Buying into the transparency trend, B.C. retailers are inviting customers behind the scenes

Listening in on shoppers is all in a day’s work for the team at Dish & Du/er, a recent addition to Vancouver’s athleisure line-up. In its hipster Gastown perch, the local brand doubles down on tech-forward fabrics (think pants that look like jeans but act like no-smell, no-sweat stretchy workout gear), but its out-of-the-box thinking also extends to what’s going on behind the scenes—except nothing goes on behind the scenes. From the design process to marketing, every part of the administrative and creative process is out in the open—even if that practice means occasionally overhearing people in the nearby change rooms. Which is exactly the point.

“When we launched our flagship store, we wanted to keep it as close to our office as possible, to make sure we stayed close to our customers to hear what they want and what they like,” explains co-founder Gary Lenett. “We then design for their needs—a bonus is that our office staff is so physically close to them that we can jump in when they have questions.”

Listening in is part of the experiment at Lululemon Lab, too. The Lab, also housed in a Gastown boutique, is one of only two worldwide; the other is in New York. As its name suggests, it’s an incubator for brand creatives to engage in a hyper-local, street-level process: from conceptual design, pattern cutting and sewing to liaising with people browsing the retail space, nothing is hidden.

Collections are designed with Vancouverites in mind—one-off pieces might be more monochromatic, while New York’s may riff on more pattern and colour. Once lines are hatched, they land weeks later on racks just a few metres away where designers can see what sells and what doesn’t.

Much like the Slow Food movement, knowing whom you’re buying from, how they create their products and what they stand for makes sense in a world of fast fashion. Hermès, the maker of luxury leatherwear and scarves, has opted to take its transparency global. The Hermès at Work festival, launched in 2010 (it stopped in Vancouver for five days last September), is a travelling exhibit that journeys around the world to showcase goods handcrafted in real time by artisans who have been flown in from workshops in France. Fashionistas and schoolchildren alike can observe these venerable, bygone métiers—from porcelain painting to saddlemaking—to better know the Hermès process, but also to celebrate the broader ideal of craftsmanship.

On a smaller but more permanent scale at Holt Renfrew's swish new men’s floor in Vancouver, tailors and seamstresses sit fully visible behind glass windows in an ode to old-school haberdashery. Watching pants get hemmed may not be riveting to everyone, but that isn’t the goal. Seeing clothes being designed, cut, sewn or simply altered is part of knowing a brand on a deeper level.

Whether it’s all just a marketing strategy or a bona fide ethos, such openness is bringing consumers and brands closer together. It seems seeing really is believing—in this case, in something greater.

 

Fresh Take

Lush CosmeticsLush Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, whose North American head office is in Vancouver, recently launched a YouTube channel where viewers can watch compounders artfully mix the company’s food-grade products in real time.