The Quest for New Retailers

As the economy ebbs and shifts, retailers are trying to find ways to adjust to the new reality (not to be confused with the New Economy reminiscent of the glorious Dot Com Daze).

Despite crashes and closings in the last couple of years, the consumer demand for clothing hasn’t ceased – it’s just transitioned. Everybody wants a designer name – they just can’t always afford it. That’s why we’ve seen so many designer/retail collaborations in recent years. Once a thing of excitement and anticipation, they have become much more homogenized and of lesser quality recently.

Stella McCartney was an early adopter with her line for H+M, for example, and her clothes still hang in my closet. They are well-tailored, all natural fabrics (of course – given Stella’s vegan state of being) and even the bags were biodegradable. I felt like she/the company really cared about every element of that collection.

Now, when a retailer like H+M or Target collaborates with a designer, you know it will be generic landfill-er in coming years. Shame, because the model could have worked, if only retailers showed a little restraint and timed things out a bit more. There seems to be a new collaboration every five minutes. Exclusivity is still in style, no?

More often than not – the quest for more continues.

Our retail landscape here in Canada is wanting for choice and quality. Sadly, a high percentage of my clothing budget is not spent here in Toronto. There simply isn’t much that I want to buy. Of course, there are wonderful and exclusive boutique retailers where I can still find things, but there seems to be a gap (and everyone knows I don’t shop there!).

Bonnie Brooks, President and CEO of the Bay, has been trying to fill the gap that I’ve been talking about to friends over many lunches and dinners for many years. I first noticed it when Eaton’s closed down. This is before Zara, H+M, Aritzia and the like were fixtures in our malls and streetscapes. Eaton’s did a great job of catering to both 20-somethings as well as the 30+ set. It was a place where my mom and I could go together, split up once we hit the fashion floor and we’d meet in the middle with interesting pieces for each of us in hand. I could get my basics there and at Simpsons (even when it was bought by The Bay).

Special pieces were always found in the first iteration of Brooks’ newly re-invented The Room (the designer floor at The Bay’s Queen Street flagship) or Queen West before it turned into a mall. In later years, Zara filled that gap but you still couldn’t stock up at the Spanish retailer’s stops here like I did in Madrid or NYC in years past. I still have some of those pieces. I can’t remember the last time I bought something at the big Z.

And shoes – let’s not even talk about shoes. Note to Canadian retailers: please visit the 3,200 square metres of shoes with 150 brands (75 of them exclusive) at Galeries Lafayette in Paris and come back and revisit your selections. Yes, I can still get $850 Dries flats at Specchio (practical, no?)  – but I can’t get €99 Italian-made lace-up brogues anywhere in Toronto (I did get those in the aforementioned Parisian mecca of shoes). Give me choice – I don’t want to buy 9 West shoes everywhere I go!

Back to my mom for a second. My mom is not a fashionista, but she likes to look good and has trouble finding things to wear. All the stores that catered to her are mostly gone, too. She occasionally finds things at Winners or The Bay, but it’s a struggle. She doesn’t want to look like a 25-year old, but she is no aunty-ji either. To summarize, she can’t find great things to wear here and neither can I.

Slowly, retailers like Brooks and a handful of others are starting to take note. The Room has been reinvented at The Bay but so has their lower-priced designer wear in the contemporary section (I forget the name of it). I’ve been once and want to go back to see the Rachel Roy stuff they have after the designer did a drop-in at the store a few weeks ago.

The space, no doubt, is beautiful and holds promise. Only time – and strategy – will determine the rest, but I have to say I am Bay-curious again…

I’ll write about the quest for new customers by various brands, in an upcoming post.

Browse Posts by Category

Browse Posts by Month

Written by: