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24 Sep 2017


By Gracie Carroll

Why These Women Started Their Vintage and Rental Clothing Businesses

By Alexandra Donaldson

sustainable fashion businesses

Shopping consciously has never been more important than it is right now, so it’s no surprise that plenty of consumers are ditching fast fashion in favour of shopping vintage, up-cycled or even renting clothing to fill their wardrobes. We caught up with some of our favourite vintage and rental clothing businesses in Toronto that are leading the way when it comes to changing the industry, and our shopping habits.


Laura Bryce and Kelly Pigeon of dresst

E7: Why did you start dresst?

LB & KP: dresst was born out of passion and necessity. Having both worked in the corporate world we found ourselves trying to keep up with the style Joneses. Between the two of us, we owned north of 400 items and yet we were still spending close to $4,000 a year on more clothes. We knew we weren’t alone and it turns out many Canadian women have the perpetual problem of a closet full of clothes, and nothing to wear.

We started to dive deeper and found out that each year the average person throws away 81 pounds of clothes and the fashion industry contributes 26 billion pounds to landfill waste.

dresst was the solve to these problems. Not only does dresst help preserve your pocketbook and reduce environmental impact, but also helps women stay on trend and feel good in the clothes they’re were wearing.

E7: What sets you apart from similar companies?

LB & KP: dresst is the first company in Canada to be providing contemporary fashion to women for their everyday needs on a rental basis. For $99 a month, women can rent from top designers like Ted Baker, Free People, Equipment, Joie, Vince and more with each rental box being $750-$1,000 in retail value. dresst goes beyond the special occasion dress rental so women can supplement their closets for their everyday at work, weekend plans or a change in season.

E7: Why do you love what you do?

LB & KP: Getting to show up every day to run a company that helps women look and feel good, in an era where society constantly challenges them, is so exciting. Pairing that with being a service that helps people reduce their environmental footprint makes dresst a home run for us. Running your own company is a constant learning curve, but it’s incredibly fulfilling. We love that we have the opportunity to push ourselves every day and, at the same time, are also making a difference in people’s lives. Delivering amazing value is at the heart of dresst. We want women to be able to wear amazing designer clothes without the designer price tag. It’s so exciting to deliver a service that allows women to feel confident, happy, proud, at a fraction of the price. It’s a big win for us and for our members.

E7: Why is sustainability important to you or an important part of the business?

LB & KP: In November 2018, we hosted a focus group and 80% of the women we talked to expressed they were conscious about shopping with sustainable companies and consciously not shopping with fast fashion brands who are not taking steps towards reducing their impact. We heard this loud and clear: women want to buy from responsible companies and are saying goodbye to the “buy and die” mentality.

E7: What do you hope for the clothing industry in general?

LB & KP: It’s such an interesting time for the industry. CNBC just released a cover story about how the resale clothing market will eclipse fast fashion sales by $20 billion in under 10 years. We’ve seen great reception to wardrobe rentals in the US with companies like Rent the Runway, Fashion Pass and thredUp. And we’ve seen this adoption at home too. Special occasion dress rental shops, increases in vintage shopping, downsizing wardrobes… these are the first steps towards a shift away from the traditional ways we’ve all shopped in the past. Our prediction: Canadians are going to catch up quickly. We’ll have the basics in our closets and will be renting the rest of our wardrobes. It’s the wave of the future!


Joyce Lim of Sprout Collection

E7: Why did you start Sprout?

JL: I was pregnant with Georgia, and my day job—I’m a corporate lawyer—requires me to dress up somewhat presentable every day. I had to go buy maternity clothing and most expectant mothers do and I was just shocked at how expensive it was and that even some big stores had pulled their maternity lines from the stores, only offering it online. I just felt like I shouldn’t have to spend so much money on something I wouldn’t wear again or only wear for a short period of time. Sure, I could have gone to a fast fashion store to just get a few things to help me get by, but that’s not really my buying philosophy. I didn’t want to contribute to that mass consumerism. I thought there has to be a better way. When I looked online I noticed that there was already this sharing fashion economy for maternity and non-maternity clothing in the US and I didn’t see anyone doing it in Canada.

