Lifestyle retail brand Esprit is making a comeback in Canada with a store set to open in Vancouver on Robson Street in December.
William Pak, the retailer’s Executive Director, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Operating Officer, said a location will also likely come to Toronto next year.
The brand initially began in 1968 in San Francisco by Susie and Doug Tompkins who were the same founders of North Face.
“This brand grew into a cult classic in the 60s and 70s to the point where it was a top five brand in the world in the 80s. This one was something people saw with Benetton back then and Calvin Klein was just dominating the denim space and Tommy Hilfiger at that time. These were the big brands. Ralph Lauren,” said Pak.
“Back when it was in the 80s, it was the first organic cotton company in the world. It did real people campaigns, meaning they didn’t use models for a certain campaign. They used real people. It was such a big phenomenon that it grew into every single market in the world by the 90s. It was listed on the stock exchange in 93 and became very large in Asia and Europe and the U.S.
“It became a very forward thinking lifestyle brand and in the late 90s the couple that founded it got into a domestic argument and they had to sell the company to a distributor in Germany. This German company moved the headquarters to Germany 25 years ago and then it started departing from what it was known for including good quality clothing and fit and design and all of that’s gone because Germany’s not the most fashion in tune place. So the company kind of went away. It closed every store in the U.S. and Canada 25 years ago. They tried to open a few stores here and there in 2004 to 2010 but they closed quickly because it was from Germany and not their real heritage.
“They had thousands and thousands of stores. It was quite big. Around three years ago it went into insolvency proceedings in Germany at the beginning of the pandemic. That’s when I came into the picture, working with a group that bought the company out of the restructuring. I spent about a year and half kind of cleaning the company in terms of the financial, the supply chain, the credit. There’s no more bank debt. So it’s a clean company.”
About a year ago, Esprit started to rebrand with a new design, new store concept, new clothing, new website.
“There’s about 600 stores in Europe still that remained. Still a large presence. We opened in SoHo (New York), we opened in L.A. earlier this year and then we’re opening in Miami, Chicago and Vancouver is opening in December on Robson Street. That’s going to be the new store concept,” said Pak.
“We tried to do Toronto at the same time but when the property we were negotiating on changed hands they wanted to redevelop the block. So we have to find something again in Toronto.
“The U.S. and Canada is like a brand new re-entry. It’s been gone for so long that people don’t really remember what happened to it but they do remember the name or came across it somewhere. But it’s a very strong brand affinity in the U.S. Canada as well. We’ve got over a million customers in the database from before. Quite a long history.”
Pak said the retailer is also talking to a couple of wholesalers, distributors or department stores to try and open by the second quarter next year.
“So a lot more ramp up next year and we really wanted to make sure that at least the Vancouver store is open before the holiday season,” he said.
The company is now headquartered in New York.
When Esprit Holdings Ltd. released its financial results in late August for the first half of 2023, Pak said: “Over the past six months, the Group has diligently implemented a range of progressive initiatives aimed at revitalizing its growth trajectory. The management remains optimistic about the anticipated outcomes of these initiatives, expecting them to yield tangible results during the second half of this year. Encouraging signs have already emerged from the June results, indicating positive developments. Moreover, the Group has an exciting array of upcoming events in the second half of this year. These dynamic endeavours are expected to not only strengthen the Group’s market position but also propel its overall success to new heights.”
The company said it continues to fortify its presence in both the US and international markets, as it aims to restore the brand to its original, elevated, and globally recognized brand position.
“ESPRIT has successfully revitalized its global footprint through strategic expansion into North America. Several retail store openings are underway for launch in the latter half of 2023 in key cities such as permanent stores in Los Angeles, New York and Vancouver, and pop-up stores in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. In Europe, the retail team is developing shop-in-shops under a brand-new elevated concept within twenty of ESPRIT’s best European retail and franchise locations. These have been instrumental in creating buzz and reinstating ESPRIT’s prominence on a global scale,” it said.
“The Company is set to revolutionize the online customer experience with a simplified and innovative technology platform. Currently live in South Korea, this platform will be introduced to the US market by Q3 of 2023, followed by its launch in Europe by mid-2024. Simultaneously, the digital team is working on developing a modern data stack, scheduled to be completed by mid-2024, which seamlessly connect customers and products. By harnessing the power of artificial intelligence and large language models, ESPRIT aims to solidify its leadership position in the industry, providing unparalleled customer engagement and satisfaction.
“The Company is dedicated to embracing cutting-edge technology and implementing best industry practices to elevate customer experience. The on-going projects aimed at developing innovative in-store omnichannel digital solutions for stores-of-the-future to provide digital and hyper-personalized service experiences for upcoming Flagship and Experium stores, ensuring customers to experience the best when interacting with ESPRIT.
“ESPRIT is thrilled to introduce a captivating new collection that exemplifies unparalleled quality and exquisite design. Among the highlights is the highly anticipated unveiling of a new denim line developed at the Group’s innovation centre in Amsterdam. Additionally, there will be a launch of an in-house developed kid’s apparel line, catering to children aged two to twelve. With these exciting additions to the product assortment, ESPRIT continues to redefine fashion excellence and cater to the diverse needs of valued customers.”