Fashion Rentals, Vintage and Off-Price Could Threaten Traditional Canadian Retailers: Expert

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Toronto-based retail industry expert, personal wardrobe stylist and image consultant Yana Brikker of Ask Yana Inc. predicts that the rise of clothing rental businesses, as well as the rise of second-hand and off-price retail, will grab market share from traditional fashion retailers in Canada in the coming years. The trend is being driven by social media as well as individuals looking for bargains at a time when cost-of-living is increasing, and incomes stagnate.

This could hit full-priced fashion retailers in a big way, according to Ms. Brikker. And it comes at a time when an unprecedented number of international brands enter the Canadian market, which could see more homegrown brands shutter if they’re unable to compete.

For years, Toronto-based Yana Brikker has been working as an image consultant and stylist for a range of clients that include women and men, and she says that she predicts that the clothing rental business will be taking Canada by storm as clients request such services. She also explained how the phenomenon could result in consumers not actually buying clothing if they want to only be seen once in a particular garment.  

HOLT RENFREW BLOOR SHOE HALL PHOTO: GEORGE PIMENTEL

“I was at several gala events recently, and I was surprised at how many rental dresses I saw in the room,” Ms. Brikker said. “I was in the showroom with two of my clients earlier that week and the owner informed me that many of the dresses we wanted for the evening we needed had already been reserved. I saw many of the same dresses at the events that followed, and it’s part of a bigger trend that I am witnessing,” she said.

“More and more, people are posting photos of themselves on Instagram and they don’t want to be seen twice in the same outfit. At the same time, they want to be seen in beautiful clothing, but it can be financially prohibitive to buy an expensive outfit and wear it only once,” she said. “Now we’re seeing women in particular renting a beautiful dress for the evening rather than making a substantially larger, permanent investment in a garment”.

Accessories, including jewellery and designer handbags, are also being rented out she said. “Rather than spending thousands of dollars on a collection of bags, women can rent one for a limited time, be seen wearing it, and have the option of being seen with several different bags rather than investing in just one item”.

It’s still unclear how big the clothing rental trend will be in Canada, as new companies continue to develop platforms to sell rental clothing. Startups across the country are getting in on the trend and it’s all so new that it remains to be seen just how much clothing rentals will affect sales at full-priced traditional retailers. “I predict that clothing rentals will be the next big thing and that we will continue to see new companies form to rent clothing to customers temporarily. Full-priced retailers will have to look to innovate if they want to compete,” said Ms. Brikker.

“Last year Neiman Marcus in San Francisco launched a 3,000 square foot pop-up location for Rent the Runway, which was followed by a permanent storefront for Rent the Runway. Now we see that Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, American Eagle, Vince, Ann Taylor and other retailers are getting in on the clothing rental trend,” she said.

RENT THE RUNWAY AT 434 POST STREET IN SAN FRANCISCO. PHOTO: MIHA MATEI PHOTOGRAPHY

The trend continues as retailers such as Bloomingdale’s get into subscription rentals. Launched last month, Bloomingdale’s ‘My List’ includes a US $149 fee where customers are entitled to four pieces initially, with unlimited substitutions. Also recently, HBC-owned Lord & Taylor was acquired by subscription rental website LeTote in a partnership that could see LeTote rolled out in some Canadian Hudson’s Bay stores, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Startups such as Ocurent, recently launched by fashion veteran Marlee Rabin in Montreal, is an example of a rapidly-growing company that is renting out fashions to her clients. “The majority of my customers tell me that they love getting dressed up for big events, especially for the Instagram photo opportunity,” said Ms. Rabin. “However, when they wear a dress to an event that they own, they feel insecure and tend to avoid being in or posting photos in case they’ve been seen in the same dress in the past. Renting has provided them affordable access to new outfits for all of their events, which simultaneously gives them more content for their personal social channels,” she went on to say.

Ms. Rabin’s new company has innovated in that the suppliers of her fashions do so on a consignment basis, which means she herself doesn’t have to invest in stock. At the same time, owners of the dresses are able to profit from the dresses that are being rented out. Ocurent is growing rapidly and will be featured in a separate article in Retail Insider.

SCREEN SHOT OF THE ‘LE TOTE’ WEBSITE. THE COMPANY ACQUIRED HBC-OWNED LORD & TAYLOR. CANADIAN HUDSON’S BAY STORES COULD ALSO BE PART OF THE PARTNERSHIP, ACCORDING TO SOURCES.

There are plenty of other examples of clothing rental companies expanding their operations in Canada. Ottawa-based Rent Frock Repeat, for example, is rapidly expanding its operations nationally and it recently introduced a subscription service.

Yana Brikker explained how the growth in second-hand fashions could further disrupt Canadian retailing. While second-hand clothing is hardly a new thing, it’s becoming more mainstream and social media is part of the reason.

“You’re far less likely to be wearing the same dress as someone else if it’s vintage, and the quality in some vintage pieces is superior to some designer brands that you can buy today,” said Ms. Brikker. “As the world of fashion moves away from specific trends, people are becoming more comfortable expressing their own personal identities and vintage clothing is an avenue for style expression,” she said.