E7: Who is your ideal customer?

JL: We know that not everyone is going to want to use Sprout, but because we operate on a month-to-month basis if you need something for a special event or a baby shower, you can always just sign up for that one month. Based on our data, what we have found that the customers that love us are the professional woman in her mid-thirties living in a metropolitan area. So they’re working in industries like legal, consulting, creative, medical.

E7: Why do you love what you do?

JL: The appreciation that we receive from our customers. I wanted to provide a service that I never had when I was pregnant, but I never expected to receive handwritten notes from customers when they send their box back to us.  We get emails and mail from our customers, and I was just taken aback. I had no idea we were making such a huge different in their lives that they would feel compelled to write to us. That has been the most rewarding part of the business.

E7: Why is sustainability important to you?

JL: I think that its very easy for consumers to write off purchases because they are cheap, but I really want people to think about cost-per-wear. It’s cheaper and more sustainable for your wallet and more sustainable for the environment if you’re investing in something that you’re going to wear often, instead of buying new trendy, but not well made, items each season that you toss once that season is done.  I think we can make better buying decisions, with the long-term in mind. If you buy something and you only wear it a few times, isn’t that a rental? No matter how much you paid for it, if it disintegrates after a few wears and washes, it is a rental. So don’t buy it. Invest in pieces that are staples. And rent pieces that are trendy, but still well-made. Sprout is one of the ways that we’re trying to help people make better buying decisions.


Mahro TK of Mama Loves You Vintage

mahro - mama loves you vintage - toronto

E7: Why did you decide to start Mama Loves You?

MTK: Mama Loves You opened in December of 2012. It was my last year at Ryerson University for Fashion Communication and it was in the spring of that year that I decided that opening a store was in my future. I opened the store with my mother Melo who is a long time vintage dealer. I grew up in the industry and it felt natural to team up with Melo to start the business.

E7: What do you think sets you apart from other vintage stores?

MTK: We are a family business with my mom sourcing the clothing and me managing the shop. Even my dad helps drive the product from point A to point B. This store supports a family and there is a lot of love in what we do.

E7: Who is your ideal customer?

MTK: Our ideal customer is not necessarily someone who is a vintage nerd but we love when customers are excited about the past and learning about where items came from and how they were constructed. We love history!

E7: Why is sustainability important to you or an important part of the business?

MTK: Sustainability is a huge part of our business. We encourage everyone to buy vintage or secondhand clothing. If you are going to buy new clothing try to buy classic well made items that will last more than a few seasons. What I love about vintage is that even when you are done with an item it still has value and can be resold. Compare this to an $8 H&M shirt that falls apart after a couple of washes.

E7: What do you hope for the future of the fashion industry?

MTK: I hope that people will stop focusing on what is “trendy” and start buying timeless pieces that complement their individual style. People need to shift their views on clothing from it being something disposable to something of long term value.


Nicole Babin of Common Sort

nicole babin - common sort toronto

E7: Why did you decide to start Common Sort?

NB: I started Common Sort because I wanted to offer a service that I felt was lacking in Toronto (resale), that also combined my eye for picking great pieces, while not contributing to the destruction of the planet.

E7: What sets you apart from other companies?

NB: What sets us apart from other companies is the quality of our selections. Buyers are all trained for 2-4 months before they become a buyer and not everyone that trains on buying becomes a buyer. Staff have to be really good at buying before I allow them to buy clothing from the public.

E7: Who is your ideal customer?

NB: Our ideal customers love fashion and understand the value in the pieces we sell. They come in often and are constantly trading their cast-offs for new pieces. Keeping the circle going. They are looking at everything and trying on lots of items because sometimes it’s those items you aren’t sure about that end up becoming favourites.

E7: Why do you love what you do?

NB: I love what I do because it helps make things better. It doesn’t support unethical business practices and allows customers from all walks of life to afford beautiful things. I still love the thrill of the find after all these years, fashion is exciting and fun. I love seeing what sellers bring us and I love hearing how much my customers love my stores- I hear that every day I work and I will never get sick of it. It is all very rewarding.

E7: Why is sustainability important to you or an important part of the business?

NB: Economically, I opened the first location in the middle of the recession. There were a lot of people that thought I was going to fail and I just didn’t see how that was possible. Resale has become huge since we opened 11 years ago, I had no idea how popular second-hand clothing would become with the average person. I really didn’t think that we would be arguing about whether climate change was a thing in this day in age, it’s just common sense to me and it is our reality now. If we all just did what we could to minimize our own consumption, we could make the changes that we need right now.

E7: What is your hope for the fashion business?

NB: My hopes for the clothing industry would be that corporations start paying the people that make their clothing a living wage and working conditions are no longer dangerous. That the cheap, bad quality polyester clothing stops getting manufactured because the people stop buying it. I hope that brands become aware that they are making clothing that doesn’t fit a lot of the consumers out there and that they start making sizing that is more inclusive. I have so many wishes for the fashion industry! Predictions? Some of those big corporations will start folding as more and more consumers purchase second-hand. My hopes for my business is that we keep gaining customers that get what we are doing and get why. I love when customers come in for the first time and are shocked by how many things they love in the store and when they they tell me that they’ve stopped buying new items because they can get almost anything at Common Sort. I want to work at making the 3 locations in Toronto the best they can be. We are also growing our sister store Token, which is across the street from our east end store. It has been open for over 4 years but we recently went through a move and concept change. We are now a eco-friendly gift shop, using less plastic in the store and supplying our neighbourhood with a refill-station of our favourite basic goods- shampoo, conditioner, moisturizer, all-purpose cleaner, cleaning vinegar, dish soap and laundry soap. I’m excited about how many plastic bottles we have already stopped from entering land-fill.


Julia Grieve of Preloved

julia grieve preloved toronto

E7: Why did you start Preloved?

JG: It was really quite a simple idea, take something old and make it new again! I have always had a love of vintage clothing, and the idea that what you are wearing is one of a kind. The only problem is sometimes vintage clothing can have a bit of a costume feel to it. But if you update it, change it, alter it to have a modern feel, then you have an incredible one of a kind piece that is perfectly on trend.  That was the idea behind Preloved, 24 years ago, and still is today!

E7: What sets you apart from similar companies?

JG: Being able to keep every part of our brand truly Canadian, for over two decades, is probably our greatest accomplishment. With the support of our manufacturer, right here in Toronto, we have been able to produce product that is of the highest quality, and coveted on the world stage. Staying in Canada was a conscious decision and one that has been a key factor in our success. “Made in Canada” as a brand on it’s own, is a pretty incredible one to be apart of.  We couldn’t be prouder.

E7: Why do you love what you do?

JG: I am so fortunate to doing something I love. And I love that what I am doing today is so different to what I was doing 24 years ago. We are constantly growing and evolving. I have a saying that I run my life and business by (I can’t remember if I saw it on a bathroom wall, or heard it in a Bob Dylan song): “If you are not busy growing, you are busy dying.” So focus on growth.

E7: Why is sustainability important to you or an important part of the business?

JG: I am the original “accidental environmentalist.” I never imaged the impact Preloved was having for the last 24 years on this planet and it has been the most incredible positive off shoot I could have ever imaged. I do believe that the conscious movement is here to stay. We are much more aware and the vast amount of information we are exposed to through technology makes you ask questions like how are our clothes are made, what are they made of, who made our clothes, and how does this affect our planet, and our home? This knowledge is power and it’s changing how we run our lives and how we should buy our clothes.




(Story by Contributing Editor, Alexandra Donaldson)


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