Traditionally, once the runway lights went down, fashion collections were kept behind closed doors until they hit the shop floor several months later. (If they made it to the stores at all.) Now, designers and retailers are challenging this half-a-century old model. In October, Yorkdale Shopping Centre and the Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (CAFA) teamed up to fill the gap left by the cancellation of Toronto Fashion Week; the result was FashionCan, a two-day catwalk and presentation event with an accompanying 3,000-square-foot pop-up shop housing designs straight-off-the-runway along with current-season collections.
The store, which will remain open until Dec. 31, has been deemed a success by its organizers. "It was a test, but it's far exceeded our expectations," says Claire Santamaria, general manager of Yorkdale Shopping Centre. "The first weekend, the sales from the pop-up came to over $30,000, and the designers continue to replenish merchandise." The pop-up features over a dozen Canadian labels, a mix of established designers such as Marie Saint Pierre and Pink Tartan, along with emerging names including women's-wear designer Jennifer Torosian and Montreal-based Unttld.
Over the years, Canadian fashion designers have expressed disappointment at the lack of support from our country's retailers. While collections from the award-winning women's-wear designer Mikhael Kale have been stocked at top retailers such as Holt Renfrew and The Room at The Bay in the past, an opportunity to sell his runway garments directly to the customers ahead of the season is rare. "Since we produced our Spring/Summer 2017 line that had just newly been shown on the FashionCan runway, we hoped people would be drawn to it in the pop-up shop," Kale says. "Given the recent demand for the products, we are very pleased."
Like most Canadian designers without their own flagships or e-commerce businesses, Kale relies on wholesale orders, receiving payment several months after the production and delivery of his garments. In an environment like FashionCan, the benefits are instant, and since the clothing is sold on consignment, the designers keep 80 per cent of the profits; the remaining 20 per cent goes towards the administration of the store.
For Daniel Christian Tang, the designer behind a Toronto-based 3D-printed jewellery line, the pop-up store is his first foray into a physical retail space. The brand was founded in 2012 and has since established a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business. While its sales at FashionCan have been satisfactory, it's nowhere near the brand's online sales. "I think what they were able to do over the course of the month so far compares to a morning for us [online]," says co-founder Mario Christian Lavorato.
But the benefits of having a physical space are undeniable, especially since FashionCan has hosted trunk shows and designer meet-and-greet events. "Coming from a world of e-commerce, to be able to see the product in the store, how people see it and touch it – it's quite exciting," Lavorato says. He sees an enormous potential in the model. "I would be totally interested in getting together with other designers and everyone paying a portion of whatever the cost of that store would be. So you could get a lot of designers who don't want to spend $10,000 a month on a store but are willing to spend $2,000 a month."
Now that the consumer demand for Canadian-designed apparel has proven to be significant, Yorkdale is looking to extend the format for the spring season, with an official announcement to be made in the New Year. Santamaria credits the store's success on the demand from shoppers for exclusive products, regardless of the price. "It's not necessarily that all of it is luxury, but they are unique pieces," she says. "These are things that aren't available anywhere else."
As the concept further develops in Toronto, Lavorato sees the potential across the country, "I'm hoping that this test store is a success for CAFA and Yorkdale, and they take this model and maybe build it out to different malls."