Toronto’s Aly Jamal is the fresh prince of vintage streetwear.
The 41-year-old owns Northern Touch Vintage, a lifestyle store on Richmond Street West, and sells a curation of what he grew up on: everything pop culture-related.
“If I see a Reba McEntire T-shirt it excites me just as much as finding a Tupac T-shirt,” said Jamal.
Sports-related pieces include basketball, hockey, baseball, football.
Then there’s TV: Alf, Family Ties, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, etc.
In other words, all things ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s — everything a geriatric millennial would phone home about.
With access to oodles of product through personal connections, he started selling items during the pandemic.
“Vintage was really big at the time,” he said.
Jamal said he knew he was onto something and created a pop-up at Space on King Street East before settling into a collaborative spot at The Harlowe.
Jamal quit his corporate job at Apple and is going full throttle.
“I just came out and I came out with a vengeance,” said Jamal, who’s been working retail since graduating from high school.
“The one thing that I never changed was my love for fashion,” he said. “So I always try to find the newest, coolest trend or put people on new styles.”
Jamal’s style has attracted celebrities and professional athletes such as Blue Jays pitcher Alek Manoah.
That’s no surprise considering Raptors guard Fred VanVleet was the first brick and mortar customer.
Less than a month later, Holt Renfrew came knocking about a partnership.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “You can work your whole life in fashion and still not get into a department store, so I’m extremely grateful and humble about it. And you know, I count my blessings on that.”
What makes his items different from the nostalgic clothing sold at fast fashion retailers?
“I would sell the shirt that Rolling Stones actually put out at that concert in 1996 at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami or wherever it was,” he said.
“That’s really what we do.”
Northern Touch Vintage debuted at Holts in mid-March of 2022. Jamal’s curations are currently in four locations: Yorkdale, Square One (Mississauga), Holt Renfrew Ogilvy Montreal, Vancouver and can also be accessed through e-commerce, spokesperson Adam Grachnik confirmed.
When Holts’ SVP of product Carolyn Wright sees Jamal’s proposals for in-store offers, “I get excited about it,” she said. “That’s what we’re trying to drum up with our customers by offering this as well.”
For instance, when Jamal posts a Pink Floyd T-shirt on Instagram, “it sparks joy, right?” Accessing pieces “that are ultra special and can’t be found anywhere else is one of the main goals,” she said, adding it ticks the box on “our materials traceability and our ambition to become a more sustainable business operation.”
With Jamal’s extensive retail experience and laser vision for stellar quality, “we really saw him as the best in class to partner with,” Wright said.
As for more vintage offerings, “we are looking at working with additional vendors to kind of continue to develop this,” said Wright. “But overall, it’s now become part of our offer, which is really exciting.”
Retail strategist Liza Amlani said vintage is more circular than sustainable.
“Really, you’re reducing the carbon footprint if you’re buying resale and vintage and secondhand versus buying new product that’s being made,” she said.
Amlani adds it’s “almost about consumerism and how it meets values and what values are aligned with our industry’s overall environmental impact, but it’s really the outcome” and keeping clothes from landfill.
Holts’ partnership with Northern Touch Vintage is an outcome she’s applauding.
“I think what makes Holt Renfrew special is that they have backed a Canadian small business,” said Amlani.
That’s part of the “secret of their success” since the “loyal Holt Renfrew customer shops at Holt Renfrew because it’s a Canadian brand.”
Is vintage at major retailers a trend?
Amlani recently returned from London “and even Selfridges just has a resale shop, so I think that a lot of the luxury department stores are onboarding more resale, even vintage areas within the space,” she said.
Closer to home, Hudson’s Bay sells vintage luxury bags “and they have it in their physical stores, so I think that the department store knows that this is something that’s not going away so they should be investing in the resale space.”
What’s the ceiling of innovation in the Canadian retail industry for brands like Northern Touch Vintage?
Sizing comes to mind for Wright.
“Each piece is unique, so you may like the graphic and love the tee but it’s too big or too small,” she said.
That’s linked to scalability of operations; listing each item online is laborious.
Nonetheless, with “vintage resale products going to landfills and to parts of the world where you know, it may not be such a great thing for those countries,” Amlani said, “this is a real beautiful moment for vintage and resale.”