International Brands Continued to Enter Canadian Market by Opening Stores Over the Past 12 Months with More to Come [Feature/Analysis]

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Since 2014, Retail Insider has been keeping a tally on international retailers entering Canada. In 2021, Retail Insider counted 21 international brands that entered the Canadian market by opening stores, and the momentum will continue this year. Despite the pandemic, the Canadian market is still a target for many international brands that do not already have stores in this country. 

Twenty-one new retailers in 2021 is an impressive number all things considered given the pandemic, leapfrogging the 13 international brands that entered Canada in 2020 by opening stores. 

In the previous years that Retail Insider published the international entrants lists, the number of first-to-market retailers has ranged from 20 to over 50 international retailers that entered the country over a 12 month period. In 2019, we reported that 30 retailers had entered the country by opening stores, which was about the same number as in 2018. In 2017, a record-breaking 50+ international brands entered the Canadian market by opening stores. In 2016, Retail Insider wrote a special edition piece for Retail Council of Canada’s publication Canadian Retailer, where we counted 21 international retailers that had come to Canada by opening stores that year.  In 2015 we reported that 28 retailers had opened their first freestanding locations in Canada that year and in 2014, we counted 20 international brands that entered Canada by opening stores. So despite the pandemic, Canada saw more international brands open first-to-market stores last year than it did in the three years spanning 2014 to 2016. 

The Toronto market was home to the overwhelming majority of new entrants in 2021 and for the first time, Nanaimo BC saw a retail first. In terms of location nodes, Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre saw a total of four new first-to-Canada retailers, Toronto’s Queen Street West saw three first-to-Canada retailers, and Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville also saw three firsts in terms of retailer openings last year. 

Our breakdown of geography in terms of the first-to-Canada retailers is as follows: 

Toronto/GTA: 13  

Vancouver/Lower Mainland: 3 

Edmonton: 3 

Montreal: 1

Nanaimo BC: 1   

The following is Retail Insider’s count of the international brands that entered Canada in 2021 by opening standalone stores. The list is chronological from earliest to most recent openings.

Forever 21 (Kingsway Mall, Edmonton)

Forever 21 at Kingsway Mall (Image: Kingsway Mall)

In January of 2021, US-based fast-fashion brand Forever 21 re-entered the Canadian market with standalone stores operated by new licensee, Toronto-based YM Inc. The first of the new stores opened at Kingsway Mall in Edmonton. Several more subsequently opened and in April of 2021 we reported on the YM expansion of Forever 21 into Canada. 

The move to open stores in Canada followed Forever 21’s shuttering all locations as part of a bankruptcy filing in 2019. YM Inc. acquired many of Forever 21’s leases after the retailer exited Canada. YM subsequently opened stores under various banners in the former Forever 21 locations including Urban Planet, Urban Behaviour and Stitches. Many of the Forever 21 stores saw few changes to the retail spaces following the shuttering of the original chain, possibly in anticipation of re-introducing the Forever 21 banner to the Canadian market.

Oberfeld Snowcap is handling leasing for the standalone Forever 21 locations under the direction of Andrew Laudenbach

Related Retail Insider Article: Forever 21 Returning to Canada with Physical Stores

Garret Leight (Toronto, 692 Queen Street West)

Exterior of new Garret Leight store on Toronto's Queen Street West. Photo: Katherine Barcsay
Exterior of new Garret Leight store on Toronto’s Queen Street West. Photo: Katherine Barcsay

In February of 2021, US-based optical retailer Garret Leight California Optical (GLCO) entered the Canadian market with its first storefront opening in Toronto at 692 Queen Street West spanning approximately 950 square feet, including the in-house lab and the back office. 

GLCO was founded in 2010 by Garrett Leight, the brand’s creative director and son of eyewear entrepreneur Larry Leight, who founded the luxury brand Oliver Peoples. Offering eyeglasses and sunglasses for men and women, GLCO aims to bring a modern spin to classically tailored eyewear, with a focus on quality craftsmanship.

