Places I LOVE.   This is the first in what I hope will be an ongoing series on places or things that I love.  These will include places I've loved for years and new discoveries that I make. In all cases they will be places or products that I personally use and are not paid or solicited reviews. 

When I first moved to Vancouver 11 years ago I lived on 12th Avenue west near Granville Street.  It didn't take me long to discover the Plum Clothing store on the corner.  Moving here from Ontario I was a dedicated Winners and Gap shopper, so the locally owned and operated Plum was a nice change for me.  I didn't assess my love of the store strategically at the time. I just loved their selection of reasonably priced stylish clothes in a wide range of sizes.  I also really liked the staff at the store.  I would go into the store + I would find clothes I loved &  that fit me = LOVE Plum. And I was helped by a sales staff that gave me good feedback and information on the items I was considering (they even talked me out of a few pieces... and they were right to do it). I particularly love their dresses (my favourite purple "go to" dress is from Plum), skirts, tops and accessories (my fantastic green statement necklace is from Plum).  I also bought my winter camel coloured pea-jacket there about 7 years ago (which I only I just retired this spring).  

When I learnt more about this local business I realized the clothes...

  • fit me because they used a size 8 fit model, who had hips and a chest
  • were stylish because they weren't designed for an "age"  (Plum has a European attitude about fashion; "because we feel that quality styles can be worn by all women, regardless of their age". Hear hear!)
  • are proudly Canadian, with a majority of their product designed and made in Canada - check out their "Proudly Canadian" policy.

I am often checking out the Plum website, to see what is new and what is on sale (and yes you can buy online, but I'm an online browser and shop in-person kind of gal). When I was thinking about who I would like to include in my "Places I Love" feature I thought about Plum.  They had a contact us form on their site so I sent them a note and asked who I should contact for an interview - all the time thinking it would take them a while to get back to me so I could prepare my questions.  Ed des Roches responded in less than 5 minutes.  He and Kate O'Brien are co-owners in business and also partners in life.  Kate is the buyer/merchandiser and Ed is the VP.   I like that they don't have big fancy titles, says to me that they are more invested in the business than egos.

So instead of me trying to tell you about their business, see below their answers to my e-interview with them.  My regular readers will be sure to see that I share many of Kate's opinions about fashion - especially accessories.  Please feel free to chime in via comments with thoughts about Plum or more questions for Ed and Kate.  

Why did you start Plum?   

Kate - Plum was started in May 1981 by me as a small store on fourth Avenue in Kitsilano . I carried both men’s and woman’s second hand. I never did consignment as I was cocky enough to believe (at the time) that if it was good enough to put in my store I could sell it, so I bought directly from the customer.

After one year I started purchasing ends of lines in Montreal just kept evolving from there.

 About a year or two into the business it was doing really well but we wanted to have a child so Ed agreed to put off his MBA and join me in the business temporarily. Well needless to say he never left.

What do you love most about the fashion business?

Kate - It’s funny but after over nearly 30 years in the business there are still so many aspects of the business that I love and it isn’t always the business side of it.   What I love is fashion. I have to say that after all this time I am as excited by fashion (if not more so) than I was when I started.  I get so inspired by the evolution of fashion. I have been in love with fashion since I was a little girl. There is never a boring time in fashion.  There is always something. Right now I think fashion is the best it has been because there is literally some thing great for every age and every body type. I don’t get into my stores as much as I would like but when I do I have so much fun dressing woman of all ages. I get to help them see what they can do to make themselves look great and feel great.

Ed - The marketing. It is always a huge challenge and with fashion there is always something new that can be tried. Marketing strategy is being reinvented with social networking and digital communications. It is in transition and is an exciting time.

What is the one thing that you believe makes Plum unique from other retailers? 

Kate - The fact that we are designing specifically for our customers about 50% off what we sell. Our fit model is not your traditional runway model that has no bust or hips. She is a size 8 not a zero. We have women in our design department that are ages 21 to 62 and sizes 2 to 14 < so we are very aware of the range of body types and ages and we design to satisfy a really variety of woman who want to wear the current trends.

