As far as categories go, the premium streetwear space is a scene. With a tapestry of product that ranges from the plain and uncomplicated to the opulent and outrageous, it captures the essence of today’s youthful, aspirational consumer, revealing a taste that is as eclectic as it is cultured. It’s a scene typified by rare and limited-run items that are often the product of exclusive, high-profile collaborations, and is one that has been represented by an outlying niche audience for the better part of the last couple decades. However, a surge over recent years in the popularity and interest in acquiring these difficult-to-obtain products has resulted in their increased demand and a broadening of the segment to include more of a mainstream clientele. It represents an interesting shift in the space. And, for retailers that can recognize the shift, like Vancouver-based consignment streetwear purveyor, PLUS, the opportunities that arise are as unique as the products it sells.
Founded in late 2017 by Ibrahim Itani and Andy Zhu – a pair of young entrepreneurs sharing a friendship and mutual enthusiasm related to streetwear – the retailer is a relative newcomer to the industry. Offering a scope of product that includes limited streetwear and footwear produced by contemporary brands like Supreme, Off-White, BAPE and Nike, as well as collectors’ items and other obscure memorabilia, the company opened its first location in Vancouver’s lively and trendy Gastown. The store was intended to fill what Itani and Zhu perceived as something of a vacuum in the city and surrounding area – a need and want for the range of premium, curated, exclusive goods that it makes accessible to its customers. And in very short order, the pair’s high-end boutique concept proved a success, almost immediately becoming one of the city’s most popular streetwear fashion destinations. Today, just three years following its introduction to the scene, PLUS enjoys the standing as the only premium streetwear retailer in Canada with a national presence, operating four locations in Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
Strong Customer Connections
It’s a standing that Itani recognizes as an important one concerning the growth of the company, describing it as the result of its belief in its customer and dedication toward supporting the expansion of the segment. And it’s a belief and dedication that are at the moment paying dividends for PLUS, allowing it to cultivate strong connections with its fashion patrons, fueling the retailer’s early success. It’s a customer-first philosophy that Itani explains is deliberate, and has even been captured in the meaning found within the company’s name – an acronym that stands for ‘People Like Us’.
“The PLUS customer is unique,” he explains. “They have unique tastes and preferences and possess a style and perspective on fashion that’s usually pretty niche. They’re often prepared to search for the specific items they want and are willing to spend money on them when they find them, too. And that’s very much a part of who we are as a company and as individuals. Our customers are people like us, sharing the same tastes, aspirations and desires as fellow streetwear collectors. We’re just in the position as a retailer to be able to satisfy their tastes and begin to cater to the interests of a bit of an underserved and growing market in Canada, of which we’re a part of as buyers.”
Collectors at Heart
Itani and Zhu, both in their early twenties, started as collectors during their high school years, each developing a fascination and keen passion for discovering these hard-to-find items that could complement their wardrobes and collections. Today, leveraging a flexible, multi-source buying strategy, PLUS is able to maintain an impressive inventory at its locations in Vancouver’s Pacific Centre, Chinook Centre in Calgary, Square One in Mississauga and its recently opened flagship store in Toronto’s prestigious Yorkdale Shopping Centre. The quick growth experienced by the company could seem to represent quite a feat for the two young streetwear enthusiasts. But, don’t for a second underestimate the business acumen that they’ve already collectively acquired, a way of running the business that seems to come naturally to the duo as they continue to monitor market trends to identify opportunities for further growth and expansion of the PLUS brand.
“The premium streetwear segment within the fashion industry has changed quite a bit through the years,” says Itani. “As a result of the explosion of social media, combined with the world we live in which is becoming increasingly connected through the internet and other digital technologies, there’s greater exposure to these styles and types of product. What was once a very niche market has now started to cross over into the mainstream. We wanted to get in front of this trend. To do that, we made the decision to open locations in major malls across the country. The decision allows us to continue growing organically, making our offering available to an even wider audience, connecting with even more people like us.”
A Unified Brand Experience
It’s with this confident attitude and adept understanding of the market and the customers that the retailer serves that allows PLUS it’s greatest advantage, separating it from others operating in the secondary resale realm. That and, of course, the product that it carries. With price tags that range from $150 to many-thousands of dollars, the retailer offers an array of exclusive, limited-run footwear and streetwear items, as well as art, branded accessories and just about everything else in between. It also leverages a clever and tasteful store design that’s complementary to the brand and the products it offers, and is one that’s consistent across PLUS’ growing network of stores.
In addition, PLUS has also managed to seamlessly integrate its online and in-store experiences for customers. It offers a robust website and e-commerce platform enabling online browsing and ordering while maintaining and leveraging its many customer profiles across its network, ensuring the same consistent engagement and service in all of its stores. In speaking with Itani, it’s clear that the uniformity of the PLUS brand and its national presence is a real point of pride for the company, and one that continues to drive the company forward.
“We want our customers to enjoy the same excellent experience with us, whether online or in one of our four stores across the country,” he asserts. “By providing them with the same high-quality product and expert service and advice with every interaction they have with our brand, we’re able to develop deep, meaningful relationships with them. It allows us to continuously understand changes in the market and the ever-evolving tastes and preferences of our audience and the styles that interest them.”
Plans for Continued Growth
PLUS’ understanding of its customer, combined with an uncanny awareness of frequently changing styles and an acute sense of the trends that help shape these evolutions, is also reflected in the ongoing modifications and alterations the company makes to the product and items it carries. Itani explains that there’s something of an ebb and flow to the streetwear market and the fashions customers of the segment are looking for, and that it’s PLUS’ job to ensure that those appetites and inclinations are mirrored in its offering. It’s an attention to these details of the business that further differentiates the company. And, on top of going out of its way to provide its customers with the brands and styles that satisfy their fashion desires, Itani points to the value of the creative relationships and partnerships that PLUS has developed. Within an industry and segment sometimes blighted by fraudulent knock-offs and counterfeit product, PLUS can guarantee by virtue of its connections that the items for sale in its locations are genuine and authentic. It serves to legitimize the brand as an honest source for streetwear product and another way in which it connects with its clientele, providing a solid platform for future growth.
And, with respect to the company’s future growth plans, Itani is as bullish about the opportunities that lay ahead for PLUS as he is about the continued growth of the premium streetwear category. Though he curbs his excitement just a bit, recognizing the unique pandemic period that we’re all currently living through and the ways in which many within the retail industry have been so negatively impacted, he remains optimistic, still seeing a lot of untapped potential for the company to reach even more fans of the unique product that the company carries.
“We want to continue growing. There are a lot of major urban markets that are highly concentrated where we feel our offering would fill a need. With this in mind, we want to extend our presence across the country and expand our online footprint. Looking ahead, once we’ve firmly established the brand within the Canadian market, we’ll maintain our aggressive growth strategy, looking for and identifying opportunities to expand our offering and reach internationally. But, for now, we’re focused on providing the best unified shopping experience for our Canadian customers and continuing to deliver to them the highest quality store design, service and product allocation possible. If we continue on this path, the possibilities for PLUS are endless.”