If you happen to walk on the hype Queen Street West in Toronto you may notice on the lush grass of Trinity Bellwood Park just next to the sidewalk, a cloth rack, a table and a box. A banner will inform you that this is a POP-UP store. The merchandise consists of jersey t-shirts, henleys, shorts, trousers, and underwear, all for men and all in black, white and some grey. The models are basic with a Goth chic sportive undertone, the fabrics are mostly organic cotton and bamboo and they feel great. Wes Misener is a 30 years old Canadian from Northern British Columbia. He is the man lying on a blanket often resting his head on a suitcase, reading his book, watching people and the traffic and apparently selling well. Wes is a self taught entrepreneur and creative director of the label carrying his name. I met him on Friday June 21 Fashion design is only a component of what Wes does running his company since 2009.
He became interested in clothes after a stint in modelling – that has also brought him to Athens for castings but also some memorable party times. It was through modelling that he started appreciating the fabric, cut, folding and feeling of a nice garment. Nowadays, the quality of stitching has become very important too.
A proud mentor has been helping Wes with marketing and business advice. He will remain anonymous but is himself a 50 years old very successful fashion entrepreneur who as Wes said, wants to give back to the community and help young creative talents succeed, while at the same time learn from his young mentees.
Finding a street vendor with-a-twist on Queen West fascinated me because Wes doesn’t sell crap and counterfeits, but thoughtfully designed and sustainable clothes. Most of his merchandise is made in Canada and still his prices are very competitive. In his POP-UP store there is a box with offers of 5CAD that seem like gifts to passers by. His pop-up prices are between 5 and 59 Canadian Dollars (approx. 3,5 to 45 Euros), which for the product quality that Wes offers is quite a bargain. The operation centre of his company as well as living space and work studio is a small place that Wes rents for a reasonable price. He always tries to be cost effective so that he generates income that allows him to maintain his production standards and have a dissent life. Wes at times was selling his clothes in markets (such as farmers’ markets) but it wasn’t financially interesting. He also wholesaled his products to smaller retailers but that business model entailed higher risk for him getting his money. Wes realised the idea of the POPUP store in public spaces – such as the Trinity Bellwood Park one of the main parks of the City of Toronto – first time in 2012. Ever since he is an avid believer of this formula, which he is perfecting as he goes. The sale turnover wasn’t great early on, but with time Wes has understood the secrets of promoting his gear on the street: he pays more attention to presentation, he invested in the setting of the POP-UP store and he now has a stylish banner informing the public what the whole thing is about. Nowadays, Wes told me his turnover is consistent and profitable. He is understandably happy to be financially able to plan with more confidence more high quality collections made in Canada. Understandably too he has plans to try his POP-UP store formula in other cities in Canada and the US (he mentioned Montreal and New York). The POP-UP operates between 14:00 st 2013 and had a nice chat. and 18:30 on sunny days, and while Wes is prepared for “retail lightening” to strike at any time, sales normally peak between 17:30 and 19:00. The operating formula that Wes is perfecting is described between the lines above but let me take you through a couple of important details. Wes doesn’t pay any permission fees for his POP-UP store. He doesn’t know if the City of Toronto, and the department of Parks, Forestry and Recreation would charge him but nobody has harassed him so far. Police has stopped and talked to him but never asked for any permission. Then I asked Wes what happens with taxation. Since his annual business gross turnover isn't above a certain limit he is not obliged to include tax on his POP-UP store sales. These two factors have been important incentives for his POP-UP store and allow Wes to maintain very reasonable prices. Many young creative people and artists stop by and ask Wes how he does what he does. He shares his experience but hasn’t seen anyone else trying his formula.
For Wes Misener pop-ups are great ways to do market research and to see what makes people tick; this way he can improve his merchandise. He also loves the dynamism of the street as well as interacting with the public. Believe it or not, he has given products without receiving the normal upfront cash payment. He swears though that never did a client not pay him afterwards. This level of trust building and Zen marketing is quite astonishing in a city as diverse as Toronto with half of it’s population foreign born. In these times of fiscal crisis, I see that a great deal of creative people suffer making a living. Design-products are struck from the average consumers’ list of necessities as pure luxury. If more cities would facilitate such creative entrepreneurial urban interventions, and weather permitting, I think that Wes Misener’s formula of pop-up store/street vending would work miracles. It is however important to remember that Wes is sincerely proud of what he offers to the public. For more information and the website and online store of Wes Misener click here: and here
Photos courtesy of Wes Misener