For all the strides the Canadian fashion industry has made in recent years, it’s also been characterized by one impossible-to-ignore thing: layoffs.
Not only have long-time Canadian retailers like Town Shoes and Jean Machine closed their doors, but established publications like Flare, Elle Canada and Canadian Living have also axed countless employees.
The shuttering of bricks-and-mortar stores, of course, isn’t just an issue in Canada. It seems each week, headlines read of another major American retailer closing stores – from Victoria’s Secret (which just announced it would close 53 stores in North America) to Gap.
The situation is so bad that it’s been aptly called a “retail apocalypse” by a growing number of analysts. Naturally, Canada isn’t immune – and Jean Machine and Town Shoes are just two of a handful of Canadian brands to close up shop as of late.
Most recently, Hudson’s Bay Company announced it would shut all 37 Home Outfitters stores in the country. In addition to hurting hundreds of jobless employees, the closures are a setback to the entire Canadian retail industry, which has always been the “little guy” compared to our neighbours to the south.
When it comes to the culprit, many point fingers at the growing online retail sector, and the increased trust consumers now have with shopping online.
Some bricks-and-mortar shops have simply not been able to keep with the changing in-store experience and expectations. “Customers are expecting a seamless online and in-store experience and the competition in the Canadian retail landscape has never been tougher,” says Gail McInnes, President & Founder of Magnet Creative Management, a company that represents some of Canada’s most influential fashion designers and lifestyle brands. “The competition is not only domestic, it also extends internationally as consumers are purchasing from non-Canadian retailers online more than ever. Canadians are pretty savvy shoppers compared to other markets; they do their research and expect quality for a good price. Customers are comparing prices online, reading reviews and buying products recommended by influencers.”
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What this means for Canadian retailers—or any retailer—is that they need to step up their game more than ever if they want to survive.
“Successful brick-and-mortar retailers are those who are actively engaging on social media, creating an online experience and an easy-to-navigate shop, as well as creating a unique customer experience and providing excellence in customer service,” says McInnes. “Those who aren’t keeping up with the times are going to close.” It’s that simple.
Helping the cause of some brands and decreasing the risk factor significantly is the rise of the pop-up shops. Once reserved for warehouses, the pop-up has gone on to occupy street fronts, space within existing stores and even prime mall real estate, allowing limited time engagements for brands to sell their products.
Facilitating this, Canadian short-term real estate technology start-up thisopenspace allows businesses of all sizes to showcase their brands with access to temporary storefronts and services like staffing, merchandising, sales and analytics. In terms of Canadian designers, INLAND emerged in 2014 and has become a massive bi-annual leading pop-up destination to shop emerging and contemporary Canadian fashion and apparel.
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When it comes to the Canadian media landscape, fashion journalists have seen better days (ok, let’s be honest; most Canadian journalists have seen better days). The public consumption of media has changed dramatically over the past decade and publication houses continue struggling to survive.
Recent years have been characterized by the shuttering of print publications, and long-running outlets like Flare are now strictly online.
“This has changed how and where brands are placing their advertising dollars. Brands always want to capitalize on the highest R.O.I. possible,” says McInnes. “With print advertising, it isn’t always easy to track how many people have viewed an ad. The old formula with some publications used to be to combine the combined newsstand sales with subscriptions and multiple by four on the assumption that at least four people would read that one issue. With online advertising, analytics can provide real-time results and accurate demographics as to who is engaging with their brand.”
As McInnes points out, instead of pages full of relevant content, many publications are resorting to “click bait” headlines in a desperate fight for attention. Often, such articles aren’t even written by the actual author of the article, but a brand rep or marketing person who lacks journalistic experience. “Many journalists are preparing for the inevitable and are preparing themselves to switch careers by applying their skills within the communications or marketing fields as in-house content creators for brands,” says McInnes.
On the positive, we’ve seen a growing number of solid and vetted Canadian influencers who have made it a priority to promote Canadian fashion brands.
These influencers are helping to direct dollars into the Canadian fashion industry one glossy Instagram post at a time, albeit disrupting traditional advertising and journalism in the process.
While the full extent to which the recent string of layoffs will affect Canada’s fashion and retail world remains to be seen, one thing is certain: there’s no better time than right now to wear Canadian fashion designers and support the industry as a whole.
Featured Image: Jake Rosenberg
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