By Jill Adams
Photography courtesy of Fresh Collective
Fresh Collective, a retail store in Toronto that brings local designers together, is celebrating 10 years in business.
“In 10 years, it’s completely transformed,” says Laura-Jean Bernhardson, Fresh Collective’s founder. Now, the store not only focuses on housing local design talent, but also on continually improving the business as a retail environment.
The store’s Product and Partner program offers unique selling partnerships to each designer. This might include hosting a trunk show or selling on consignment basis.
“It’s been a really nice evolution from what [Laura-Jean’s] original concept was,” says Mark Foreman, the designer behind Address Apparel, who joined Fresh Collective in the midst of its expansion and restructuring. “With this newer, stronger approach, Laura-Jean’s got a much bigger team around her and is really trying to expand the stores.”
Initially, Fresh Collective had a structure that was similar to a co-op, and the work was shared by the designers, with Bernhardson – also a designer at the time – as the leader. After opening a third location in Roncesvalles Village in 2011, she decided to expand her team significantly, and now has a store manager, a head of social media and a friendly sales team.
“Bringing in the sales people at the store level is incredible because they sort of ‘turn it up’ another notch,” says Mandy Armstrong, the designer behind Mandala Design – a line of vintage-inspired womenswear.
Armstrong, who first became involved with Fresh Collective before its expansion after meeting Bernhardson at the One of a Kind show in 2006, describes the store as being very comfortable. “You don’t feel like you can’t touch things or like the staff is staring,” she says. “It has lots of colour and interesting things that draw you in.”
Fresh Collective typically has the work of 25 to 35 local designers, who offer one-of-a-kind pieces, ranging from handmade jewelry and accessories to printed and vintage-inspired dresses.
Curious Oddities, a line of vintage and nautical-inspired jewelry designed by Kathyn Shura, is amongst Fresh Collective’s best sellers. The line features an assortment of pendant necklaces, charm bracelets and detailed earrings resembling birds or flowers.
Foreman, who joined Fresh Collective in 2011, has also quickly become a top-selling designer. His line of easy-to-wear women’s dresses is feminine and contemporary, offering classic silhouettes, such as the wrap or shirt dress.
“It feels like the first 10 years were just a practice run: we’ve worked out so many kinks and come so far,” says Berhardson.
She has plans to open more locations in the city and possibly across Canada: “The future feels big, exciting and juicy!”