Winter 2017
Curated Retail

Retailers harness the opportunity to sell more with less inventory.

Just like fashion styles, the vocabulary of retail is constantly changing. While some consider the term “curated retail” to be a new concept, the fact is, curation has existed for a long time. The terms refers to the concept that retailers deploy a strategy to minimize the number of choices a customer must make along with ensuring that the product lines they carry are unique and highly desirable to their target shopper. And, retail experts believe curated retail is here to stay. According to Craig Patterson, editor-in-chief of Retail Insider, “Curated retail involves a narrower product focus, which may lead to personalization and increased brand relevancy.” Patterson agrees, the idea of curated retail is not new, but, more recently feels we are seeing a higher focus on it, “Because consumers demand curated and personalized offerings and competition is so great, and offerings so broad, retailers are seeing opportunity to sell ‘better’ with ‘less’,” he said.

Several smaller Canadian retailers have used curating as a marketing strategy to differentiate their businesses alongside the big names of Kanye West and big retailers like Nordstrom who are doing curated pop-up shops.

Curated artisanal products

“Curated retail is defined as having a deep point of view—even if it means we can’t be all things to all people,” said Jen Lee Koss, a Canadian retailer and co-founder of BRIKA, an online and brick-and-mortar retailer of artisan crafts. BRIKA was co-founded by Koss and Kena Paranjape who saw a need to focus on talented artisans and designers who according to Koss, “Are being lost in the noise and desire a true platform to bring their well-crafted goods to a wider audience.” The duo recognized that there is a core customer who is inherently creative and craves unique special goods. Their business model began as an online site and has evolved to physical retail. The co-founders hand-select artisans and makers from all over North America for their uniqueness and commitment to quality, ethical business and building a purposeful contribution within their community. These artisans benefit from having an easy platform in which to sell their goods online. Their model requires no inventory as each of the makers ship directly from their studios. BRIKA launched at the end of 2012 with five artisans and today they have over 400 within their curated community. More recently, Koss and Paranjape have opened permanent stores and pop-up shops in the Toronto area. The BRIKA online business has benefited by having physical stores.

“We most certainly see a correlation between our stores and an increase in online sales in the same geography,” Koss said. BRIKA has also sold merchandise through Hudson Bay and Holt Renfrew department stores. Koss wants to see this distribution platform grow. She explained that the combination of an online presence and physical stores enables them to reach a wider audience. As such, they will be opening more brick-and-mortar locations worldwide. Koss said, “We envision a day where we are in every primary and secondary city, in the most special neighborhoods and weaving crafts into the local fabric.” One achievement that the BRIKA team is most proud of was opening their first stand-alone location. “We had always envisioned an offline presence, and when we finally found the perfect space, we executed on it quickly and cheaply. Seeing our footprint grow allows our artisans and designers to become bigger and more successful. That is very gratifying to us,” Koss said.

BRIKA shares some similarities with Etsy; including some of their makers utilize both online platforms. BRIKA claims they are more highly selective than Etsy. Interestingly, both companies have ventured into having real storefront exposure. Esty is now a public company based in Brooklyn, New York. It was founded in 2005 and today has over 1.7 million active sellers and has international offices too.

Curated fashion

Another Canadian retailer, Smoke + Ash is curating its offerings to bring design-centered contemporary fashion to Toronto at attainable price points. Smoke + Ash, has brought together a carefully chosen collection of goods and lifestyle products and displays them in a way that tells a story. Their labels are underrepresented in Toronto. Scented candles, body oil and a cozy sweater are merchandised together to tell a story about comfort and relaxation. “At Smoke + Ash, every item is carefully considered and chosen for a reason. We have our own aesthetic and point-of-view and we communicate that through every item in the store, as well as through the store design and visual displays,” says Jaya Kahlon, owner and curator. Kahlon knows exactly who her customer is and understands what she likes as a fashion forward, on-trend type of consumer. “We know what will resonate with our core customer and we also know when we can push the envelope and show her something unexpected,” Kahlon said.

Smoke + Ash is a brick-and-mortar store that began as a six-month pop-up shop and morphed into a permanent location after four years. Their online sales represent less that 10% of their business, but they are growing. Kahlon believes their physical location helps drive brand awareness and online sales. Today they are expanding their presence online as well. Kahlon says the physical store makes it easy to be in constant communication with their desired customer. Additionally they will be debuting digital styling tools that customers can use to discover how to style their clothes and put together outfits. “I love bringing new ideas to life,” says Kahlon, “As a small company we have to find innovative and creative ways to solve problems and grow our business.”

Curated accessories

Gillian Johnson was itching to tap into her creativity and after 10 years and two different businesses in the retail and wholesale accessories business; she curated a jewelry line that was a true expression of her aesthetics, inspiration and values. Hawkley, a Toronto-based jewelry brand was born with a very modern and rustic style. Johnson is drawn to the artisanal and tribal craft and techniques of regions around the world. Her jewelry exhibits techniques from South East Asia, North Africa and the Southwestern United States. Each piece is hand crafted with an emphasis on wax casting, metalsmithing and beading techniques. Johnson has reignited the passion for handmade goods that evoke the human touch.

“To me curating retail means scaling down on a selection while narrowing in on your customer’s tastes,” said Johnson. Hawkley is sold both online and through wholesale channels. Johnson enjoys experimenting with different retail methods from collaborations, pop-ups and private events that bring more meaningful interactions to its customers. Johnson has recently launched a creative space in Toronto for the design and entrepreneurial community called Assembly. Here she hopes to bring together brands, local entrepreneurs and host workshops that teach and expand the practices and disciplines that inspire artistry.

With the growth of curated retail shopping experiences both online and through physical retail, consumers will soon be able to find curated retail stores that match their specific preferences. For brands, curated retail represents an opportunity to showcase highly edited lines of products or services to better meet the needs the marketplace.

Duffy C. Weir

Duffy Weir is the former vice president and director of specialty retail and marketing at The Rouse Company of Columbia, MD. Now an independent retail marketing and sponsorship consultant and writer, Weir travels the world searching for what she says "makes marketplaces tick." She can be reached at or 410.252.8885.
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