a gradual transformation from a sales and network agency to a fashion brokerage, taking on luxury clearance deals and promotion. Celebrity management is also a major focus these days; actors and other celebrities who want to make the most of their name are looking to Gingerich Group for licensing opportunities and fashion brand management.
“[There are] people saying, ‘I miss the good old days’ – I disagree. I say the good old days are now, and they’re yet to come. Industries are constantly evolving, and those that see opportunities are going to be the leaders.”
So what does Gingerich see ahead? “I see being a value-add being the next frontier,” he says, predicting that “niche, pigeonhole industries” are a thing of the past, especially in the lingering aftermath of the recession. For employees, he believes, the ability to bring a wide range of skills to the table will be increasingly important in our diversifying economy, and the same applies to companies: the greater variety they can offer, the better.
Gingerich certainly follows his own advice in that respect; a one-word title doesn’t do his career justice. But although he’s not a designer, or any other standard fashion job, he brings a natural creativity to everything he does. Whether it’s drawing inspiration for his agency’s style guide layout from an unorthodox source, or host-ing his bi-annual Fashion Schmooze to bring the fashion industry together, Gingerich deftly balances his proclivity for doing things his own way with ensuring accountability to his clients.
“Trust me, I work more hours than a nine-to-five job, but [this job] gave me that flexibility to be in creative and go in the direction I wanted to go in,” he says.
Gingerich sees inspiration everywhere, including on his travels to fashion hubs like Italy and Paris. He admires Italian fashion for their timeless pieces and appreciation for craftsmanship, particularly in an age where such things seem to often fall prey to efficiency. Paradoxically for someone who relishes growth and looks to the future as eagerly as he does, Gingerich prefers those kinds of classic pieces for his own wardrobe. And Paris? “It’s seamless,” he says. “Clothing, fashion – it just comes second nature to them.”
Among Gingerich’s many behind-the-scenes responsibilities is sitting on the advisory council for the first-ever Toronto Men’s Fashion Week, which debuts in August. Toronto will be the eighth city in the world to host a dedicated men’s fashion week, and the event will draw industry moguls from around the world, including editors from Vogue Italia and GQ. Gingerich’s years of experience on the business end of fashion make him well-suited to advising at an event where, as he says, “it’s all about demographic profiling.” Always quick to deflect credit away from himself, Gingerich downplays his importance to the operation.
“It’s sitting down and they bounce off ideas. A lot of the time they know what the right answer is, they just need to bounce it off of somebody and see the big picture… I love the role, and I’m flattered by it. Absolutely flattered.”