Jun 21, 2010

ELABorate Simplicity

In the last few years, I've developed a passion for consignment stories. They have, to my mind, the perfect combination of style and substance; like small collections of carefully-curated non-originals, they encourage the recycling ethos within a stylistic context.

So it was with much anticipation that I hopped off to LAB Consignment, located on Ossington Avenue in Toronto. Its owner, Lauren Baker, is a smart, sassy, refreshingly unpretentious woman dedicated to both fashion and environmentalism. We had a lively exchange of ideas around the rise of consignment stores, what they might symbolize in a larger sense, and the challenge of getting Bloor Street fashionista-types (the New York equivalent is Fifth Avenue, by the way) out of their big-label headspace and into a new, imaginative space where substance and style connect in a meaningful way.

How did you become interested in fashion?

I started reading fashion magazines when I was 11 years old. I was really drawn to the supermodels at that time (1992) as I'm sure most young girls were. I remember loving Bob Mackie and Issac Mizrahi. I still think Bob Mackie is a master at glitz.

How did you go from working in retail to being interested in consignment? To many, the two worlds are far apart.

I worked in retail for almost 10 years but always sold my clothes on consignment growing up. When I came up with the idea for LAB, I was actually working in the music industry for a woman who built her business from the ground up, which I really admired. I, however, wasn't made for the music-industry machine, I really didn't enjoy the stress. That's when I started to wonder how I can use my strengths and passion and turn it into a business that I enjoy. Consignment came to me almost right away.
Why do you think consignment and vintage-y stores have become so popular? Is it purely economic? Or is there something else at work?

I've been shopping at thrift stores since I was 14. In my home town (Dundas, Ontario) it was what everyone did and it was completely normal to me, so I can't say that I've noticed this as a trend. Maybe they've recently become more attractive to different clientele due to both the environmental benefits of recycling clothing and the economic downturn. Many shoppers feel that buying vintage is their way of giving back to the environment and saving a few bucks while they're at it.

How much have your friends' input shaped and influenced your style, as well as your career path?

I like to think I've always had my own individual sense of style. I tend to rely on intuition when building a wardrobe, rather than memorizing each collection from each major designer and trying to mimic those trends on a very tiny budget. Don't get me wrong, I love to watch the collections each season, but I don't put pressure on myself to be on-trend all of the time. But I do have some very stylish friends. My dear friend Vanessa Fischer is an amazing costume designer (she's designing my wedding dress) and I always like to bounce wardrobe ideas off of her.

As for my career path, I only told one friend that I had this idea because I didn't want it to get scooped, and she supported me 100%. She actually pushed me very hard to do it. Now she lives in London UK and hasn't even seen the store!

What are your future plans for LAB? You'd mentioned wanting to expand nationally. Do you think the fashion world is ready for consignment outlets?

Now that I've accomplished one dream, why stop there? I would love to have more than one location, but in reality it's a baby-steps process. For now, I'm going to concentrate on the Ossington store and make it the best it can be. I think Canadians in general would welcome consignment with open arms! Only a small percentage of Canadians can afford designer fashions; the rest of us are just maxing out credit cards, bidding on ebay, and stalking Gilt Groupe. Consignment stores would allow the majority of Canadian shoppers to have access to designer fashions for a fraction of the price. I'm also carrying samples from Rita Liefhebber and am in negotiations with other prominent designers in Canada and the UK to feature their wares.

Why do you think traditional fashionistas turns up their noses at consignment?

I'm not sure who these fashionistas are, because I've had quite a few fashionable and well-known Canadian ladies shopping in my store, as well as some name designers. Quality clothing is quality clothing, no matter where you buy it. If there is a portion of the fashion world that turns their noses up at consignment they won't for long. Who wouldn't want a gorgeous designer piece at a fraction of the price?

@LABconsignment

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