A leggy blonde emerges from a change room, gazing into the three-way mirror at her pin-up model reflection. Wearing nothing but a knitted sweater pulled down over her hips and a pair of tan cowboy boots, she hinges over at the waist, perking her bottom toward the ceiling as her long hair sweeps toward the floor.
She casually twists around to inspect another angle in the mirror, checking to see if her lacy gear would be exposed should the knitted top inch up ever so slightly. It resembles some bizarre mating ritual that leaves onlooking shoppers gaping. The young 20-something exhibitionist smiles to herself, and pulls the sweater down as she stands up straight. “Too short?” She sighs, catching my eye. Up until this moment, I had been attempting to meld seamlessly into the background of the ever-fluctuating crowd swelling in and out of the Aritzia dressing room. Caught off guard, I awkwardly stammer, “That would look great with a pair of leggings,” cursing myself silently for the lame reply. “Or, maybe some, uh, tapered jeans?” Yes, this girl is in need of a pair of pants, I think. But I’m no pro at this. I am a merely a journalist imposter decked out in my most fashionable attire, scribbling notes on the sly as I observe reasons this hip clothing chain is one of B.C.’s best companies to work for. In fact, I’d borrowed the lines from something I’d heard a sales associate (as they are called throughout the clothing chain) mention earlier that day. It’s a busy afternoon in the Robson Street Aritzia, where some of the city’s trendiest and most compelling personalities splash out on designer fare. I am attempting to blend anonymously among staff as they dash around the shop tending to shoppers, which vary from students to fashionistas and working professionals. Many celebrities have also perused the shop floor, including Jessica Alba, Pamela Anderson, Jessica Simpson and Katie Holmes. “They love our exclusive labels, especially TNA [Talula National Athletics],” says shop manager Connie Merai, 26. “Mena Suvari bought a whole bunch of cargo pants from here, casual stuff. And Scarlett Johansson’s mom phoned from L.A. to order 10 tops for her.” Wendy Wu, the shop’s top seller, says working at Aritzia is all about making customers leave “feeling great” about their purchases. The 27-year-old senior sales associate, dressed in a short paisley summer dress cinched at the waist with a wide mocha belt and paired with slouched suede boots, is just the sort of woman you’d trust to spice up your wardrobe. “Even if a customer is coming in for a tank top, our job is to tell them to try a longer one, or try layering. They end up leaving with a few items,” she says. “Instead of the traditional black and white suit, for example, maybe try a pink blouse with a grey suit. We’re here to point them in a new direction. Maybe give them something more edgy.” About 30 people work at the Robson Street shop, which Merai says is one of Aritzia’s busiest. The Vancouver-based company employs 539 staff in its 21 stores across Canada, and has plans to expand into the U.S. next year. It takes a certain type of someone to do the work here. Not only do they have to have a sense of fashion, but a youthful energy and confidence are also essential. “I like the Aritzia culture and the people,” says associate manager Fred Villarosa, 34, who adds he was the first male staffer to join the company eight years ago. Sales incentives, excellent training, health and dental benefits, clothing discounts and the ability to advance your career are other benefits of the job, he adds. Floor manager Kimberly Oakford, 25, admits it was the “sense of fashion” that attracted her to Aritzia at first. “We’re definitely a fashion-forward company,” she explains, adding, “There’s a real sense of camaraderie here.” Ashley Johnson, 23, who has been working for Aritzia for almost six years, says she feels the company really cares for its staff. “My apartment burnt down, for example, and they gave me all these clothes,” she enthuses. “It’s a great place to work. I’m into the fashion side of things but I think it’s the people who make me stay.” Back at the changing rooms, Wendy Wu slings a black baby doll top over a curtain. “Here, you should try this on top of the white tank top,” she calls out. Moments later, a tanned Desperate Housewives-esque woman in her early 40s sashays out in the suggested top and a dark pair of fitted jeans. “This is cute,” says the glamorous figure, leaving a trail of perfume in her wake. Before long, she is ushered to the till, and the cycle continues. RELATED ARTICLES: Best companies to work for in B.C. Handle with care No sweat Jet set That's amore