This week we thought it would be interesting to tell the story of District Central, and find out just how this area came to be the burgeoning startup incubator that it is today. Interestingly enough, through our research, we found that the area has really always been the ideal place for startups to call home.
District Central first earned the spotlight in 1964, when Montreal’s fashion manufacturers moved out of the old port and the downtown core to set up in an area that offered more space for their growing factories. The district ranged from Saint-Laurent Boulevard until Meilleur Avenue, and at the time was known as the Chabanel District. Chabanel was a flourishing district full of potential for anyone prepared to dive in. It was the heart of the Canadian garment industry from 1964 until the early 1990’s. It boasted the largest and most renowned clothing manufacturers in the world, and on the weekends, the area overflowed with eager shoppers looking to get a deal on designer brands.
Raphael Ohayon stands out in particular. Raphael was the sort of person who was able to seize upon the opportunities in the Chabanel District. In 1974, as Montreal’s fashion industry was at its peak, Raphael launched one of the first startup’s in the area, a little sewing machine company, on the corner of Rue Port Royal and Waverly, named Machine à coudre Raphael. The company’s mission was to cater to local designers specialized in leather work and help to meet the growing needs of the expanding fashion industry. He signed his first contract with Singer sewing machines, as their certified sewing machine technician. From there Raphael worked to expanded his business and by 1990, he had grown his company from sewing machine technicians to the sole sewing machine distributor for Montreal’s entire fashion manufacturing community.
Unfortunately, the 90’s were not kind to Canada’s textile manufacturing sector. Due in large part to new international trade policies, the garment industry began to decline. As a result of the policies, many manufacturing companies moved their operations abroad. As the heart of Canada’s clothing industry, the Chabanel District was hit hardest. As his clientele moved their operations abroad, Raphael was faced with a decision all too common in the startup world, “ adapt or die.” He chose to adapt, by the end of the 1990’s he had renamed his company Techsew, and took his business online. In 2001, his company began worldwide distribution of their first industrial sewing machines.
Techsew is around today in their original location at 155 Rue Port Royal O.
We began our research trying to understand how District Central came to be the startup incubator it is today. What we found was that it has always been an area full of potential for new companies and Techsew’s story perfectly illustrates this.