Tuesday, January 17, 2012

JRN Feature: Pop-up shops ft. Philip Sparks

Hey everyone!

Just wanted to share a feature article I wrote for my journalism 124 class last semester (so ignore the dates mentioned in it). The assignment was a 'place profile' and I chose to feature Toronto designer Philip Sparks' first pop-up shop, and also looked into the pop-up shop trend.


On any given day, Toronto fashion designer Philip Sparks works in his studio on the fifth floor of the Burroughes Building at Queen and Bathurst, but on September 21, I didn’t find him there. Instead, he had packed the rich earthly tones, crisp tailoring, and shearling accents of his fall collection to display among the soft worn leather suitcases and vintage wooden furniture within the SMASH antique store located in The Junction neighbourhood at 2880 Dundas Street West.
The Philip Sparks Junction Trunk Shop is just one of the pop-up shops making a Toronto appearance. Pop-ups like these are helping designers get their lines out there in a unique way to reach new customers. They are spontaneous and even offer exclusive merchandise, and despite the seemingly complicated task of moving from multiple locations, pop-up shops are becoming an innovative option for today’s Canadian retailers.

And like a reinvention of the travelling circus, the store owner is similar to the ring master, bringing something fresh and original to different locations. This is a new concept in the retail industry, and fairly unknown to the average citizen. Rather than maintaining a permanent spot, designers and store owners search for temporary sites for make-shift shops that remain open for time periods ranging from three days to three months. These shops follow a trend that began overseas in Europe and Asia. Since then, the trend has become more prevalent in the United States, and according to Susan M. Boyce’s article in The Western Investor, “pop-up retail is steadily making its presence felt in Canada.” In Toronto specifically, many other stores are opening their doors as ‘pop-up shops,’ such as the Inside Out Pop Up Shop and A2Zane.

Despite Sparks’ Junction shop at SMASH being only five days long, it is the first of many to come. He will be holding one monthly in addition to maintaining his studio/showroom, which is open to the public on Saturdays. SMASH was his first choice as the location of his debut pop-up because it is full of rustic items such as books, globes, and trinkets that match the line’s sense of finely tailored nostalgia and chestnut brown and olive green colour tones. And that is exactly the outcome that Sparks wanted. He launched his clothing line five years ago and has continued to branch out, adding women’s wear just last season. From the outside, the store is missing an overhead sign that shows a store even exists beyond the exterior, in the address between a furniture store and a bicycle shop. Instead, the word “SMASH” is found in a small font on the lower right corner of the front window. But once you step inside, you walk into a page from a history book.

On the third day since his shop opening, Sparks, a man of quiet nature and friendly face, is pacing around his display. While nodding his head to the Indie music in the background, his fingers slowly move from the table of folded pants and plaid shirts to the blazers and winter coats on the hangers, making sure they are in perfect condition. He is welcoming and smiles at people as they walk into the brightly lit antique shop. Having used a number of items from the store as props to outfit his showroom, as well as for photo shoots and fashion shows, Sparks thought this collaboration was the best idea. In fact, SMASH is known for these collaborations and Dana Francis, co-owner of SMASH, describes the store as a “collective, rather than a single entity.” In the past, the store has been the location for live concerts, beer tastings, and art exhibits, just to name a few. She mentions this is why the store does not have a large sign out front. For Sparks, the feedback has been amazing. He’s hooked on the idea and thinks more designers should take this route.

Eva Tolkin, owner of the Inside Out Pop-up Shop, would agree. She decided to try her hand at the business after getting a taste of it in Montreal. Her unique store, which features an elaborate collection of vintage hats and lavish fur coats, is located on Queen Street West and she emphasizes the most difficult part of opening a pop-up: finding the right location. When she first set out to find a spot, she walked around the city aimlessly and was lucky to find her current location through a friend. It is often a challenge to find a place for a limited amount of time, but Tolkin’s timing was perfect. Previous occupant, and strong supporter of the pop-up trend, Zane Aburaneh, just happened to be moving. Now, he has even designated a space in the new location of his store, A2Zane, specifically for the in-and-out feature of pop-ups.

As for Sparks, he is already planning his next few spots, focusing on arts-oriented areas that suit his overall theme of modern nostalgia, which is “a combination of classic tailoring to suit the modern day guy or girl.” And after his stint at his first location, Sparks packs up his trousers, button-up shirts, and coats to bring back to his studio once again. The success of his shop is seen in the amount of customers who stopped by, as well as their eagerness to learn more about his brand. He gained followers who are anxious to see where he will end up next.

All photos taken by me.

Thanks for reading! :)

- Christina

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