Last fall, two of Google’s ex-employees faced massive public backlash for their company, Bodega, a venture attempting to replace convenience stores with well-stationed cabinets, built with facial recognition technology that can charge a credit card for items removed. The vehement criticism was telling; the problem with over-automation is that we want those curated, personal experiences. The butcher shops, the bakeries, the milliners, the artisanal in-house soap shops. The independent breweries, the mom-and-pop bookstores that have been operating for thirty years.
We want face time, and we want a curated, boutique experience. And we want quality — particularly when it comes to fashion. Blame the phone screens or the ear buds; whatever the cause, it seems to have awakened a new desire for the interpersonal and the tactile.
In some ways, the luxury market is the last vestige of the fine-tuned customer experience — that’s part of what you pay for. But one Canadian company is bridging the gap between luxury and fast fashion, and re-infusing tired mall settings with the boutique experiences that we crave.
Thirty-three years ago, Canadian entrepreneur Brian Hill pinpointed that growing need. “Back in 1984 I saw a market opportunity, somewhere in between the luxury market and the junior market in women’s fashion, for young women who have significant disposable income, but don’t want disposable clothes,” he told The Business Of Fashion in 2009. “These young women were seeking the experience of a boutique but didn’t really have access to it.”
And so Aritzia was born: a shop that was accessible and affordable, but finessed with a touch luxury. It’s a formula that worked; the first shop, located in an upscale Vancouver suburb, quickly became two and then three. And now, in 2018, there are more than sixty locations that span the continent. While other massive retail lines are closing up brick and mortar locations and transitioning to online models, Aritzia’s focus on the unique boutique experience is clearly paying off with regular expansions. That’s not to mention notable cameos in the wardrobes of the rich and famous; according to BC Business, actor (and Prince Harry fiancé) Meghan Markle was recently photographed wearing an Aritzia blazer at a polo match.
While Aritzia is certainly a chain, careful efforts have been made to make each location feel every bit like a chic one-off. Each shop is considered individually; the goal is to create a bespoke experience, and Aritzia’s architects and designers draw from local influences and custom finishes in the art and décor to create it. The central identity of the brand is, in a sense, its lack of uniformity; each shop features original art, for instance, and an in-house music director curates eclectic playlists.
Hill, in some ways, came from the perfect pedigree to take on such a venture; his father, Jim Hill, was the founder of the luxury retail company Hills of Kerrisdale, and his grandfather worked as a senior executive for Hudson’s Bay Company, one of the oldest companies in the world (it was, if you can believe it, incorporated in 1670.) “I guess you could say retail,” he told BOF, “is in my blood.”
Aritzia’s focus was, and is, on the development of in-house brands, the big six being Wilfred, TNA, Talula, Sunday Best, Community, and Babaton, as well as private accessory brands Six Eleven and Auxiliary. When it comes to clothing design for those original six brands, each operates as an independent label; according to Aritzia, each has its own creative team and aesthetic. The unifying feature? “An effortless appeal,” says Aritzia. “A focus on fit and an of-the-moment point of view.”
Aritizia has since branched out to carrying carefully selected external labels like Citizens Of Humanity, Mackage, Nike, Levi’s, A Gold E, Havaianas, J Brand Jeans, Adidas, Herschel Supply Co., and rag & bone.
There is perhaps no better indication that a brand has ‘arrived’ in the luxury market than a flagship store on Manhattan’s prestigious Fifth Avenue. And Aritzia can now boast thirteen thousand square feet (on top of two more locations) on this street, firmly establishing itself in the shopping capital of the world.
We’re currently digging the spring line: Aritzia’s design team has put together a seasonal collection of opulent fabrics, precise construction, and romantic floral prints. The result is a line of timeless, effortless essentials that feel every bit as signature as they are staples. Luxurious indeed.