Toronto-based designer Ellie Mae Studios has announced the near completion of its first flagship store. Due to open this spring when pandemic lockdowns end, the ready-to-wear designer is setting up shop at 1096 Yonge Street in Toronto’s wealthy Rosedale/Summerhill neighbourhood.
The 650-square-foot store will serve to complement the brand’s already thriving North American e-commerce offering, and a showroom at the Ellie Mae Studio located in downtown Toronto.
“Opening our first flagship store in Summerhill felt like a natural progression for us; a gateway to deepen our relationship with our customers and provide meaningful brand experiences,” says Jeremy Wood-Ross, CEO and Sales Director, Ellie Mae Studios. “At the heart of the brand’s ethos is community, and we’re looking forward to being able to further connect with our Ellie Mae family in the already vibrant and close-knit Summerhill neighbourhood.”
Founded in 2015, the upscale brand began as a wholesale business. Finding this industry to be highly competitive and somewhat unpredictable, Ellie Mae soon after launched its e-commerce business. Finding success, the brand opened a popup location at Toronto’s stackt Market in 2019. It was a move that ultimately inspired Wood-Ross and Ellie Mae Founder, Ellie Mae Waters, to open the upcoming flagship store.
“We were a wholesale business to begin with and a lot of the decisions we make today are based on those early experiences. Being in wholesale really showed us the challenges within the fashion industry. It’s a competitive market, and the expenses that come with trade shows are a challenge along with trying to predict what feels right for the buyer. Through that experience we added e-commerce to our business model and found a lot of success being able to go directly to our customers”, says Wood-Ross.
“In 2019 we decided to put a stop to our wholesale efforts and focus directly on the customer. We were part of the inaugural group of stores at stackt Market. We started with a single shipping container and quickly moved to the flagship spot which we shared with a furniture company. We wanted to build an experiential space and it felt like the perfect spot to test out the brand and offer an experience that was controlled completely by us for the first time. We took those learnings and decided that we needed to focus on a physical space for Ellie Mae closer to our customer base in Summerhill.”
Under the creative direction of Ellie Mae Waters, each Ellie Mae collection is made with exceptional craftsmanship in small batches. With an eye on global design, and a reverence for the timeless approach of quality fabrics and high-fashion detailing, each Ellie Mae piece translates stories of the past for today’s always-in-motion lifestyle.
The new store promises to embody the true spirit of the brand and is set to be an intimate space adorned with rustic walls and vintage carpets that embraces unconventionality, creativity, and community. Designed by Toronto-based designer Ashley Montgomery, the store aims to be highly experiential while placing the customer at the centre of all that it does in a reimagined approach to physical retail. Music, which is infused in the brand’s DNA, will function as the anchor of the location, with Ellie Mae being the first store in the area to play music on the street to immerse customers and those walking by in the brand before even entering the store.
The shop will also feature an Ellie Mae Cafe, complemented by seating both outside and in, encouraging a space for people to gather with the Ellie Mae team.
“We’re a new brand and figuring out how to communicate ourselves is difficult within a very competitive market, but having that physical location at Stackt Market really helped. We’re excited about the flagship because we understand the benefits that come with a brick and mortar location. Although we have invested a lot in our e-commerce over the years — we’re coming up to our final phase of our new approach to e-commerce which launches simultaneously to our new store opening — we really think that there’s no beating the real experience. It’s something we’ve definitely learned over the last year. Our brand, being casual luxury, really benefits from the in-person experience. We can speak to the quality of the product — from the construction to the fabrication — and even the brand story itself, it is all much better communicated in person where the customer can experience Ellie Mae for themselves.”
And that e-commerce presence has served the brand well during the chaos that has been the last 12 months. With the pandemic cutting the brand’s time at Stackt Market short, Ellie Mae, like many others, began to pivot its focus, rolling with the incessant punches COVID-19 brought with it.
“We had just invested in a larger space (at Stackt) and we were preparing for an incredible summer prior to pivoting. Like many other businesses we started making masks and that definitely helped with customer acquisitions and brand awareness. You take those small wins to help in our growth experience.”
“We took a moment to look internally and used the year to give the brand an internal facelift. We stripped right back to the pillars of our brand and made sure our messaging was clear. We filtered out the noise and got back to the root of Ellie Mae. Our message is the clearest it has ever been. This time has given us perspective”, says Ellie Mae Waters, Founder and Creative Director.
The Ontario Governments’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has been widely criticized during the many months of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, largely due to many of the government mandates appearing to favour big box stores over Ontario’s small and local retailers.
“We think the way the government has handled the situation is unfortunate for many small businesses. We’ve seen other provinces and other countries handle this pandemic in a more effective way. We have many friends in the industry who have been caught in the cycle of opening and closing time and time again and it’s unfortunate because in this industry you rely a lot on foot traffic. At some point small businesses have to be considered and we have to find a way to make things function more efficiently for everyone,” says Wood-Ross.
“There’s also another side to this situation when you think of people’s mental health and wellbeing and the many stories of people who have put their life’s savings into their businesses and then are forced to close and watch the big box retailers remain open. This pendulum has swung very much in one direction and everyone is waiting for it to fall back somewhere in the middle,” says Waters.
“During this time we’ve been fortunate enough to manufacture all of our products under one roof and that means the team has stayed together over the last year. That sense of normalcy for the team has kept the moral up and kept the wind in our sales going into this year,” says Wood-Ross. “We’re optimistic that we’re going to be open in May despite Ontario’s current lockdown situation. We’re still in the construction phase and we haven’t slowed down.”
The pair are hopeful that this experience has demonstrated the significance of shopping local and supporting small businesses. The brand is focused on becoming an intricate part of the community in which it serves and looks forward to a prosperous future.
“We’re betting on people realizing the importance of supporting local as we begin to exit the worst of this experience. We’ve gained an interesting perspective on what the local market means to us here. We tend to sit at a higher price point than most brands founded in Canada and that can be a tough one to crack, but with our investments in the local market over the last year, we’re making sure we’re continuing to be a part of the community we’re entering into,” says Wood-Ross.
Waters and Wood-Ross have their sights set on the American and European markets for potential future Ellie Mae stores as the brand continues to grow.
For more information visit www.elliemaestudios.com.