By Lisa van de Geyn
It’s not every day a Canadian company celebrates its 99th year in business. Since 1923, Beker Fashions has made a name for itself as one of Canada’s most respected manufacturers of luxury evening wear — think red-carpet aff airs, mother-of-the-wedding dresses and special event garments — Beker Fashions has been a mainstay in Toronto’s fashion industry, weathering the diffi cult times, including COVID-19. Th e company produces its collections — Frascara and Audrey+Brooks — in Toronto and sells to boutiques across Canada, the United States, and most recently in Mexico. It’s a business built on family, understanding the customer, and one that celebrates creating high-quality pieces using luxury fabrics and exceptional craftsmanship.
The company’s story begins with Sam Kayman, a Jewish immigrant from Poland who came to Canada at the age of 16 to escape a difficult life in Europe. His goal was to make some money to send back home to his family. He began working in the garment industry on Spadina Avenue, in Toronto’s Fashion District. “He developed his skills as a cutter and sewer. It wasn’t too long before Sam was able to bring his brother over from Europe and they decided to go into business together,” says Ron Beker, president of Beker Fashions and Sam’s grandson. “Together, under the name Kayman Dresses, they produced outfits that were geared to middle-aged women. The dresses and suits were a little more forgiving in their fit. That still runs through the company’s DNA today. The Frascara collection continues with the same philosophy. We understand how a woman’s body shift s as they age, so our styles are designed to both flatter and fit. It is a winning combination of contemporary styling with exceptional form.”
IT’S A BUSINESS BUILT ON FAMILY, UNDERSTANDING THE CUSTOMER, AND ONE THAT CELEBRATES CREATING HIGH-QUALITY PIECES USING LUXURY FABRICS AND EXCEPTIONAL CRAFTSMANSHIP
In 1952, Sam’s daughter, Simmie, met and married Abby Beker, a holocaust survivor from Lithuania. “My father ended up joining the business in 1953 and my grandfather took a step back.” says Ron. Abby Beker was a born salesman who wore a suit and tie to the office every day. He had a great love of the business, which he ran with great fervour until 2013. Ron joined the company in 1980. He explains, “We survived and thrived well in Canada, with its focus on domestic business. We were at the higher end of the market so we could afford local labour and production. We kept our head above water during difficult times and always managed to design and manufacture in Toronto,” says Ron.
The business has continued to attract family. Kelly Beker is Ron’s daughter and the company’s chief brand officer. She says, “It’s a really exciting time for our brands as we are size-inclusive, manufactured locally with minimal textile waste and promote slow fashion, which has never mattered more than it does today.”
Frascara and Audrey + Brooks, are the company’s main focus. Frascara has been around since 1993, and it’s developed into a trusted name in specialoccasion wear. The Frascara name was created to incorporate the two designers, Francesca Mammoliti and Sarah Polster, who worked together until 2013. When Sarah was ready to retire, her daughter Cindy Fine stepped in to co-design the line with Francesca, who has been at the company since 1988. Only the finest fabrics are used for these gowns, and customers benefit from its modern and feminine style. The Audrey+Brooks label was established in 2021 and designed by Francesca Mammoliti. “It has a designer fit, but it’s still size inclusive,” says Ron. Prior to this collection, Wayne Clark designed for his own label at Beker Fashions for 10 years. “Wayne Clark was a force in Canada’s fashion industry and it was an honour to produce his collection,” Ron says. After his retirement the company continues to sell Wayne’s legacy styles.
Currently, Frascara and Audrey+Brooks create two collections per year. Retailers visit the showroom in Toronto or New York and place their orders. Garments are put into production and shipped out to boutiques across North America. “If a woman goes into a store and loves one of our dresses but doesn’t like it in emerald green, for example, the store can pull out our swatch card and she can order it in one of 20 colour options,” Ron says. “And if she has specific measurements, we can let out the waist or drop the neckline, etc. This kind of serviceability has given us a huge special-order business.”
Now that weddings and events are back and booming, Beker Fashions has been busier than ever. What’s more, the company is now servicing Mexico. “Launching in the Mexican market has been exciting — it’s so nice to see how the Frascara brand has been received in a new country,” says Kelly. “We’re even seeing younger women in Mexico buying the collection for proms and special events. We are a luxurious brand with impeccable quality, but our price point is attainable. They also like that we’re manufactured in Canada as younger consumers care about where their clothing comes from and how it is made.”
Not only has Beker Fashions always emphasized having close relationships with customers, but it has also retained much of its talent over the past 99 years. “Our employees are loyal and multigenerational; the average staff member has been with us for 25 or 30 years. Fatima Ferreira, head of our cutting-room department, is celebrating her 50th year with us. She’s been here longer than me, starting when she was 15,” Ron says proudly. “Our production manager, Suzette Pacecho, Fatima’s niece, has been with the company for more than 30 years.”
Today, the company is poised to continue dominating boutiques across North America. The designers are working on Fall/Winter 2023 and next year, Beker Fashions will celebrate its centennial. “We’ve succeeded because we really try to stay in our lane. People know us for mother-of-the-wedding dresses and red-carpet events, and we haven’t strayed from that in all these years,” Ron says. It is a tremendous achievement for the Beker family to be in business all these years. There has always been an abundance of pride in the company — pride in its brands, in their skilled employees, in being a distinguished Canadian fashion business, and in the generations that have carried the company forward. Let’s hope the next century for Beker Fashions means continued momentum, inspiring consumers and industry alike to support the wave of slow fashion.