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What might this signify for the future of IRL shopping?
This week, the doors to an alluring shop in Toronto’s Summerhill neighborhood swung wide open, welcoming customers, new and long-standing, to peruse its selection of blazers, jackets and other impeccably-tailored wardrobe staples. Women’s ready-to-wear label Smythe has debuted its very first retail storefront.
Co-founded by Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe, Smythe has paraded through the women’s clothing market for 18 years, first as a wholesaler and then via e-commerce, and has become known for fashioning some contemporary-loving celebrities (the brand’s list of name drops include Meghan Markle, Madonna and Blake Lively).
Developments for Smythe’s store began in 2019, before headlines of a life-altering pandemic swarmed our screens. Although it may seem “risky” to open up a retail shop as we trudge through the umpteenth COVID wave, Lenczner and Smythe have found the benefits outweigh the perils.
“We’ve always dreamt of having our own store. Presenting the collection in the way that we envisioned it, and creating a space that represents our brand and a lifestyle has always been something we’ve been really excited to do at some point,” Smythe says.
That presentation includes activating all the senses — not just sight. Smythe’s new storefront includes a custom room scent, which smells the same as the brand’s newly-launched perfume made in collaboration with Julian Bedel of Fueguia, an Argentinian perfumery. The two co-owners also made a playlist for the space and joke about being “pretty controlling” about the visual merchandising. “We chose every little detail in there. That’s how I think you feel our presence,” Lenczner said, while giving credit to the duo’s interior design team, Ashley Botten (Ashley Botten Designs) and Tommy Smythe (TOM).
“Andrea and I have always followed our gut. And from a retail perspective, we wanted to shop in a store again. So, we listened to that. And I think other people [want to] as well.” For Smythe and Lenczner, digital and in-person shopping support one another.
In 2020, 58,000 Canadian businesses became inactive. Being closed for months at a time forced companies to rely on digital sales. But with Smythe opening a storefront after the pandemic shut down thousands of shops, what might this signify about the future of brick-and-mortar? What exactly does IRL shopping look like from here on out? Lenczner and Smythe prove that while so much has changed, the deep desire for personal connection means the world of retail is taking new shape. The stakes are higher and the customer wants more than just an exchange of currency for a product. They want a special shopping experience.
“You’ve got to meet your customer wherever they want to be met, which is online, at Holt Renfrew [where certain Smythe pieces can be purchased] and at your own store — where they can absolutely see and try everything and not just see the edits done by other wholesalers,” Lenczner shares. Personalization is not just an asset; it is essential to the survival of many of these businesses.
According to a study from the department of textile and apparel management at the University of Missouri, businesses with a strong online presence were better able to withstand the pandemic’s impact. Perhaps what set Smythe up for this opportunity is that it had mastered the science of e-commerce and developed its digital presence before hanging out its shingle at 1116 Yonge St.
“I feel like a newbie,” Smythe jokes about opening a storefront. The duo expresses that learning what you don’t know is so important. But for the co-founders, there’s less to unlearn, like outdated shop-owner dogmas that didn’t survive the pandemic. Entering the IRL shopping space right at the start of this new retail era could be the ticket into continued success.