Canadian Fashion and Lifestyle Brand OAK + FORT Opens Largest Storefront as it Expands During the Pandemic: Exclusive Feature Interview

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Amid the unrivalled adversity that befell just about every community in every corner of the globe over the course of the past 16 months, it’s been difficult at times to uncover real stories of growth and success within the retail industry. As resilient and persistent as brands have been, the outcome for many as a result of the pandemic’s brutal impact has been marked primarily by misfortune and shortfall. This is particularly true when referencing the apparel sector which has been most severely and negatively effected. However, one brand that’s managed to ascend from the gloom and desolation of COVID-19, further expanding its presence in the market, is Vancouver-based fashion and lifestyle retailer OAK + FORT.

Creativity and agility

Image: OAK + FORT at West Edmonton Mall

The creator and purveyor of attainable luxuries consisting of modern essentials in full collections of womenswear, menswear, accessories, jewelry and homeware, fuses uncomplicated and sophisticated contemporary designs with versatility and functionality to create pieces that enhance the personal style of its customers. Celebrating a full decade of business just last year, the brand has enjoyed meteoric progress up to this point, growing from its original location in Vancouver’s Gastown to a network of more than 20 stores located across Canada and the United States. And, in spite of the pandemic and its impacts that have ravished much of the industry, OAK + FORT continues to grow with the grand opening of a new location in Alberta’s West Edmonton Mall. It’s a store launch and further growth for the brand that’s being met with excitement. And, as the company’s Marketing and Communications Manager, Michelle Wong, points out, it’s growth that’s been supported by creativity and agility during a challenging time.

“With such a significant store presence, the initial impacts of the pandemic were intense,” she says. “Lockdowns across multiple regions forced us to close store locations temporarily. However, we pivoted very quickly as a company, developing and enhancing our ecommerce capabilities and offering. It enabled us to change the course of our business and support the clear shift in consumer purchasing behaviour toward online channels. In addition, we also implemented omnichannel options. So, although we weren’t able to welcome customers into our stores, we were still open and accessible, offering the availability of buy-online-pickup in-store and curbside pickup. It really showed the versatility and nimbleness of the company and provided us with a means to continue engaging with our customers and accommodate some of the changes that the pandemic influenced.”

Leadership and dedication

Wong explains that beyond the savvy pivots that the brand made in order to navigate through the murk of the pandemic, it’s the company’s dedication and commitment to its customers and to the brand’s values that has contributed most significantly toward OAK + FORT’s growth and continued success. In addition, she lauds the leadership of the company’s Founder and CEO Min Kang, who is also the brand’s creative director and from whom, Wong says, OAK + FORT’s vision and creativity flows, inspiring everyone within the organization to keep design at the core of everything that they do. It’s a combination of values that have stood the company apart from many of its competitors, and one that’s culminated recently in further expansion, positioning it well to capitalize on an anticipated rebound in consumer confidence and spending as communities everywhere begin to reopen.

“We really believe in the future of brick-and-mortar retail,” Wong asserts. “We’re excited to welcome customers back to our stores and confident that retail will bounce back as we start to enter a post-pandemic world. The physical store will continue to drive the core of the retail experience. But it isn’t just a point of sale anymore. It’s about one-on-one engagement with the customer and providing them with exceptional service and interactions. The opening of our West Edmonton Mall store is exciting because it provides us with yet another location to create and share the OAK + FORT brand experience and engage with even more of our loyal customers.”

Expansion for the future

The West Edmonton Mall storefront during a media preview on Thursday night.

OAK + FORT’s West Edmonton Mall location becomes the brand’s largest store at about 5,000 square feet, more than double the size of most of its other locations. And, although Wong recognizes this milestone, she says that the grand opening in Canada’s largest shopping centre is of even greater significance given the history of the brand, whose second ever location was on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue, which has since closed. As a result, the West Edmonton Mall opening returns the brand to the forefront of shopping in the city, joining its two other Alberta stores located at Southgate Centre and Chinook Centre. In addition, Kang, the company’s CEO, spent a significant amount of time living in the city, which she cites as a special time with respect to her own personal growth and development. Because of this, Wong explains, the launch of the West Edmonton Mall store is serving as a homecoming of sorts. But, more importantly, she says, it’s providing a starting point for the future of OAK + FORT.

“We’re definitely in expansion mode as a brand. Being able to transition through the pandemic as well as we did has positively positioned us to open more stores and grow our network. We’ll be opening a location in Bellevue Square in the Seattle region and opening a store on Broadway in New York’s Soho District. We’re also planning to open additional pop-up locations in Canada and the United States in addition to those that we just opened at McArthurGlen Outlet in Richmond, Guilford Town Centre in Surrey and Vaughan Mills in the Toronto region. It’s a really exciting time to be a part of the OAK + FORT brand. In addition to expanding our physical presence, we’ve also been introducing a new environmentally conscious product line, OAK Refined, which embodies a substantial step in reaching our goals of reducing the impact of our products. We’re all looking forward to the next 6 to 12 months with a great deal of optimism and a focus on continuing to develop and enhance our omnichannel efforts, delivering amazing service to our customers and combining our physical retail offering with our booming ecommerce business to ensure a holistic and consistent OAK + FORT experience.”

Article Author

Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry
Sean Tarry is an experienced writer who leverages his unique storytelling abilities to bring retail industry news and analysis to life. With 25 years of learning, including over a decade as Editor-In-Chief of Canadian Retailer magazine, he’s equipped with a deep understanding of the unique world of retail and the issues, trends, and innovators that continue to influence its evolution and shape its landscape.

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