The owners of Dundas West boutique Lost & Found unveil a new menswear-store/book-shop concept in north Yorkville.
Jonathan Elias and Justin Veiga, owners of Dundas West’s Lost & Found, have teamed up with two of their former customers, Michael Fong and Paul Shkordoff, in a new retail venture. Combining men’s contemporary clothing on the main floor with an art and photography book-shop in the basement, Working Title is set to open this Thursday (Sept. 5). We got a sneak peek.
Getting started: While Elias had always planned on opening another store, the arrival of Working Title came sooner than expected. “More than anything, it was the right time for us,” he says, “Everything just came together in terms of partners, brands, space, and opportunity. I didn’t think we’d open up another store so quick, but this was just the perfect storm.”
The relationship between Elias and Shkordoff is an important element of this convergence. “We noticed that there was a good balance, even though we have different approaches,” says Shkordoff.
“He’s like a creative director and I’m like a CEO,” says Elias.
Shkordoff’s background in film and media helps push the store’s creative vision beyond clothing. “I’ve always been interested in visual media and visual arts,” he says. “I was getting ready to go back to school and I was wondering, ‘What’s next?’ I didn’t just want to do a clothing store—I want it to become a platform for other creative projects.”
Mixing media: One of these other creative projects includes the book shop, which turned out much more robust than they had initially expected. “The space dictated the concept,” says Shkordoff. “We initially hadn’t planned on doing such a large art and photography book shop—we naturally assumed that we would only have one floor and were only going to bring in 20 or 25 titles. But when we found the space and it was two floors, we decided to do a full book shop and bring in 150 titles and 15 publications.’”
Shkordoff sees natural connection between the two floors. “It’s meant to offer a different facet rather than just clothes,” he says. “But we see a correlation and a relationship between the two and I think a lot of the different brands we carry—Patrick Ervell, Engineered Garments, Etudes, MHL—are designers who aren’t as much concerned with function as they are with the history of fashion, and you can see a dialogue running through the course of each collection that they do. These are artists, cloth is their medium, and we want there to be that sort of relationship between the clothes and the books.”
Location, location, location: When looking for a space, midtown was the focus right from the start. “If we were to open up in the west end, I feel like we would just be another west-end store,” says Shkordoff. “You can do something that’s young and hip and put it somewhere else—the cultural hub should be stretched out across the city. The west end is becoming too self-contained.”
The location of the store allows them to reach a new demographic. “Toronto is huge,” says Elias, “and at Lost & Found we barely hit one per cent of that. There are people in the east end and midtown who just don’t want to come out that way. It made sense for us to not move further west, but to more of a mainstream area, where we could do more contemporary, avant-garde fashion.”
However much neighbourhood plays a role, Working Title still needs to maintain its identity. “You don’t let your location limit you,” says Shkordoff. “Yes, we’re near Yorkville, and you have to cater the store to the demographic a bit but, at the same time, because we’re not in Yorkville proper, we’re not dealing with the heavy foot traffic, so we need to do something a little bit different to give people a reason to walk the five minutes north.”
More is more: For Elias, expansion is key to his business strategy. “You have to grow,” Elias says. “I feel like if you don’t, you’ll become stagnant. [Change is important] not only just for growth purposes, but to keep your mind alive.”
The new business also means a changing role for Elias. “I’ll surrender more responsibility at Lost & Found,” he says, “because it’s a little bit more established now and we’ve hired a manager and I need to give more time to Working Title. But, at the end of the day, I’m hoping to remove myself from being on the frontlines all the time so that I can handle everything in the background. There’s just not enough time in the day to do both. It’s hard spending 10 hours a day on the floor selling and then spending another eight hours doing everything in the background.”
Online: The partners see the Working Title website—which will launch shortly after the brick-and-mortar store—as an equally important part of brand. “It opens you up internationally,” says Elias.
“That’s just the state of retail today,” says Shkordoff. “You have to be aware of a global audience. How do we serve a local need, but how do we resonate internationally as well? It’s checking off both boxes.”
Shkordoff envisions a dynamic presence for the site. “Having that be its own entity is interesting,” he says. “You can re-merchandise and redesign the layout of a store—you would never just have it be a static space for two years at a time—and I want the online store to feel like that as well. The way we shoot the model, the way we shoot the clothes, it’s ever evolving. But, at the same time, we’d like to create an aesthetic that’s immediately recognizable.”
Drawing on the past: Elias and Veiga’s previous experience has served them well throughout the process of opening a second store. “Lost & Found was just ridiculous,” Elias says. “It was just fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants. This time, we were able to do our buying in advance, and I had a better understanding of what we needed for the store, like a POS [point-of-sale] system. I went into it blind with Lost & Found and now I have two-and-a-half years of experience.”
Elias has learned over that time that, sometimes, it’s just as important to spend money as it is to save it. “We did it on a shoestring,” says Elias of Lost & Found. “It’s crazy how cheap we did it. Now, I’ve come to accept the fact that you have to spend money to make money. And that in itself is a hard lesson to learn, but it’s been a good lesson for me because it’s not something that I’ve ever focussed on. With Lost & Found, it was constantly about how can we save money here, how can we save money there, because we started off with nothing. With Working Title, we knew we had to make an investment in this space because of the location and because of the concept.”