Why Canadian menswear store Haven is banking on private label
As the brothers explain, the decision to reposition Haven as a brand first, retailer second, was to stay ahead of the competition. Haven built his business by jostling for access to brands that few of his American peers owned, establishing himself as a specialist in cult Japanese streetwear.
For over a decade, the team shuttled endlessly between Canada and Japan, forging relationships with beloved niche labels including Visvim, WTAPS, Neighborhood and the artist’s first Japanese label. American Kaws, Original Fake. “Back then, with Japanese brands, it was very relationship-based,” says Arthur. “Now they do business through email, through digital portals, but back then it was enough to go there a few times and meet them. We were one of the few stores in North America that wanted to go to Japan five to eight times a year. It was a competitive advantage for us, but it has eroded with the Internet. The next step for us was, ‘How can we do something that no one else can do?’ »
Find a differentiator
In addition to the daily grind of independent retail, the Chmielewskis sought other ways to differentiate themselves, including an early foray into in-house design and production with a Canadian-made label called Cypress and a biannual magazine at perfect binding called Intelligence which featured long profiles of the often shy brands they sold.
By the end of 2016, however, Haven had hit a wall. “We had too many plates spinning at the same time,” explains Daniel. “It crushes you, and I didn’t feel like Haven was a creative outlet anymore. I didn’t feel creative about selling other people’s brands or having a magazine that told other people’s stories.”
“We were expanding into multiple business models,” Arthur continues. “Dan and I made a conscious decision to take everything we learned from how to make products to how to create media and use it to build a strong, cohesive brand.”
Their decision to reposition the business came at the right time, as the maturing of e-commerce has emboldened brands across the board, from sportswear giants like Nike to luxury stalwarts like Prada, to further emphasize on their direct-to-consumer channels. .
This change represented an existential crisis for a store like Haven. “When you’re at the mercy of these other brands that you sell, any of them could open a flagship store in your city,” says Arthur. “The thing is, you can’t control what all these other companies are doing. The only thing you can control is what you do, your reaction. We had learned where the best factories are, the best material suppliers, the kind of mindset you need to make products at the highest level. It got us to a point where we were confident enough to take the plunge ourselves and control our future.
Contemporary Canadiana: Utilitarian Orientation
Haven launched its own label with a Fall 2017 collection and has been expanding its offering ever since. The gear is stylishly utilitarian, applying high-tech fabrics to familiar workwear and military silhouettes – what the brothers call their take on contemporary Canadiana.
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