Does Preloved closing foreshadow the future of retail?
The Preloved flagship boutique on Queen is closing later this month. Julia Grieve founded the brand in 1995, with a view to take previously owned and vintage pieces, and turn them into something new and unique.
Her first Preloved store on the corner of Queen and Portland, where she sold her one-of-a-kind garments, burned down in 2008, forcing her to relocate.
"I'm calling my memoir Fires, Floods and Fashion," Grieve says, in reference not only to the fire that destroyed her Portland store, but last summer's flood that filled the basement of the 881 Queen Street West location with three feet of sewage.
For an independent retailer like Preloved, the challenges go far beyond natural disasters. With fast fashion retailers like H&M showing up on Queen West and customers' growing comfort with online shopping, there has been a real strain on smaller retailers - even ones with a unique business model, like Preloved.
"19 years ago, there was no Internet," says Grieve. "If you wanted something really unique, you had to shop local, independent retailers. The times have changed. You can get things on the Internet. You can get things in a grocery store that are cool. So you have to be very, very competitive."
This is why Grieve and her team decided to make the shift to wholesale, and began selling Preloved pieces to independent retailers two years ago. Now, over 400 stores around the country order from Grieve, and her business has moved to 95 per cent wholesale, five per cent retail.
Because of the huge emphasis Preloved now places on wholesale, and because her lease on Queen is up, Grieve felt it was the right time to make a significant change.
"The independent retailer is very important to our economy, and important to our shopping," says Grieve. "I'm just not that now. I'm a brand, and I now make clothing to go to very successful, independent retailers."
Not only will Preloved continue to be available in those 400 independent stores, Grieve wants a takeover on the web. The e-retail site will re-launch on Valentine's Day, with one highly anticipated feature.
Because Preloved's garments are one-of-a-kind and made from a variety of different materials, customers aren't always fully aware of what they'll get.
"The way it works right now is, if you want to order one of the garments on our site, you say, I'd like it in dark, or I'd like it in light. You can't actually select the garment you want," explains Grieve. "For the new site, we are creating a virtual rack, which will be amazing. So you'll pick your size, and up will come every item available in your size. You'll still be able to get that one Preloved piece that was made for you, and you'll be able to find it online now."
It's clear that Grieve wants to maintain the connection she values so much with Preloved's loyal fans, and doesn't want them to feel like they're missing out on any part of the experience.
Preloved will continue to make their garments at a factory in Scarborough, where over 100,000 vintage sweaters were recycled just to make the 2013 fall collection. Grieve will continue to work on her impressive collaborations with the likes of Roots, Indigo and Anthropologie. She'll keep doing pop up stores and having two warehouse sales a year. And Preloved's new and improved website will be up next month.
"We're very fortunate to have a very dedicated clientele base, and I really appreciate all the years they've been coming here, to Queen Street," says Grieve, with a smile on her face. "Now you don't even have to leave your house - we'll ship it right to your door!"
Preloved at 881 Queen Street West officially closes its doors on January 27, with the first warehouse sale of the year beginning on January 22, where nothing will be priced over $70. preloved.ca re-launches on February 14, with free shipping on all orders for the first month.