After seeing considerable local success, London, Ontario-based socially conscious, made-in-Canada fashion brand Illbury + Goose is looking to expand nationally. We spoke with co-founder Meghan Kraft about the brand's concept, the importance of brick-and-mortar to relationship building, and plans to expand Illbury + Goose beyond London.
Founded in 2012 by Ms. Kraft and Daniel Phillips, Illbury + Goose began by selling printed t-shirts at festivals, concerts and parks. Strong sales saw the company expand into a variety of lines, including beaded bracelets, pottery, candles and soap. With the help of the Propel Entrepreneurship program at Western University, the couple opened a pop-up store at Western and sold some product at the Western book store. Next came a booth at London's Western Fair Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market, which saw success and inspired the couple to further expand its clothing and accessories line as well as home goods, almost entirely sourced in southern Ontario.
The name Illbury + Goose reflects the names of businesses formerly operated by the couple's grandparents -- Mr. Phillips' grandfather once owned Woodstock, Ontario-based Illbury furs, and Ms. Kraft's grandmother used to own Strathroy-based floral shop Nielsen's Flowers & The Country Goose. Prior to changing its name last spring, Illbury + Goose was named dpms. -- spelled lowercase, ending with a period.
In September of this year, Illbury + Goose opened its first permanent retail store, measuring about 1,000 square feet on Dundas Street East in London's up-and-coming Old East neighbourhood. Ms. Kraft likened the retail strip to the rise of Toronto's West Queen West, now considered to be one of Canada's trendiest shopping areas. The Illbury + Goose store is seeing tremendous success according to Ms. Kraft, partly due to the quality and uniqueness of its products, and personalized customer service. The brand's fashions are also more classic than trendy, targeting a wider demographic.
Brick-and-mortar retail is essential to the brand, said Ms. Kraft, especially given its humble pop-up beginnings. Face-to-face interaction initially connected the brand to its consumers, and customer feedback also help to determine new product development strategy. The brand also boasts a robust e-commerce site with exceptional sales, leveraging omni-channel.
Looking beyond London, Ms. Kraft explained that Illbury + Goose will seek to first expand into Vancouver and Toronto, where its online sales have been especially strong. Stores would ideally be in the 1,000 square foot range, and would be streetfront locations in unique retail areas. Ms. Kraft discussed areas such as Gastown in Vancouver and Toronto's trendy Queen Street West/Ossington Village for possible locations, though they have yet to make any decisions and will more carefully evaluate a retail growth strategy in the coming months.
Although international retailers continue to enter Canada, it's important to support local, independent retailers. Retail Council of Canada (RCC) recently launched its 'ShopIn' initiative, celebrating independent retailers in Canada. On Saturday, November 28 (following tomorrow's Black Friday), you're encouraged to visit your local merchants, take a picture and tag it with hashtag #ShopIn. Retailers can also get involved, and RCC has created a retailer tool kit. For more information, visit www.rccshopin.ca.
*All photos via facebook.com/illburyandgoose.