The brand said in February that it had no plans for further stores in Canada. GLCO entered a very crowded optical market with numerous homegrown and international retailers fighting for market share. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Garrett Leight California Optical Opens 1st Canadian Store in Toronto [Photos]

Golden Goose (Toronto, Yorkdale Shopping Centre) 

Golden Goose at Yorkdale Shopping Centre

Upscale Italian fashion brand Golden Goose, known particularly for its pricey sneakers, opened its first Canadian storefront in February of 2021 at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. More Canadian locations could follow with Vancouver expected to be a target. 

The Toronto location is eye catching. The 1,600-square-foot store’s interior is immersed in metallic silver — the walls, floors, and ceilings are entirely covered with aluminium foil. Fixtures are made of galvanized steel and super mirror stainless steel. The retail space focuses on Golden Goose’s most iconic sneakers with a full collection for women, men, and children, as well as accessories and small leather goods which are only available in selected stores and not available elsewhere in Toronto. 

The brand was founded in Venice, Italy in the year 2000 by Alessandro Gallo and Francesca Rinaldo. The company was owned by Italian fund DGPA SGR between 2013 and earlier this year when Golden Goose was sold to investment firm Permira.

Related Retail Insider Article: Italian Luxury Brand ‘Golden Goose’ to Open 1st Standalone Canadian Store at Yorkdale in Toronto

Punt Roma (Montreal, Rockland Centre) 

Exterior of new Punt Roma store in Rockland Centre in Montreal. Photo: Rockland Centre

In March of 2021, Spanish fashion brand Punt Roma opened its first Canadian store at Montreal’s Rockland Centre. Barcelona-based Punt Roma features women’s fashions in sizes 8 to 24 at a mid price-point, with dresses priced in the $90-$120 range and shirts in the $50-$60 range, for example.

Prior to the pandemic, the Montreal-based franchisee for Punt Roma said that he had planned to open five stores in Quebec and Ontario over a five-year period, and plans were halted once the reality of a changing world due to COVID-19 took hold. The franchisee was considering a downtown Montreal location amid a more gradual expansion when we interviewed him last year.  

Related Retail Insider Article: BRIEF: Spanish Fashion Brand Opens 1st Store in Canada, ba&sh Opens 3rd Canadian Location

Daiso (Vancouver, 810 Granville Street) 

Daiso Store (810 Granville Street)

In April of 2021, value-priced Japanese variety retailer Daiso expanded into Canada with its first corporate store opening in downtown Vancouver. The retailer is testing the waters in Canada prior to launching a larger national expansion. JLL Canada represents Daiso in its further expansion into the Canadian market.

The 4,700-square-foot downtown Vancouver store is located at 810 Granville Street, which was formerly occupied by an Indigo Spirit bookstore. A wide range of products from stationery to cosmetics to home goods is carried in the Daiso store. Origami paper and other traditional Japanese items can be found as well — the product assortment is known to be of a high quality for the price point which has resulted in Daiso’s success with more than 5,000 stores globally. 

In 2003, the Fairchild Group opened a franchised Daiso store at the Aberdeen Centre in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond which operated for about 16 years. In August of 2019 Fairchild converted the 23,000-square-foot space to an Oomomo nameplate and the Vancouver-based Japanese-themed variety retailer continues with its own store expansion throughout Canada. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Japanese Retailer Daiso Expands into Canada with 1st Store

The Source Bulk Foods (213 Roncesvalles Avenue)

The Source Bulk Foods (Image: Roncesvalles Village BIA)

Small-format Australian zero-waste grocery chain The Source Bulk Foods opened its first Canadian storefront on Roncesvalles Avenue in Toronto in April of 2021. A second location subsequently opened in Vancouver and the expansion continues with new locations in Toronto’s Leslieville area as well as in North Vancouver for this year. 

At the store, customers bring reusable containers to the front of the store to be weighed and recorded. Then, visitors fill the jars with one of over 400 items and once done, all is weighed to determine price. Retail Insider was unable to secure an interview to report on this store opening. 

