Sometimes the simplest idea can boost a business and take it to the next level of growth. That was what happened when Tuck Shop Trading Co.’s founder Lyndsay Borschke quickly sketched a custom toque on a napkin while sipping a hot java in a downtown Toronto café in 2013.
“I spent a lot of time developing cottage coats and cashmere accessories, but when I came up with the idea of an acrylic toque with neighbourhood names on it, I thought there’s no harm in sampling it and seeing what happens,” she says. “I brought the idea home to my husband (Chris Pigott), but he didn’t like it because it was an afterthought and said it wasn’t going to work.”
He was wrong. More than 60,000 City of Neighbourhoods toques and three years later, the clothing line has really taken off, eh, achieving a popularity in both the Great White North, as well as the U.S., that has left its creator a little astounded. The line, designed in Canada and manufactured in North America, has expanded beyond toques to include t-shirts, sweatshirts, jackets, ball caps and even home accessories.
“A toque, with a pompom and being proud of where you are from – that’s what it is in a nutshell,” she says. “It (the line) pays tribute to a particular neighbourhood. In essence, we pioneered a trend in the fashion industry that lets people rep their “hood or city in a fashionable way.”
The City of Neighbourhoods – one of Toronto’s many monikers – started by showcasing local neighbourhoods in Hogtown, but then quickly branched out to Montreal, London (Ontario), Vancouver and Ottawa. Now, as a result of demand driving growth, it has expanded across Canada and into major U.S. cities like Boston, Chicago and New York.
Both sales and the brand got a boost, before its official launch, during the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) when musicians and actors, including Method Man, Cara Delevigne, Lena Dunham and Hilary Duff sported the company’s toques on the red carpet.
Toques retail for $38 and the company is proud to promote that all of its products are designed in Canada and made solely in North America.
Inspiration for the company’s “lux, yet cosy and ready-to-wear” men and women’s clothing lines comes from a hybrid lifestyle – one spent between the rural, tranquil surroundings at the family’s cottage on Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake as well as the hustle and bustle of Canada’s largest city.
“My mother-in-law had an old Woolrich – a long-standing outdoor clothing company — coat that she had worn when she was at the cottage,” Borschke says. “I thought how cool would that be if we take it, modernize it and make it more useful and stylish.”
That was the beginning of what would become Tuck Shop Trading Co. — inspired by Borschke’s tenure in her youth as a tuck shop procurement manager at a summer camp. The company officially launched in 2014. Today, Borschke has grown the business from a one-person e-commerce shop to a bricks and mortar location in Toronto, with three full-time and four part-time employees.
Borschke has employed an incremental approach to growth and exporting.
“I’m a firm believer in going slow,” she says. “We invested heavily, based on our success on home turf. Expansion into new markets requires patience and persistence.”
And it’s paid off. Currently, the company’s products are found in more than 40 shops throughout North America, including Simon’s and Sporting Life in addition to selling worldwide via its e-commerce site. Many of the customers are ex-pats who want to showcase their Canadian roots.
The biggest market to date is domestic, but Borschke expects that to change over the next couple of years courtesy of a new partnership with the Hudson Bay Company and subsidiary Lord & Taylor, the oldest luxury retail store south of the border.
And that was a “big win” for Tuck Shop Trading Co. Now its clothing lineup will get exposure to many more markets.
“Starting this fall, you will be able to find our products across Canada at the Bay and throughout the U.S. at Lord & Taylor,” says Borschke. “We wanted to build our brand to the point where majors like The Bay were intrigued by what we were doing. After a bit of persistence and some key connections we were able to land a deal with them. That (deal) will definitely help bolster our export sales moving forward.”
Getting to this point has been a result of creativity combined with persistence. Being first to market also helped.
“We’re still very much in start-up mode so I’m wary of admitting to success,” Borschke says. “We are still trying to meet goals and striving for longevity in the marketplace. Slow and steady wins the race, right?”
Winning that race includes finding more partners in various cities across North America, Europe and Asia.
“We’ve decided that it’s best to partner with a local brand or retailer to hit home the idea of City of Neighbourhoods in new markets,” she says. “Learning about targeted markets and finding local partners has been our recipe for success so far.”
“We’d like to open stand-alone Tuck Shops in the cities we have developed our City of Neighbourhoods line for, and we would like to continue to see our wholesale business grow globally,” she says. “You could say it’s taking over the world one neighbourhood at a time.”
That’s an export strategy that’s really taking off. And one that would make the Great White North’s famous toque-wearing hosers, brothers Bob and Doug McKenzie proud.