Industry Insiders: Smythe CEO on Canadian retail and investing in female-founded startups
As high interest rates weigh on household spending in Canada, the CEO of Toronto-based fashion retailer Smythe says the company is seeing rising demand for blazers.
“We’ve actually had a very interesting fall as we’ve seen extremely robust growth,” Kathryn From told in BNN Bloomberg in a Tuesday interview.
Smythe’s blazers, which cost around $800, are attracting new customers as shoppers who would normally buy more expensive designer brands are cutting costs, From said.
“You get a lot of women who would have been buying on the designer level happily spending three to four thousand dollars on a blazer, now … not wanting to spend that much money,” said From.
“This has actually been an interesting opportunity and time for us to acquire new customers into the Smythe brand.”
She’s also spotted another trend in the Canadian retail market: Canadian women prioritizing new outfits as they return to the office.
“They want something that’s going to make them feel very confident,” From said. “While they may not be spending a lot of money on six or seven pieces, they have no problem buying a couple of pieces to make them look more updated.”
MOVING AWAY FROM DEPARTMENT STORES
Smythe has shifted how it approaches customers, moving away from department stores and prioritizing opening their own retail locations across Toronto.
“I don’t think people shop in department stores the way that they used to,” she pointed out. “I think omnichannel is really the way to go for all retail brands these days.”
Nordstrom shut down its stores across Canada in June – a big hit to Smythe, From said, as the brand was selling its clothing in Nordstrom Canada stores.
Since then, the company has prioritized diversifying the ways it can get clothes to consumers.
“Over the years we’ve diversified our selling strategy and channels. We have made tremendous inroads in our own ecommerce channel,” From said, adding that the company has plans to open more retail stores in the coming years, in addition to its existing Toronto location.
“By having your own channels as well, you can protect yourself from future events like the Nordstrom bankruptcy, which certainly hit a lot of brands hard,” noted From.
Smythe clothing is still sold through Nordstrom U.S. locations.
INVESTING IN FEMALE-FOUNDED BUSINESSES
Smythe founders Andrea Lenczner and Christie Smythe are also a part of From’s investor group, the Wonder Collective. The tight-knit group of 16 women act as angel investors in small female-founded startups.
“I’m an entrepreneur, and after I left my business ten years ago, I really wanted to stay plugged in to that community,” From said.
Almost ten years ago, From left the retail business she started to found Wonderment Ventures with her business partner.
She started up The Wonder Collective two years ago with the goal of getting more women into angel investing.
For From, it’s critical to pick quality businesses that can expand globally but are small enough to really make investing dollars count.
“There’s a lot of money out there for AI and tech, but I think less in brand-forward consumer spaces,” said From. “We are focusing on female entrepreneurs who are operating in a consumer product space.”
When it comes to picking a start-up to invest in, she said it often comes down to passion.
“As an entrepreneur, I love being a part of that roller coaster and journey, I’m just doing it now from the other side of the table as an investor,” From said.
“Hopefully, bringing my expertise and all the mistakes I’ve learned along the way will help those entrepreneurs as they go through their own journey.”