Danish Jewellery Brand Pilgrim Expanding into Toronto Market with Cross-Canada Store Expansion Planned [CEO Interview]


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Pilgrim, a Denmark jewelry brand, is going to be opening up its sixth location in Canada inside the CF Toronto Eaton Centre, has plans to expand, and will be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. 

Pilgrim opened in 1983 in Denmark by Annemette Markvad as she was inspired to create handcrafted jewelry that was fun without high prices. The brand started by Markvad selling her designs at music festivals and 40 years later, Pilgrim is known internationally.The brand was brought over to Canada eight years ago by Robert Hayes, the Pilgrim North American CEO, and has been growing steadily.  

Robert Hayes

Hayes was introduced to the brand while living in Denmark and noticed how versatile the brand was as he saw a mix of generations wearing Pilgrim jewelry. 

“This brand is for every soul and is a new concept. It is for everybody. Seeing a lot of people wear Pilgrim sparked my curiosity within the brand and then I approached Annemette Markvad, and it took a year to convince her that I would be the right person to carry her values and her brand into Canada and about eight years ago I started the distribution division in Canada,” says Hayes. 

Future Pilgrim at CF Toronto Eaton Centre (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
Pilgrim at CF Carrefour Laval (Image: Pilgrim)

All jewelry sold at Pilgrim is handcrafted, lead and nickel free, and have collections for everyone. Consumers can find assortments such as earrings, necklaces, bracelets, sunglasses, and more. All of Pilgrim’s products are also hypoallergenic.

The first location was in Montreal as a pop-up in 2019 at Place Montreal Trust where it later turned into a permanent location a year later. Pilgrim also has stores at Quartier DIX30 in Brossard, CF Carrefour Laval near Montreal, Galeries de la Capitale in Quebec City, and at CF Rideau Centre in Ottawa. Hayes says the next store opening will be in the CF Toronto Eaton Centre in Toronto, which will be opening at the end of June. 

“The CF Toronto Eaton Centre has always been on my bucket list. I think that people in the Toronto area love to discover new things and so by being at the Eaton Centre, it allows us to expand our reach with new consumers and people who have already been following the brand.” 

New Concept 

Image: Pilgrim

The Pilgrim locations in Montreal are usually between 700 to 800 square feet; however, the new location in Toronto will be 1,200 square feet as Hayes will be testing a new concept. The store in Toronto will have a  piercing studio inside which will give consumers privacy and will provide an elevated experience. 

“We found when it comes to piercings, there is not a lot of regulation. So all of our piercers are certified. When we did our research, we found that for most people, person A shows person B how to use the gun and that is it, and good luck. For us, we have a two week intensive course to bring a more elevated experience and a private area where consumers can get their piercings done will add onto their experience.” 

The Toronto location will be the first Pilgrim store in Canada to have a piercing studio and if successful, Hayes would like to expand this new concept into all locations. The opening in June for the Toronto store will have a grand opening which Hayes says will include a DJ, free ear piercings, and will have a local non-alcoholic beverage brands to serve cocktails. Hayes also says he is looking to bring in someone to do people’s nails. 

“We would like to have someone come in to do people’s nails at the grand opening so that people could do their nails and then be able to try on our rings and then have the perfect instagram picture of their beautiful fingers with beautiful rings on them.” 

Expansion Plans 


Hayes said negotiations are currently in the process of three locations within the GTA area and will announce them once they have been finalized. If all goes well, Hayes says one of these stores will be opening before Christmas and the other two will be opening in January. 

On top of these locations, Hayes says the overall goal would be to have thirty locations in Canada. 

“I have thirty stores on my list. I had this list even before I started and it was my vision. I have just been slowly checking off the list and going down the road map which is something really important – slow and steady is always the way to go. We have seen a lot of brands come into Canada and move too fast and they don’t understand the market – so we want to make sure we do this slowly and find the perfect locations.” 

Hayes says he does deep research before signing a new store as each location has different needs. For example, Hayes has noticed that in Ottawa they love silver, in Montreal they love gold, and in Laval there is a mix which means Pilgrim “needs to change the assortment based on customer demographic.” 

“It is constantly evolving the buying merchandising strategy and we really need to adapt to what our customers want. About 32 percent of our customers downtown are also men, so we also have men buying from Pilgrim, so we have to make sure our marketing advertises that and we have the right selection – so that takes time. You don’t learn that right away, but until you roll up your sleeves and learn what consumers want, you won’t succeed.” 

Pilgrim Place Montreal Trust (Image: Pilgrim)

In addition to meeting consumers’ needs, Hayes says Pilgrim is also focused on being sustainable. About 60 percent of Pilgrim’s jewelry is made out of recycled materials and Hayes says he is working on increasing that number to one-hundred percent. All the packaging, cards ,and materials used at Pilgrim are also made out of recyclable materials and Hayes says its bags are made out of pea oil so they are not the traditional plastic bag. As the brand expands, Hayes says its sustainability initiatives will also keep growing. 

“Pilgrim unites everybody together, no matter who they are, no matter what journey they are on – together they can make their individual style and their own expression. We are all able to express ourselves through Pilgrim and that is the main point of the brand. We have a Scandinavian uniqueness, offer sustainable jewelry, and the price is fair as it is something that is not going to bust the bank.” 

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Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala
Shelby Hautala, based in Toronto, is a new Journalist to Retail Insider. She has experience writing for local newspapers and also internationally for Helsinki Times while she lived in Finland. Shelby holds a Bachelor of Journalism Honours degree from the University of King’s College and a Social Work degree from Dalhousie University in Halifax.


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