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NEW YORK — Despite Canada’s $11.4 billion apparel market, the U.S. is still relied on by Canadian ready-to-wear brands looking to expand and sustain business. Here’s a look at three Toronto-based brands that cross the border.

This story first appeared in the March 18, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

— J.G.


Dress and suit brand Zenobia, which does about 80 percent of its volume in the U.S., opened its second retail concept in Toronto last month.

Titled the Zenobia Loft, the space is basically a revolving trunk show, where customers make appointments to purchase the upcoming season’s goods. It is by appointment only and features a salon-like atmosphere with a high priority on customer service, according to Zenobia executive vice president Brian Winston.

The loft features exclusive fabrics to avoid competing with local retailers that carry the Zenobia collection.

“Corporate women don’t shop from 9 to 5,” said Winston. “Here, we’re able to meet a woman at 7 in the morning, if she wants, or start an appointment late in the evening.”

The first loft in Montreal opened three years ago and the loft in Toronto is expected to increase Zenobia’s bottom line by 10 percent in its first year. Industry estimates put Zenobia’s annual volume between $20 million and $30 million.

In the U.S., Zenobia is available at 18 Saks Fifth Avenue doors, as well as four Neiman Marcus locations, and at Harvey Nichols in London.

The brand also held its first runway presentation Feb. 6 during Toronto Fashion Week.


In an effort to avoid being pigeonholed as a mother-of-the-bride resource, Sunny Choi left the group showroom it was housed in here and opened its own 2 1/2 years ago. The move laid a foundation for U.S. growth as it has more than doubled company volume in the U.S. market since the switch. Choi’s business here currently represents about $5 million in wholesale sales and is sold to some 60 specialty and department stores in the U.S. and Mexico.

The designer’s Platinum line, which launched simultaneously with the showroom and currently brings in revenue of about $3 million, is expected to reach about $7 million to $8 million over the next three to five years. The Platinum line, as well as the launch of 24 Karat, a dressy plus-size offering sold exclusively to Saks Fifth Avenue’s Salon Z and in its third season, are responsible for the bulk of Choi’s growth. Her overall business is now about $10 million.

This fall, Choi expanded her platinum line beyond evening suits to daywear, as she further taps the U.S. market.

“There are three types of daywear,” said Choi. “There’s careerwear and then casualwear like jeans. Then there is another type where women want to look nice because dressing nicely is a part of their lifestyle.”

The company is expected to grow about 10 percent this year, according to Jack Atkin, who is president and Choi’s husband.


After picking up about six new accounts at the recent Atelier trade show in New York, Misura is set to further tap the U.S. market with its minimal dresses, sportswear and suited looks.

According to designer and owner Joeffer Caoc, once a solid distribution channel is established in the U.S., opening a New York showroom will be the next step. While he’s focused on specialty stores right now, selling to department stores is also a goal. In Canada, Misura is available at department and specialty stores such as Blu’s in Calgary and Edmonton, The Bay in Toronto and Vancouver, and Wenches & Rogues in Toronto.

“We don’t have an office in the U.S., so we have to travel and target specific stores,” said Caoc. “If we were constantly there, I think it would be a lot better, but the expense is too high.”

For 2004, Caoc said he expects to do about $100,000 in sales in the U.S. and approximately $1 million overall, including Canada.

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