How Toronto Shopping Destination WDLT117 Navigated COVID-19
Yorkville’s "best kept secret” offers up surprising design names and now, home décor.
When managing director of Yorkville’s WDLT177 boutique, Jason Morikawa, opened its doors in the summer of 2019, the space — curated, cool and full of names not typically seen in the Canadian shopping scene — was poised to become a must-visit for fashion lovers searching for the lines they typically only interacted with digitally. Or in some cases, that they didn’t know they needed to know.
Kolor, A.W.A.K.E Mode, Y/Project, Both and Bode were just a few of the labels one could find in an eclectic array housed in the grand two-level shop. “Our store is all about the experience,” Morikawa says. “People could come in and see new brands that they hadn’t seen before, or been able to touch before. So many emerging brands are online-focused, so we wanted to give them a home in Toronto.”
After a year of offering up a unique mix of men’s and women’s garments and accessories IRL, COVID-19 hit, and Morikawa suddenly had to make a major pivot; and not just in terms of taking buying appointments via video call — a great challenge for retailers who previously relied on in-person appointments to truly get a sense of the weight, fabric feel and movement of the items they were bringing into their shops.
“There’s only so much you can see on Zoom,” Morikawa says with a laugh, adding that WDLT117’s story also “needed to translate online.” So came a greater push to take its philosophy into the digital world; but also, to bring everything back home, in a sense, as well.
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In addition to ramping up the store’s e-comm experience, Morikawa — who has an extensive background in the Toronto luxury retail landscape, having worked for Holt Renfrew and Saks Fifth Avenue before launching this endeavour — expanded its niche into the housewares realm. You’ll now see quirky lines like Qeeboo and Ligne Blanche amongst WDLT117’s offerings. (Swedish brand Aveva’s felted planters have been of particular interest, because, well, plants.)
What’s been most crucial to Morikawa is that there’s no disconnect between the fashion and home goods; each piece speaks to the special moments he’s strived to give his customers access to all along. “They’re looking for a more diverse range of lesser-known brands,” he says. And he takes particular pride in the emphasis WDLT117 has had in supporting Asian designers based around the world. “We’ve noticed solid sales performance there,” he says of the appeal of unisex-focused label Feng Chen Wang, hat maker Kijima Takayuki, and Shushu/Tong’s playful wares.
Paris-based, sustainably-minded designer Marine Serre has also been a strong favourite for customers — unsurprising given the uptick in consumers being more mindful about their purchases, particularly throughout the last year. And a rise in interest around genderless garments has made Australian designer Dion Lee a hit.
These names noticeably serve up looks that fall on the fashion-forward yet casual side, and this vibe has certainly been what’s kept WDLT117 going during COVID-19. Morikawa is hopeful, though, that once lockdown eases and going out is a thing again, that people will “want to have some fun, and shake off the COVID nightmare. I see it kind of like the end of the Depression; the opulence came back and people started getting dressed again.” Here’s hoping.