Stars have aligned for fashion brands seeking a new kind of digital destination – and for Canadian designers, that ambition takes form in the launch of Showroom Canada, a digital wholesale showroom, hosted on the b-to-b platform JOOR.
In collaboration with the High Commission of Canada in the United Kingdom, Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI), Department of Canadian Heritage and the Canadian Apparel Federation, Showroom Canada will launch on Feb. 16, ahead of London Fashion Week, and bring Canadian fashion to an audience of 200,000 retailers for a six-week run.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, standard showroom appointments are no longer an option – and pivoting to a digital model that grants retail buyers access to Canadian talent lets the show go on, so to speak, and simultaneously boosts brands’ visibility.
Showroom Canada’s 13 featured fashion and accessories brands are FREED; Furb Upcycled; Furious Fur; Joeffer Caoc; Kate Austin; Kuwalla Tee; Maison Marie Saint Pierre; Shelli Oh; Sid Neigum; Sully & Son Co.; Tori.Xo; UNTTLD; and WUXLY. Representative of the nation’s top-tier talent, the brands are located throughout Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and Nova Scotia.
Retailers ready to shop the event can register on its website to peruse Canadian apparel and accessories, inclusive of skillfully cut designs, glamorous winter-ready furs, and handmade silver jewelry that collectively embodies a sustainability edge and devotion to transparency.
TFI’s approach to transitioning brands to a digital showroom was swift and strategic. Susan Langdon, executive director at Toronto Fashion Incubator, said that “Traditionally, the wholesale buying experience has happened offline, but the pandemic caused both designers and retailers to quickly pivot. In the absence of global travel and in-person events, it became apparent in early 2020 that developing a digital showroom was a necessity. It’s important for brands to continue to meet and engage with retailers and Showroom Canada will enable this.”
The firm said JOOR was the platform of choice primarily due to its reach – particularly for U.K.-based retailers. Langdon told WWD, “We chose JOOR to host Showroom Canada because it has 200,000 global retailers registered with its platform, including key U.K. targets such as Net-a-Porter, Selfridges, and Harvey Nichols. We also surveyed a few targeted retailers, and they confirmed that they all use JOOR.”
And the fusion of Canadian talent in Britain’s retail landscape is welcomed with open arms. Her Excellency Mrs. Janice Charette, High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom, said “We are delighted to partner once again with the Toronto Fashion Incubator for our highly anticipated biannual celebration of Canadian fashion. Showroom Canada brings top-class Canadian designs to the United Kingdom, in an all-new innovative digital way. The participating designers feature all that Canada’s fashion industry has to offer, including our vibrant diversity, commitment to the environment, innovation – and so much more.”
Greater visibility in the U.K.’s retail base can play a vital role in recovering from COVID-19, and participating designers agreed that the wholesale experience has evolved significantly during the pandemic.
José Manuel St-Jacques, a co-owner at Atelier UNTTLD, a luxury women’s wear brand, told WWD, “We are a business that has had a lot of success presenting, promoting and selling in a more traditional manner: an up-close and personal approach to developing our brand in partnership with major retailers like Neiman Marcus, and Saks.”
As virtual meetings and Zoom appointments became the norm for many across retail and beyond, UNTTLD concurrently took an old-fashioned approach to the problem.
“To adjust to the restrictions of not being able to touch and feel the clothes last market, we printed a physical collection book and sent them to all our buyers. In it, we included very editorial look book pictures juxtaposed with ghost images of the styles accompanied with fabric swatches. Inspired by the feelers we receive from our fabric suppliers, we also included at the end of the book a fabric library with large feelers so the buyers can have a better idea of how luxurious the fabrics feel like to the touch, and the actual colorways which may be altered in pictures.”
The designer added that its participation in Showroom Canada positively impacts the Canadian market, too, as it brings the nation’s talent to the front of fashion categories outside of outerwear. “There is more than snow and winter coats made in Canada. By presenting our work on an international platform, we can showcase the talent and know-how present in our country. UNTTLD is a global brand made locally. UNTTLD is entirely created and produced locally in our own atelier and with specialized partners all based in Canada, encouraging local economy.”
And as far as product sales, Joeffer Caoc, head designer of his eponymously named ready-to-wear brand, told WWD that customers are trending toward casual or lifestyle pieces even more than usual. Tops are selling for Zoom meetings as opposed to business suits, while knits and pants have grown in popularity over special occasion items, such as a sequin dress. “Overall, there is a cautious atmosphere where clients are sourcing pieces they feel confident to sell,” Caoc explained. “We have found to be successful trans-seasonal sportswear separates.
“With physical shows being canceled, the timing for this digital event is a new way for us and we are hoping it will elevate our brand internationally,” Caoc said. “Our experience in international and particularly the U.S. market, Canadian-made brands are well recognized for high quality and sustainable clothing, along with excellent customer service.”
And Maison Marie Saint Pierre, a vertically integrated sustainable fashion brand manufactured in Montreal, founded by its namesake designer Marie Saint Pierre, said that relationships with its wholesale partners are a priority in the current economic climate.
“We’ve maintained more regular, open and transparent communications in order to maintain our business relationships and partnerships with retailers. We’ve also enhanced customer service to accompany them and understand their situation, giving them tools, and providing flexibility and understanding.”
Saint Pierre added that flexibility and ingenuity were critical to coping with various temporary store closures, and that aspects of management, such as planning and reorganization, have been a challenge.
Regarding Showroom Canada, the designer cites visibility and reassurance for its retail partners, development of new markets, and the opportunity to “come together with other Canadian brands – to serve and unify our industry.”