Open for Business
With even Amazon rumoured to be launching its own take on fast fashion, pressures from the online retail industry are being increasingly felt by businesses of all sizes.
Among efforts to consolidate, shift and move online comes another unlikely solution for independent, small and mid-sized designers. Maintaining a shop around the corner is a strategy that’s working for many enduring Canadian brands – coveted Comrags, Lilliput Hats and Ewanika in Toronto, the thriving Turbine label from Halifax entrepreneur and designer Lisa Drader-Murphy, and local Vancouver favourite Twigg & Hottie, among them.
The merits of a physical shop go beyond having a local presence and offering a personal touch. Depending on scale, it’s a way to find cost efficiencies, become part of the urban fabric and find new and invigorating markets. Here, three Canadian designer retailers comment on the very different ways they find value in committing to bricks-and-mortar boutiques.
IS THIS MENSWEAR, VICTORIA
For the owners of this made-in-B.C. brand of design-focused men’s shirts and outerwear, opening an airy, Bauhaus-inspired space was just one more way of putting their civicminded philosophy into practice.
“I was on a trip to New York and went to Dover Street Market, surrounded by four-by-four pine beams crossing the room at their art gallery of a clothing store,” designer Iain Russell recalls. “And I thought, why wouldn’t people want to see that in Victoria, and why shouldn’t they?” Russell teamed up with his father, a woodworking instructor at nearby Camosun College, to construct the warm exposed-wood components of the spare, modular interior.
“We already had quite a good local following for making clothes specialized for the environment that we were in,” Russell says, “so it was natural to do a bricks-and-mortar store that was so tied to our identity.”
The store is south-facing on its street “like a little light box,” says business partner Jason Niles. He invokes the classic, “location, location, location,” when explaining what might seem like an unusual choice to repurpose a dermatologist’s office on a pedestrian-focused (and cyclist-heavy) back commercial lane. “Our location is unique in that we aren’t in a district of retail shopping,” Niles says. “We’re taking the approach of seeing, long-term, how the city is going to grow, and planting a flag as an example of a neighbourhood entity showing change. It’s an arterial road, facing a beautiful mediumdensity neighbourhood approaching Fairfield and Rockland. A transition zone from downtown Victoria wandering down to the ocean.”
They’re both interested in having more transitional spaces that aren’t necessarily defined as retail stores or community centres. “I see us as everything from an office, showroom, store and art space with shows once a month,” Niles says, adding that Is This Menswear recently participated in the Victoria Tea Festival with a kombucha tasting and art opening.
Niles’s background is in urban planning, working in small towns and with local government on longrange goals. “Our store is on a slow trajectory, and that’s what community development is – how to bring human values into business values.”
1014 Meares St., Victoria, 250-217-1505, isthismenswear.com
Full Article online (here)
BY, NATHALIE ATKINSON
Globe and Mail Print March, 12, 2016