The work of 18 Canadian fashion brands will be elevated by a digital showcase with worldwide exposure to retailers, changing the way business is conducted.
Showroom Canada is a virtual space for designers to expose their fall-winter ’23 collections to more than 200,000 global stockists.
“That’s a pretty amazing opportunity,” said Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI) executive director Susan Langdon.
“Some of these retailers include Dover Street Market, Harrod’s, Nordstrom, and Harvey Nichols.”
The B2B digital wholesale platform is being built on Joor.
Many brands haven’t done an online showroom before and “we’re providing educational webinars with the Joor people,” said Langdon.
TFI is an award-winning non-profit that helps educate and mentor fashion entrepreneurs in all things business-related. It launched in 1987 and bills itself as the world’s first fashion incubator. Its “groundbreaking incubator model has been replicated in major fashion meccas such as New York, Paris and London,” according to its website.
Alumni and members include Christopher Paunil, David Dixon, Shelli Oh, Foxy Originals, Garrison Bespoke, JUMA, Lesley Hampton, Line Knitwear, Miriam Baker, Sentaler, Smythe, S.P. Badu, and Todd Lynn.
For Showroom Canada, TFI will be covering everything from digital assets needed to using line sheet templates to pricing for international markets.
It’s similar to factoring, said Langdon.
When designers get an order from retailers around the world, they can opt into Joor Pay to help with cash flow.
“The designer will get paid in full within six days. And then Joor collects the payment from the retailer within 60 days, so that’s pretty amazing.”
That takes away a lot of fear from designers – some of whom are wholesale newbies, while others are “venturing into a digital B2B wholesale concept for the first time.”
A mentoring system is in place for TFI members, who can spend two hours with volunteers “who have a lot of retail experience.”
That includes a former buyer from Holt Renfrew, and Franco Mirabelli, “who had his own chain store but also did sell to stockists, so he can give real life examples.”
Being able to offer wisdom and say “‘this would happen to me, this is how I broke into stores,’” is helpful.
TFI also has a designer who had her own small boutique and was the shoe buyer for the Shoe Company.
“A lot of our members are not just apparel designers, but they’re also accessory designers,” said Langdon.
Her career began in fashion, too.
“As a designer, I sold across Canada, the U.S., a little bit into the U.K., and I meet exclusively with our resident members,” she said. “These are the people who rent studios within our facility and I can share my experiences … particularly with international markets and how to approach retailers, how to follow up with them.”
Getting Canadian designers’ lines into stores isn’t easy, “especially when you’re breaking into the market,” said Langdon. “Once you’ve made a name for your brand, and it’s proven to have a good sell-through rate, often, stores will set aside a budget for you.”
Langdon said she recently found out Nordstrom has a 10 per cent ‘open to buy’ every season.
It means the retailer is looking for new brands to bring in to “create some excitement and curiosity for shoppers.”
For those having difficulty breaking into the Canadian market, “which a lot of designers are finding, you can be discoverable by American buyers or buyers from Europe.”
When Showroom Canada ran in 2021, the greatest response rate was from American buyers, she said. “‘They’re a lot more willing to take a chance on a Canadian brand, which I think is great.”
It’s been running for two years and is a grant-reliant program.
Showroom Canada launched in late 2020, when brands were having difficulties with wholesale orders and buying appointments with retailers.
Langdon conceptualized an online tradeshow and it did well. “We ran it for six weeks [in 2021] and the brands who participated, together they generated almost a million dollars in wholesale sales,” she said, adding “that’s pretty good.”
Fashion designers don’t have to leave Canada to find success, said Langon.
While brands such as Erdem, DSquared2, and Mark Fast have found “great success” elsewhere, the pandemic has forced business online.
“Look at some of these great brands like Greta Constantine, Jenny Bird, and Sid Neigum, who were all members of TFI, who will remain in Canada, you know, and they’re doing extremely well, selling all over the world … I definitely would encourage brands to stay in Canada because we have an excellent support system here like TFI that you’re not going to find elsewhere.”