Freda’s, a Toronto-based designer fashion boutique and womenswear manufacturer, has moved to a new location, celebrating its 50th anniversary while navigating the challenges presented by the ongoing pandemic.
The company’s namesake Freda Iordanous started the business in 1971 after immigrating to Canada from Cyprus.
The boutique and private label are now run with the help of Iordanous’ daughter, Paulina Georgiou, the company’s CEO.
“We are thrilled to continue Freda’s legacy and finally welcome clients to our new boutique at 45 Elm Street,” said Georgiou. “Freda’s has such a rich history in Toronto, and we’re excited to launch this new chapter for the business, and our family.”
The transformation of Freda’s over the past 50 years has included the retailer becoming more focused on the retail side of its business over the corporate side which carried the company in its initial years. Also, the pandemic has sparked the retailer to embrace a more strategic use of the digital world and social media.
The store carries its own private label as well as a curated collection of designer labels from Europe, Canada and the United States including unique labels exclusive to Freda’s. Freda’s is a family-owned business known for carrying the season’s trendiest designs, specializing in statement evening wear.
Freda’s established a reputation in Toronto, designing and producing uniforms for iconic Canadian venues and businesses including the SkyDome, Maple Leaf Gardens and The Royal Bank of Canada. Many famous Canadians have also worn fashion from Freda’s, including Sophie Trudeau, Deborah Cox and local fashion icon Jeanne Beker.
The business originally started in Cabbagetown with small couture pieces for select clientele. Freda’s then moved to a building on Spadina where a retail store was opened on the main floor with the manufacturing on the second floor. From there, Freda ended up designing uniforms for many companies including Wardair Canada which was one of her first. The corporate side was the main focus of the business with uniforms but the retail end of it was her little passion that she always kept.
In the early 1980s, Freda’s moved to 86 Bathurst Street. At that location, the corporate division of making uniforms was kept on the upper level as well as the private label for the retail store.
In 1997, one of the corporate clients decided to discontinue as a customer for the uniforms. At the time, 80 per cent of the business was corporate with about 20 per cent retail.
“We had to figure out how we were going to sustain ourselves with that loss of income. So we ended up revamping our retail store, expanded it and did a huge media launch back in 1997 and started doing almost 50 per cent retail, 50 per cent corporate. We stayed in that location until this year. We just finally moved in June,” said Georgiou. “We officially opened our retail store in this location September 7 but this current building was purchased three years ago and we were intending April 2020 but then COVID hit.
“We had to reinvent the wheel here and figure out how we were going to sustain ourselves at our current location and then with delays of construction. That was interesting. But we were still manufacturing.”
The new location on Elm is right in the downtown core of Toronto, a couple of blocks from CF Toronto Eaton Centre. The new three-storey location is just over 10,000 square feet.
Today, Georgiou said about 70 per cent of Freda’s is retail and 30 per cent corporate.
“It’s been a huge switch for sure.”
She said one of the reasons for the store’s move was that taxes were getting too high in the former location. Freda’s sold that site to a real estate development company.
“We started looking everywhere in the city. We couldn’t find anything. It was very difficult to find a building because we wanted to purchase a building. We never wanted to rent. It was always my mom’s belief that you always own, which is very smart of her what she did,” said Georgiou. “It just happened that this location, the previous owner was a restaurant and the gentleman passed away. It was a family-run business and the wife asked the kids if they wanted to continue the restaurant. They decided no.
“She decided to sell and when she met our family she just thought it was the right connection, passing on another family business to another family business. She was very happy to do that.
“We’ve put a lot of hard work into this space. It’s been three years of blood, sweat and tears that’s for sure. It wasn’t a smooth transition. “
When COVID hit, the company was faced with the major issue of moving all the product because Georgiou had already purchased all the spring and summer merchandise. The store was full. The business had to figure out how it was going to sell all this product.
“I did call all my staff back to help. Nobody wanted to return except for one staff member who said I will stand by you and help you and we’ll do this. We started to really utilize Instagram. We revamped our ecommerce. We always had an ecommerce platform that we started ironically in January of 2020 which was great timing but we never really utilized it. It was just a shop site that we would showcase a little bit of our product that we sold but it would never be all the product in our store,” she said.
“I think the challenge was now taking every single item in the store and putting it on an ecommerce platform. That took us months putting all these SKUs and products into our ecommerce. And then we started really, really utilizing social media platforms. Doing Instagram. We managed with that.”
With lockdowns in place in Toronto, the company evolved to doing Instagram live fashion shows on Tuesdays and Fridays to showcase its product to consumers.
“That seems to really help to generate sales and also allows the consumer to see the product on,” said Georgiou.
“We tried different platforms. Instagram seems to be the best platform for us. Having said that, I know we might consider maybe TikTok in the future because everyone’s saying maybe TikTok would be a good one for us. We’re still looking at different areas of development. But now that we’ve been reopened it’s great because consumers are now coming back to the store and shopping.”
The ecommerce website has increased to 50 per cent of the business from 10 per cent.
“Interestingly, since we invested in our online business, we have grown the business nationally,” said Georgiou. “It just worked. The key is that we were styling the pieces, not just showing them. It’s important to see how a piece of clothing looks on a body, and as part of a complete outfit.”