Going green got real
“Climate emergency” is the Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year, and in the world of fashion and beauty, a growing awareness of the industry’s impact on the planet kickstarted a push to make style more sustainable. Many brands, big and small, are taking action to become more environmentally friendly and ethical, thanks to customer demand.
One standout step forward in 2019 was a shift in how consumers look at the resale market, which reportedly grew 21 times faster than traditional retail, according to retail analytics firm Global Data. Calgary-based online luxury reseller the Upside is expecting to do $2.4-million in sales this year, while Quebec retailer Simons introduced vintage clothing to its offerings.
When it comes to the production of new apparel and cosmetics, brands continued to develop innovative sources of raw materials and packaging with minimal environmental impact. Frank and Oak introduced a sustainable outerwear collection made from recycled plastic, while beauty brands such as Clarins and Burt’s Bees made it their mission to ensure that their packaging was properly recycled, through new initiatives such as a partnership with TerraCycle, a company that comes up with green solutions for hard-to-recycle products.
At Aldo Shoes, 2019 was the culmination of a five-year sustainability initiative, a journey that included a 46-per-cent decrease in CO2 emissions and phasing out single-use shopping bags in favour of smart shoeboxes. CEO David Bensadoun, whose father founded the Montreal-based company in 1972, describes the past year as a positive step forward, but promises there’s more work to do. “It showed us what we can do and where we’re headed,” he says. “The goal is to continue to innovate, to improve, to challenge our way of working as an organization and others in the industry to be better, to be at the forefront of actual change.”
Shopping went gourmet
A big shift in shopping habits saw the grocery store become the retail destination of the year and that’s because the modern-day supermarket is anything but banal.
The elevated grocery shopping experience kicked off in January, when McEwan’s Yonge & Bloor opened its 17,000-square-foot subterranean spot in downtown Toronto. The thoughtfully stocked aisles of ingredients and pantry staples are surrounded by prepared food options including a Fabbrica Pizza counter, a sushi bar and a carving station.
In November – and one block west – that was followed up by the highly anticipated opening of Canada’s first Eataly outpost, a three-storey temple to Italian cuisine. That month also saw the Time Out Montreal Market opening the doors to its 40,000-square-foot emporium in the Centre Eaton de Montreal on St. Catherine Street. It features food from 16 of the city’s top chefs including James Beard Award winner Normand Laprise of Toqué, a beverage program to complement the dining options, culinary lessons and a retail space.
According to TV food and lifestyle expert and writer Pay Chen, a key factor in the rise of the curated grocery store may be too much choice at the local supermarket. “I think people like to feel like someone has done the work of sifting through the options and choosing the best or most relevant or interesting items,” she says. Chen points out that these curated stores typically come with a staff that’s knowledgeable and approachable, comparing their role to that of a sommelier. “The expertise available makes the experience more enjoyable.”
Bricks met clicks
It wasn’t so long ago that e-commerce threatened to wipe out traditional retail, with casualties that included some legacy brands such as Sears. Despite some high-profile bankruptcies in 2019, including Forever 21 and Barneys New York, this year, it became increasingly apparent that the in-person shopping experience isn’t likely to vanish any time soon.
In fact, it’s become a key strategy for digital natives, the term used to describe companies that were born online. A report by the International Council of Shopping Centers revealed that opening a physical retail space results in a 37 per cent average increase in web traffic. This positive relationship between bricks and clicks is dubbed the “halo effect” and it illustrates the fact that we aren’t strictly online shoppers or in-store shoppers, but a hybrid of both, with the path to purchase becoming increasingly nuanced.
Aly Damji, the executive vice-president of investments and asset management at real-estate investment and development firm Hullmark, says it’s a phenomenon he’s witnessed at their properties firsthand. He points to Toronto meal-prep and food delivery service Fresh City Farms as an example of the “omnichannel” approach. “They were online and had a loyal following of their food delivery meal prep kits. Now, they have kits available in store, but then also built a traditional grocery business.”
At malls and in shopping districts across Canada this year, we’ve seen e-commerce leaders including Endy, Knix and Bon Look launching and expanding their storefront presence.
Brand Canada capitalized on its cachet
With the NBA trophy awarded north of the border for the first time ever, all eyes are on Canada. And it’s no longer just for our maple syrup, as high-profile figures including the Duchess of Sussex and Hailey Bieber continue to sport Canadian fashion labels such as Nonie, Aritzia, Sentaler and Ecksand on the world stage.
“The perception of Canadian brands on the international scene has changed a lot,” says Natasha Koifman, president and founder of NKPR, a public relations firm with offices in Toronto and New York. “The overall increased global spotlight on our country, as well as our strong identity and values of integrity and inclusiveness have contributed to the increased interest in brands that are created in Canada.”
According to a survey by Price Waterhouse Cooper this year, 96 per cent of international respondents had a positive view of Canada, with 88 per cent of millennial respondents saying they have a strong interest in Canada.
Riding the wave are a handful of Canadian retailers that continued to expand globally this year. Canadian cottage staple Roots opened up its first experiential store on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile. Parka brand Moose Knuckles and CAFA 2018 women’s-wear designer of the year Marie Saint Pierre both opened stores in Manhattan. And jewellery brand Mejuri followed up its New York store with one in Los Angeles.
Of course, no one champions Canada quite like Drake, who marked a major milestone this year when he expanded his empire all the way to Japan with the opening of an impressive OVO flagship store in Tokyo.
Consumers recognized their power to affect change
With industry watchdogs such as Instagram’s Diet Prada and Estée Laundry drawing attention to the fashion and beauty industry’s many instances of cultural appropriation, racism, gender discrimination, workplace bullying and egregious environmental waste, these stories became mainstream news with bottom-line consequences.
Following popular backlash, Dior pulled the videos from its Sauvage fragrance campaign, which featured Native American imagery; Elle Germany formally apologized for its “Black is Back” story about models of colour; and Gucci’s Alessandro Michele wrote an apology letter for a turtleneck design resembling black face. Loewe removed an outfit from its shelves that resembled a concentration camp uniform, while Kim Kardashian renamed her “Kimono” shapewear line “Skims.”
Sage Paul, a fashion designer and the founder of Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, cites the recent cancellation of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show as an example of consumer action leading to industry evolution. “Speaking up and consciously choosing what we consume does have an impact,” she says, adding that social media has opened up the conversation to be more inclusive. “While I think call-out culture has its problems, I do think it’s important to think critically and be accountable for how our choices impact those around us or perpetuate social issues, like racism. With tact, we can influence positive change by drawing attention to those issues and not contributing to them.”
Take the Savage x Fenty Lingerie by Rihanna collection. At the pop star’s fashion show in September, she was applauded for featuring models of all shapes, cultures, orientations, genders and abilities, and the line has become an industry standard for how to build an inclusive brand.