 Ed - We are very advanced in our technologies compared to other retailers of our size.  Even some larger retailers would have a hard time keeping up with us.  We have an excellent inventory management system, communication system, and web presence.  We also have developed a brand image of being very reliable, trustworthy, local and focused on our customers.

What challenges do you find as a Vancouver based retailer? 

Kate - Since we are a small company manufacturing locally, we must compete with huge companies that have very deep pockets for every aspect of retail. Having said that, we are very close to our market so we have a distinct advantage in that we can respond very quickly to our customers needs.

 Ed- ditto!

What challenges do you face trying to stay “Proudly Canadian”? 

Kate - We design and produce about 50% off what we sell. I would say that our biggest challenge is manufacturing fashion locally and still competing with all the off shore companies. At the end of the day most women want to look good in what they purchase and they want to stay on trend. If it is made in Canada they will feel good about that purchase but it isn’t usually the deciding factor so our product must be as good as what comes in offshore. (great fit is our big advantage to offshore).

 How do you pick the labels you carry?

Kate - They have to fit in with our fashion ascetic and complement what we are designing. The lines we carry must offer something that is on trend and something that we do not or cannot produce our selves. Many of the companies we deal with will also modify their own product for us to accommodate our needs. As an example The Kersh line every season produces a couple of their sweaters under their label, in our exclusive colours and fit.

We also travel far a field to get accessories that are unique to Plum. I feel that you can take an outfit from ordinary to extraordinary with the right accessories. We have been told that we have some of the best ranges of costume jewelry in the west…and our prices are very pocket friendly.

Where do you and your designers get inspiration for your in-house designs? 

Kate - Both Claudi (Agusti their in-house designer) and myself travel to Montreal, NY and LA. But we are also inspired by what we see on the street, in movies, TV, the web and fashion magazines. Today inspiration is everywhere and you never know when you will see a detail that will spiral off into some thing uniquely PLUM that reflects and enhances the trends.

Was it a conscious choice to design for real women (not the fashion ideal "0" and provide a variety of sizes? 

Kate - The big thing was that there was not a lot of great fitting fashion for the age range that we cater to that actually fit well. That was the biggest motivation.

 

Ed - Most retailers are successful (a North American marketing strategy) by targeting an age demographic.  This approach has been especially successful in shopping centres.  We take a more European point of view (European women tend to shop in all stores regardless of their age). We locate on the street and in neighbourhoods and offer fashion for women in a broad age range and we carry a broad range of styles.  We will often have mothers and daughters shopping although the daughters are seldom under 20.

 

As Kate mentioned we are very particular about fitting and since we produce a large percentage of our clothes right in Vancouver we are continuously on top of it.

What do you believe are the top 3 essential items in a woman’s summer wardrobe? 

  1. A light weight white shirt or blouse in linen, cotton or voile. Nothing looks better than a white in the summer.
  2. A great summer dress. Printed jersey or cotton.
  3. Cargo crops or cargo shorts with a great t-shirt or tank.

Kate - I am going on holidays next week and I expect to live in these things (of course I will be taking my boyfriend jeans for those cool summer evenings on the beach).

Any style tips for women on a budget?

Kate - If you cannot afford a piece of clothing accessories with update almost any look.

 For clothing you cannot go wrong with an LBD ( little black dress) or a black pencil skirt  If you choose the right one it can go from work (with a jacket or cardigan) evening with a shawl, heels and some great accessories.  I always have at least one black sheath dress in my wardrobe and when all else fails it is the best fashion backdrop.

 Do you have any fashion events coming up that my readers might want to know about? 

 Kate - For that budget conscious woman our complete spring and summer collection is now on sale up to 60% off.

 

When are your fall fashions expected to start to arrive in-store?

 Kate - Probably the first week of July we will be sending out some transitional collections. 

I hope to provide a future post with more on their upcoming fall line. But as we are only just starting to enjoy our summer I'll come back to that at a later date.

Note - The interview above is not completely in its entirety.  I asked a question around whether there was any resistance from the design community on Plum designing based on a size 8 versus the industry norm of size 0.  Ed had some really interesting points, which I'm going to examine in a future post.