Size? (Toronto, 1000 Queen Street West)

size? Toronto – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

In the summer of 2021, UK-based JD Group expanded its ’Size?’ sneaker and apparel-focused retail banner into Canada with a storefront at the north-east corner of Queen Street West and Ossington in Toronto. A second Canadian location has officially been confirmed in Vancouver in a retail space on Bute Street about a half block south of Robson Street and more are to come — Jordan Karp of Savills Canada is handling the expansion. 

Size? was founded in 2000 and is known for stocking limited-edition sneakers, fashions, and accessories that are primarily classified as ‘streetwear’, with some product launches classed as global exclusives. The retail concept was initially launched by JD Group to trial edgier product collections before introducing them to the mass market through the JD fascia. Size? currently has stores in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain.

Related Retail Insider Article: Inside JD Group’s Flagship First Canadian ‘size?’ Store

Athleta (West Vancouver, Park Royal)  

Main entrance of Athleta at Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver, BC.
Main entrance of Athleta at Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver, BC (September 2021). Photo: Athleta and Mariel Nelms Photography.

San Francisco-based Gap Inc. announced in April of 2021 that it was expanding its women’s and girls’ brand Athleta into the Canadian market. In September of last year the brand opened its first store in Canada at the Park Royal Shopping Centre in West Vancouver, and in November a second location opened at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. 

Athleta was founded in San Francisco in 1998 and Athleta Girl was launched in 2016. The company says that its mission “comes to life through inclusive and sustainable product design, connecting with customers through unique experiences in stores, online and within local store communities.” It’s a message somewhat similar to competitor Lululemon. 

More Athleta locations are expected for Canada, and the company is being tight-lipped on details. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Athleta Opens 1st Canadian Store Location at Park Royal in West Vancouver [Photos]

Lucky Jeans (GTA, Vaughan Mills) 

Photo: Lucky Brand

In the spring of 2021, US-based denim and fashion brand Lucky Brand re-launched in Canada with physical stores after exiting the country about two years before. The company’s Canadian rights were acquired by Thriftys Family of Brands (Bluenotes, Aéropostale Canada) and more than 10 locations had opened by May. The first Canadian location was confirmed to have opened at the Vaughan Mills centre near Toronto. 

The partnership with Thriftys Family of Brands also means a selection of Lucky Brand merchandise started to be carried in select Bluenotes and Thriftys by Bluenotes stores last fall.

Brokerage Oberfeld Snowcap represents Lucky Brand in Canada under the direction of Andrew Laudenbach.

Related Retail Insider Article: Lucky Brand Jeans Re-Enters Canada with Multiple Storefronts in Partnership with Thriftys: Interview

Repair and Run (Toronto, 363 Queen Street West) 

Repair and Run at 363 Queen West – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

In the summer of 2021, French retail concept Repair and Run opened its first Canadian location on Queen Street West in downtown Toronto. The store opened in partnership with several of the people who founded Mobile Klinik, the Canadian chain of smartphone and tablet repair shops. More Repair and Run locations are expected and Retail Insider will provide updates. 

Related Retail Insider Article: France-Based ‘Repair and Run’ Expands into Canada with 1st Location and Plans for More

Big Frog T-shirts (Edmonton, Windermere Village) 

Big Frog Edmonton
Big Frog Edmonton (Image: Big Frog)

US-based t-shirt retailer Big Frog opened its first Canadian store in Edmonton’s Windermere area in the fall and the franchised concept will see more locations open across the country. The expansion will start with the Edmonton and Calgary markets. 

The plan is to have locations across Canada according to Big Frog, which is described as being a high-tech, light manufacturing retail garment decorating boutique which has 80 locations in 26 states in the US. The company started franchising in 2008. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Big Frog T-Shirts Opens First Franchised Storefront in Canada

Grace Loves Lace (Toronto, Distillery District) 

Grace Loves Lace Toronto Showroom – Photo by Dustin Fuhs

In September of 2021, Australian bridal retailer Grace Loves Lace entered the Canadian market with a storefront at The Distillery District in downtown Toronto. The Distillery District is one of the top wedding venues in Toronto, which will allow for a seamless transition from the showroom into the event. 

The Toronto location is at 39 Parliament Street. The company has 16 showrooms in Australia, the UK and the US. It’s unknown if more Canadian locations will open. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Grace Loves Lace Opens in Toronto’s Historic Distillery District (Photos)

Celine (Toronto, Yorkdale Shopping Centre) 

Celine at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Photo: Craig Patterson)

In September of 2021, LVMH-owned luxury fashion brand Celine opened its first standalone Canadian storefront at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. It’s unknown if more standalone stores will open for the brand in Canada and Vancouver would be a likely market if it did. Celine also operates several concessions in the Canadian market within Holt Renfrew stores. 

Celine’s Yorkdale location is across from Holt Renfrew’s enlarged flagship at Yorkdale in an expansion wing of the mall that opened in 2012. Celine occupies just over 2,200 square feet in an L-shaped configuration. 

Celine is known for its womenswear and in the fall of 2019, the brand also launched a menswear line for the first time. The Yorkdale Celine store recently added some menswear. LVMH has owned Celine since 1996. The Celine brand was founded by Céline Vipiana in 1945, and was considered to be one of the first luxury brands in the industry. 

In Canada over the past couple of years, Celine has expanded its direct-to-consumer operations through luxury retailer Holt Renfrew. Celine’s concessions at Holts are separated into categories in dedicated departments, with separate shops for leather goods and accessories, women’s ready-to-wear, and men’s ready-to-wear.

Related Retail Insider Article: Luxury Brand ‘Celine’ Opens 1st Standalone Canadian Storefront at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre [Photos]

Oscar Wylee (Edmonton, West Edmonton Mall) 

Oscar Wylee at West Edmonton Mall (Image: West Edmonton Mall)

Australian eyewear retailer Oscar Wylee expanded into Canada in the fall of 2021 with six store locations and more to come this year. Its first storefront opened in September at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, and a second opened in October at the Halifax Shopping Centre in Halifax. The brand says that is it known for its high-quality, affordable eye glasses and eye test services. Oscar Wylee already has over 100 stores and over 800 team members across Australia, New Zealand and Singapore. Broker Tony Flanz of Think Retail is working with Oscar Wylee in Canada. 

The family-run company began as an e-commerce business and in 2015 after acquiring the company, brothers Jack and Bob Teoh opened the brand’s first physical stores in Australia. The stores are designed with a clean and modern aesthetic that aim to create a relaxing experience. 

A joint-venture program allows the company to grow by partnering with optometrists to offer patients quality professional eye care and an exceptional retail experience. Designs are considered to be “modern, fresh and fashion-focused” and the brand is known for its “2 Pairs From $199” price point for both its optical and sunglass ranges. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Aussie Eyewear Retailer Oscar Wylee Entering Canadian Market with Aggressive Growth Strategy 

Specsavers (Nanaimo, Woodgrove Centre) 

Specsavers Store Exterior Woodgrove Centre B.C. (Image: Specsavers Canada)

In early 2021, UK-based discount eyewear retailer Specsavers quietly entered the Canadian market by acquiring a chain of optical stores in British Columbia. The first branded Specsavers storefront subsequently opened in November at Woodgrove Centre in Nanaimo BC and many more are said to be on the way. Incredibly, this week the company confirmed that it would be opening 200 more Canadian locations. 

Specsavers was founded nearly 40 years ago in the U.K. by optometrist husband and wife team, Doug and Mary Perkins, who set out to provide best-value, quality eyecare to everybody. There are now more than 2,300 Specsavers locations serving 41 million patients and customers in the U.K., the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Spain, Australia, and New Zealand – and now Canada.

Acquired stores in British Columbia will be converted to Specsavers banners into March of this year, and a much bigger expansion is planned in Canada as the retailer looks to gain market share from competitors. This will be one to watch as it could put competitors under as it has in Australia and other new markets it has entered. 

Trevor Thomas and David Bishop of JLL are working with Specsavers on the rollout.

Related Retail Insider Article: UK-Based Eyewear Behemoth ‘Specsavers’ Enters Canadian Market via Acquisition with Plans for Significant Store Expansion

The Webster (Toronto, 121 Scollard Street)

The Webster Yorkville (Image: Adrian Ozimek)

In November of 2021, unique Miami-based luxury multi brand retailer The Webster officially entered the Canadian market by opening its first international storefront in Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area. The impressive space spans three levels.

The Webster’s new Toronto storefront at 121 Scollard Street measures about 6,500 square feet. The pink brick exterior is adorned with a neon light of The Webster logo while a flamingo wind vane sits at the top peak of the structure in honour of the mascot created by iconic fashion illustrator Michael Roberts.

It is the eighth storefront for The Webster which was founded in Miami Beach in 2009, and the first international location for the retailer which is seeing remarkable success and sales growth even over the course of the pandemic. Founder Laure Heriard Dubreuil for years developed relationships with key brands and obtains some merchandise via consignment. Prior to founding The Webster, Ms. Heriard Dubreuil lived in Paris and worked as a top merchandiser for Balenciaga and Yves Saint Laurent.

It is currently not known if any more locations for The Webster will open in Canada. 

Related Retail Insider Article: The Webster Opens 1st Canadian Storefront in Toronto’s Yorkville Area [Feature/Photos] 

JD Sports (Toronto, CF Fairview) 

Image: JD Sports

UK-based sports fashion retailer JD Sports expanded into Canada in November of 2021 with a storefront at CF Fairview Mall in Toronto. More locations will follow including Guildford Mall near Vancouver and next year at West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton with leasing being handled by Jordan Karp of Savills Canada

JD Sports began in 1981 with its first store in Bury, Greater Manchester, and is now in 20 territories around the world with almost 900 stores globally including Ireland, Singapore, South Korea, and Portugal, to Germany, France, and of course the UK and US. JD Sports is a sports fashion retailer of branded sports and casual wear, combining globally recognized brands such as Nike, adidas, Puma and The North Face, with strong private labels such as Pink Soda and Supply & Demand.

Dozens of stores are expected for the Canadian market over the next several years with details to follow. 

Related Retail Insider Article: UK-Based JD Sports Launches Significant Store Expansion into Canada: Interview

Isaia (Toronto, 77 Yorkville Avenue) 

ISAIA Toronto (Image: Daniel Green)

In the fall of 2021, Italian luxury menswear brand Isaia opened its first standalone Canadian store in Toronto’s Yorkville area. The Toronto flagship opened in a unique heritage building at 77 Yorkville Avenue. An upper level spanning more than 1,500 square feet includes rooms housing the brand’s range of ready-to-wear, made-to-measure clothing, leather goods, accessories and footwear as well as a tailor shop. The lower level includes a social space resembling a bar spanning about 800 square feet called the Vesuvius Lounge with windows facing onto Bellair Street. 

The brand is priced at the high-end with suit jackets in the $3,500-$5,000 range, sweaters typically in the $1,000-$1,700 range, dress shirts are priced from $500, and trousers that start at about $675. 

In an interview, CEO Gianluca Isaia said that he would like to open a second Canadian Isaia store in Vancouver, noting the strength of the market. Similar to Toronto, the brand would seek out a unique retail space ideally with heritage elements and other unique design features. 

