There’s something about Toronto: Why U.S. fashion brands are opening here

There’s just something about Toronto! With a thriving fashion scene and street style galore, lately, the city has been attracting some new designers hoping to get in on the action — of the American variety. 

From athleisure wear to classic staples, jewelry and luxurious fabrics, this invasion of American brands has captivated fashion enthusiasts and trendsetters, who have eagerly embraced the influx of new styles from across the border.

With brands like James Perse leading the way a decade ago, a wave of American brands have made their mark on Toronto’s ever-evolving fashion landscape.

Leading the charge are renowned names such as Veronica Beard, Reformation, Psycho Bunny, Alo Yoga and Lafayette 148. 

But what is driving these brands to consider Toronto one place to call home? Liza Amlani, the principal and co-founder of Retail Strategy Group, points to a few key factors. 

“Across social and digital commerce, the data is showing us that Canadians are shopping across American brands, and their products are being shipped to Canada,” she says. “This informs these brands that Canadians have a desire to shop for products that they don’t find here [in the U.S.].”

Amlani adds that the COVID-19 pandemic also played a role in the rise of American brands in Toronto. The significant increase in online shopping over the past few years, ultimately, gave Canadians greater access to brands that were previously out of reach. 

Stephanie Unwin, president of New York City–based luxury brand Veronica Beard, which opened in Yorkville recently, also acknowledges this shift. 

“As American retailers have gained more access to data from their e-commerce businesses over the years, they have recognized the demand coming from the north and prioritized their Canadian expansion as a result,” says Unwin. 

She also notes that the Toronto customer is discerning and craves options. According to her, and based on the data, if Canadians can’t find what they’re looking for locally, they turn to online shopping or head south of the border.

“We have seen engaged Toronto women shopping online and in our boutiques throughout the U.S. We realized that there was not only customer demand but also excellent brand resonance and loyalty.”

As an ex-Torontonian herself, Unwin knows first-hand how Toronto’s budding arts, music and food scene — along with its strong sense of community and diversity — would make it a great place to house the brand’s flagship Canadian store.

So it was a no-brainer for the womenswear brand when it recently opened its doors in Yorkville. Unwin says the brand recognized the alignment between the Toronto customer and its core demographic. 

Veronica Beard isn’t the only American brand enticed by the draw of the city’s culture (and the promise of new customers with elevated taste). With brands such as Psycho Bunny and Reformation choosing Toronto as their first international outpost, it’s clear that the city is recognized as a growing fashion capital globally.

Of course, some may have doubts about the success of American brands in Canada, especially with the closures of retail giants like Nordstrom and Target. However, with even more brands set to expand into Canada — including John Elliott, reportedly — there truly is an appetite for fashion from the south. It’ll be interesting to see which American brand Toronto gets next.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO