By Craig Patterson
An Australian women’s fashion brand that uses high-quality silk in its designs expanded its operations into Canada this month with its first storefront in Montreal. The brand is called ‘Silk Laundry’, and we spoke with the team behind the relatively new brand that already has two stores in Australia, as well as more than 50 stockists.
The new Montreal boutique opens this week at 2465 Notre-Dame St W in a 900 square foot space in the city’s Little Burgundy area. Ms. Kolodinski explained that the couple chose the area for its Montreal storefront because it is “up-and-coming” with “cool factor” that includes interesting retailers and restaurants. Aussie skin care brand Aesop operates one of its four Montreal locations nearby, as does the popular Joe Beef restaurant.
Designer Katie Kolodinski founded Silk Laundry in mid 2015 in partnership with her husband, Reece Rackley, who handles much of the business side. The family moved to Montreal last year in an endeavour to bring the Silk Laundry line to Canada, while at the same time being able to offer their children French-immersion schooling in Quebec. Katie Kolodinski grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and met her husband Reece in Australia. The couple says that they are enjoying Canada, though the weather is a big change — Katie had less of an adjustment however, having grown up in this country.
Ms. Kolodinski said that she saw a gap in the market about six years ago when she was seeking items for her own wardrobe. She said she had trouble finding high-quality fabrics that would be comfortable in the 35-degree heat in the summers in Queensland — polyester can make one feel rather unpleasant in such weather, she explained. Also having difficulty finding attractive silk dresses and camisoles, friends of hers would bring pieces back from travels to places such as New York City.
She started designing clothing made from silk in her home, which was convenient given that she and her husband had two small children. Self-taught Ms. Kolodinski had been experimenting with sewing and fashion design for years.
Silk Laundry proved to be a hit early on, and retailers across Australia began to pick up the line. The family made the decision last year to open its first standalone retail store in an effort to showcase the brand in a curated and controlled environment. In May of 2018, Silk Laundry’s first storefront opened at 50 James Street in Brisbane, which was followed by a second storefront at the Pacific Fair Shopping Centre in the Gold Coast in November of 2018.
The couple explained how having a retail store allows them to choose their own staff while controlling the merchandising, displays, and overall store environment. “I wanted to give the brand its own physical experience,” said Ms. Kolodinski, “and more than just a rack in another store”.
Silk Laundry dresses are priced in the $200 to $350 range typically, which Ms. Kolodinski describes as being “affordable luxury”. While pricier than fast fashion, the idea is that Silk Laundry’s high-quality garments will become key pieces in a woman’s wardrobe for years to come.
“One beautiful dress can be worn over and over again,” she explained. Rather than being ‘trendy’ designs that go out of fashion after a year, Silk Laundry’s designs are meant to be timeless. Being cut on a bias, Silk Laundry’s designs are also versatile and can be worn by women of various shapes and sizes. Ms. Kolodinski explained she was able to wear her own existing Silk Laundry during her pregnancy, and that she was able to comfortably wear the same pieces afterwards as well.
Ms. Kolodinski explained that she designs pieces the way that she would like to wear, with a goal that people will wear the pieces for years to come as opposed to buying something that is “noticeably on trend”.
Looking to future product expansion, she said that she’s looking at soft-suiting such as blazers, bias-cut pants and other items that can be worn to work. Cutting on a bias without buttons and zippers means that pieces can be worn comfortably, and that a consumer can “go a size up or down and still look great”.
More product categories are in the works according to the couple, including handbags and shoes, with details to follow. “There’s room for expansion,” explained Katie, who said that growth would be careful but that she has a vision for her products that will be fashioned out of the highest quality silk.
The versatility and durability of silk is what drew Ms. Kolodinski to work with the material. In World War I, silk was used as parachute material. Silk dries quickly after it gets wet in the rain, and it can be hand-washed easily or taken to an eco dry-cleaner if necessary.
One of Silk Laundry’s goals is “to create awareness through fashion” and late last year, the band launched a dress to promote the recolonization of the bee population. The popular dress, embellished with small gold bees, has been a popular item.
“Creating the brand was never about money,” said Katie. “I wanted to do good for the world, including quality design and quality fabrication while also creating awareness”.
Silk Laundry soft-launched its Canadian e-commerce site last month ahead of this month’s physical store opening. The intended goal is to drive sales across both e-commerce and physical channels, and studies have shown a ‘halo effect’ between the two — when a brand opens a physical storefront, online traffic jumps as much as 37% nearby, according to an ICSC study recently discussed in Retail Insider.
For its Canadian expansion, Silk Laundry will first focus on its new Montreal storefront as well as expanding its e-commerce operations. That will be followed by initiating a rollout into new markets by wholesaling in multi-brand retailers. Silk Laundry’s headquarters are on the Gold Coast, Australia, however Montreal will become the North American headquarters. The Montreal office will focus on the local market and handling garment design, though some designs will continue to be done in Sydney and Shanghai.
“We believe in being a global brand,” said Katie, “and as such, we believe in flexibility in where Silk Laundry is headquartered, with the intention of operating globally”.
Now located in Toronto, Craig is a retail analyst and consultant at the Retail Council of Canada. He's also the Director of Applied Research at the University of Alberta School of Retailing in Edmonton. He has studied the Canadian retail landscape for the past 25 years and he holds Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Laws Degrees. He is also President & CEO of Vancouver-based Retail Insider Media Ltd. Email Craig: email@example.com