The Isaia brand is recognizable by its tiny red coral logo which is considered to be a good luck charm in Naples. Isaia was founded by Enrico Isaia in Naples, Italy in 1920 as a fabric store. In 1957, brothers Enrico, Rosario, and Corrado Isaia relocated the business to a village near Naples and converted the brand to a men’s tailoring company. The business continues to be family run with 18 stores operating globally as well as stockists in some of the world’s most prestigious multi-brand stores. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Italian Luxury Brand Isaia Opens First Canadian Storefront in Toronto with Plans for a Second in Vancouver: Interview with CEO Gianluca Isaia 

Alexander McQueen (Toronto, Yorkdale Shopping Centre)

Alexander McQueen at Yorkdale Shopping Centre (Image: Alexander McQueen)

In December of 2021, Kering-owned, UK-based luxury brand Alexander McQueen opened its first Canadian storefront at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The boutique features a range of apparel, bags, footwear and accessories. The 4,000 square foot store’s design was conceived by creative director Sarah Burton in collaboration with the architect Smiljan Radic. Inside, McQueen clad mannequins hang from the ceiling throughout the store which the brand says references the narrative of the runway collections.

McQueen is located in the mall’s former J. Crew space between Montblanc and Burberry boutiques in the mall’s original luxury wing. It is not yet known if Alexander McQueen will open any more Canadian stores. The Vancouver market would be the likely next target for a standalone store, as would Toronto’s Bloor-Yorkville area. 

The Alexander McQueen brand was founded by fashion designer, Lee Alexander McQueen, in 1992. He tragically died of suicide on February 11, 2010 at the age of 40. 

Related Retail Insider Article: Alexander McQueen Opens 1st Canadian Storefront at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre [Photos]

Lucid Motors (Vancouver, CF Pacific Centre) 

Lucid Motors Vancouver (Image: Lucid Motors)

In December of 2021, US-based electric car brand Lucid Motors opened its first showroom in Canada at CF Pacific Centre in Vancouver. The store is in a retail space vacated by fashion brand Michael Kors. The storefront is located at street-level facing onto W. Georgia Street, allowing for vehicle access directly into the showroom.

A second Canadian location is under construction at Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre and several more are expected. 

Lucid Motors is a new luxury electric vehicle company based in Newark California. The design of the Lucid Air, the company’s first vehicle, is said to have been influenced by the state of California. The interior of the Lucid Air including its colours, materials and finishes, is said to be inspired by the diversity of landscapes and geography of the state creating a “post luxury” aesthetic, according to the company.

Related Retail Insider Article: Electric Vehicle Company ‘Lucid Motors’ to Enter Canada with 1st Retail Showroom that will feature Virtual Reality

Moscot (Toronto, 153 Cumberland Street)

MOSCOT Toronto (Image: MOSCOT)

In December of 2021, historic upscale New York City-based optical frame and sunglasses brand MOSCOT entered the Canadian market by opening its first standalone store location in downtown Toronto. After testing the market, a Montreal location could follow according to the family-owned business which spans five generations and has just 18 stores in 12 cities globally.

The Toronto MOSCOT storefront opened at 153 Cumberland Street in Toronto’s upscale Yorkville area spanning more than 800 square feet replacing SEE Eyewear that occupied the space for about three and a half years. The MOSCOT store’s interior references historical elements found in the retailer’s stores in New York City including photography and a bright yellow colour scheme. MOSCOT’s full range of glasses frames are now available for the first time in Canada in the new store with some styles costing into the hundreds of dollars a pair.

Related Retail Insider Article: Upscale NYC-Based MOSCOT Eyewear Opens 1st Store in Canada with Plans for More [Photos]

Besides the retailers above, Retail Insider also reported on several first-to-Canada food and beverage concepts and we were first to report on Kisses From Italy and Jon Smith Subs entering the Canadian market with locations. 

Retail Insider will continue to track international retailers entering Canada in 2022. This year is expected to see more than in 2021 given what brokers are saying in terms of interest from international retailers, and we have already reported on several of them. And next week we’ll report on new international entrants that have already opened in January, kicking off a positive start to the year at least in terms of store openings. 

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Article Author

Craig Patterson
Craig Patterson
Located in Toronto, Craig is the Publisher & CEO of Retail Insider Media Ltd. He is also a retail analyst and consultant, Advisor at the University of Alberta School Centre for Cities and Communities in Edmonton, former lawyer and a public speaker. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for over 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees.

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