Interview by Jenkin Au and Alan Ng
Words by Cornelius Suen
Photography by Alan Ng
Location: Toronto[Show Text Only Version][Hide Text Only Version]
Exclusivity rests behind the unmarked doors of Proper Reserve, an unassuming street wear and lifestyle store on Toronto’s Queen Street West. Proper Reserve is always on the lookout for unique and special products that are unknown to the masses and that only the customers willing to look and who are in the “know” will find. Exclusivity is the holy grail of retailers and Proper Reserve is doing all the right things to establish themselves as a bastion of exclusivity, from carrying minimal numbers of every item to not even having a store sign.
justalilhype! ventured behind the veil of Proper Reserve’s operation and had the opportunity to speak with Proper Reserve’s General Manager, Mario Anzola. Among the topics discussed were the differences between Toronto’s north and south sides for the purpose of business, multiculturalism’s addition to Toronto’s street wear scene, and the importance of supporting local artists and designers. “Seek and you will find” are the perfect words to describe Proper Reserve’s reserved retail strategy for the fashion gems that grace their shelves.
Can you introduce yourself to our readers?
My name is Mario Anzola. I am the General Manager here at Proper Reserve, 498 Queen Street West, Downtown Toronto.
Why did you choose Queen Street West?
Queen Street West was chosen for its varied walking crowd. For an urban clothing store, downtown is the location to be. This area is fashion forward and interested in food and music. You are going to have adventurous people who don’t know about the store and the brand and will walk in and find something they like. The store does not have a sign and we try to maintain a level of privacy and exclusivity through that. We don’t like carrying more than three or four of the same item. This ensures people that they won’t see twenty people with the item that they just purchased.
How did you come upon this specific location in 2009?
I didn’t choose the location. The owner, Bruce Wayne Yip, did. They were specific about having the business on the north side. Businesses that are focused on the south side will not have the same results when it comes to walking customers, sales, and interaction with the crowd. We also get more of the sun. At the end of the day and when we are facing those harsh winter days, we get more of the sun. Businesses just tend to thrive on the north side.
Tell us a bit more about your logo. Why did you guys go with a native logo?
We wanted to go with something that evoked the idea of roots, respect, and tradition. None of us are native but we wanted to face the fact that we come from different backgrounds. Bruce is Chinese, Roger is from Chile, and I am from Venezuela. We feel that everyone should hang onto their roots, even though we are in an international city.
What are your thoughts on the Toronto street fashion scene?
It’s comfortable where it’s at. It’s varied because of multiculturalism. We have everything out here. It’s also moving forward in a sense because people who are adamant about their clothing will wear it regardless of what others think. The scene here is very varied with a huge selection and brands.
How do you choose which brands to carry and does Proper Reserve cater to a certain lifestyle?
Absolutely. The first brands we started working with were mainly out of New York, like 10.Deep. it has been around since 1995 and when you think of brands that have been around since that period you normally think of brands that are sporty, like Adidas and Nike. 10.Deep had street cred and a sense of respect to it. The name speaks for itself. 10.Deep struck our eyes. After that we branched into Alife. Mishka is one of my other personal favourites because they branch out into different genres.
Why is it important for retailers to support the local movements of art and fashion?
I think it’s crucial for anyone who wants to start a business to support local artists. We are holding items that are done by local artists and it represents the city more. These guys are going to come in with their friends and there is a sense of pride to be had to sell something that is yours and to show your friends. For example, we promote Paul Nuestro who designs side holsters for cell phones with fine leathers and polished metals and is branching into laptop bag design. Everyone can do a t-shirt but it’s nice to see people with initiative try to sell a product. These holsters are great. I walk down the street and people always ask me about them.
The definition of exclusivity changes with technology. You can order products online and even order unique items second-hand. From a retail perspective, what is exclusive in your store and how would you define exclusivity?
I would like to say that all our items are exclusive because we don’t carry a lot of one product. We appreciate the feeling of owning the shirt rather than the other way around. You buy the shirt and you wear it without the fear that fifteen other people will be wearing the same shirt. We have stuff that we only show online and there is some stuff that we only show on the floor. Technology helps us keep in touch with our customers. Our Facebook page and our customers’ responses to what we put up help a lot. People go on it, click likes, we throw our promotions up on there, and we see feedback right away. We have gotten people click a like on the same day we get something and then come in and grab it later on that day. This connection with the customer is great for all retailers.
What’s next for Proper Reserve?
We are going to keep on finding new products. We have started working with Helio Bikes. We just want to keep finding products that are hard to find and maintain our sense of exclusivity. Hopefully we will have a bright future. Fall is coming in so it’s a different vibe. There are going to be more jackets and sweaters.
What is HYPE?
HYPE is the result of an experiment called “word of mouth.” When you hear about something from a friend or from someone on the street, there is a level of credit and respect that comes from it. Anyone can go online or read an advertisement but when you hear it from a person, you get the emotional and human side of it. Standing aside from whatever retailers have to say, HYPE is the word of mouth on the street and what is going on in peoples’ heads.