That could result in a hit to brands such as Hermes, which have created false scarcity by limiting the sales of some of its bag styles, including the iconic ‘Birkin’ bag. Acquiring a Birkin bag at a Hermes store can be a challenge unless a buyer is established with the brand, though a vintage retailer is less likely to discriminate provided that the customer has the money to buy the item,” explained Ms. Brikker. “A good vintage Birkin bag, particularly if made of exotic skin, can cost into the six-figures”.

VINTAGE BAGS AT OLIVER JEWELLERY IN TORONTO. A BLACK HERMES BIRKIN BAG IS PRICED AT $90,000. PHOTO: CRAIG PATTERSON

The rise of off-price retail and warehouse sales also further stands to erode traditional fashion retail in Canada. And it’s not just those struggling financially who are looking for a bargain, said Yana Brikker.

“Everyone loves a great deal and a ‘good sale’, even my most affluent clients,” she said. “I’m able to find clients bargains because I know where and when to look, and my wealthiest clients appreciate the savings just as much as those with less money to spend,” she said.

Ms. Brikker has expanded her styling service to a wide range of clients. “I will open my heart and services to anyone who wants to better their life,” she said. “You only have seven seconds to make a first impression”. She has also been volunteering for charities such as Dress for Success, the Corsage Project, and others. Ms. Brikker is working to improve the lives of men that are new to the single scene due to recent divorces and are looking to get back into the dating scene or at the very least, are looking for a boost of confidence and to look and be their best.

YANA BRIKKER IN THE NEW GUCCI OUTLET AT TORONTO PREMIUM OUTLETS, AS WELL AS A SHOT WEARING MOSCHINO.

“I know where to find some of the best deals and if you’d like to know where, you just have to Ask Yana,” she said. “Ask Yana Inc.” is the name of Ms. Brikker’s styling service business, which involves her seeking out high-quality and high-fashion items from leading off-price retailers as well as at wholesalers and sample sales. She also provides services such as closet overhauls where she will revise, revamp and revitalize a client’s entire wardrobe from start-to-finish, and then takes them shopping or shops for them to create their new looks.

ABOVE AND BELOW: NORDSTROM RACK AT 1 BLOOR ST. E. IN TORONTO. PHOTO: CRAIG PATTERSON

“It’s the thrill of the hunt,” she said. “You can find amazing discounted designer pieces at off-price retailers if you know when and where to look. I have paid a fraction of the retail price for some incredible designer finds over the years,” she says. As some of her clients are time-starved, Ms. Brikker says that she’s willing to do the leg work to find the best goods at the lowest cost.

Retailers such as TJX banners Winners and Marshalls have been opening more than a dozen stores annually in Canada, while new entrants such as Nordstrom Rack, Saks OFF 5TH and DSW Designer Shoe Warehouse have entered the market in the past few years. Canada has also seen US-style outlet malls open in recent years in major markets. The rapid growth in off-price retailers is expected to continue to take a bite out of traditional fashion retailing in Canada. And social media isn’t the only reason Canadians are seeking value priced goods. Incomes have stagnated for many Canadians and the cost of living continues to rise. Many people are also increasingly seeking ‘experiences’ over ‘goods’. What that means is there’s more competition than ever for Canadian retail dollars, which is amplified considering that more than 30 international retailers entered the Canadian market last year and more than 50 brands came into Canada the year before, which was a record.

Over the past decade, as well, US-styled designer outlet malls have opened in Canada. In a relatively short time, almost every major market in Canada spanning from Vancouver to Montreal have seen the openings of major outlet malls.

GUCCI OUTLET STORE AT TORONTO PREMIUM OUTLETS, BUILT BY RETAIL CONSTRUCTION SPECIALIST AMACHRIS. PHOTO: AMACHRIS CORPORATON

Furthermore, warehouse sale providers continue to grow their presence in Canada. Now more than ever across the country, consumers are able to shop substantial discounts at warehouse sale events such as those hosted by OPM Sales and other companies.

It remains to be seen just how prolific clothing rental, vintage retail and warehouse sales become in Canada. After all, Canadians are also time starved more than ever and may not have time to go out and hunt for good deals and bargains. The same goes for those looking to enhance their image on social media — many in the Gen Y and Gen Z age range who live in urban centres choose to not drive a car, which means it can be challenging getting to outlet malls and warehouse sales.

“That’s where working with a personal stylist and image consultant becomes a big advantage,” said Ms. Brikker. “While there may be a fee to hiring a stylist, a good stylist who knows where to shop can actually save you a substantial amount of money in the end,” she said. “As well, it can be tremendous time savings, not to mention there’s less stress on the client, which makes it well worthwhile in the end”.

We’ll continue to report on how fashion rentals, second-hand and off-price retail is affecting the Canadian retail industry. Feel free to share your opinions below in the comments section.

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