By Anna Piszczkiewicz
Toronto’s Parkdale boutique Sylvie and Shimmy is the brainchild of Caroline Sylvester and Kyungjoo Shim—and a play on their names, no less.
The two met in George Brown’s fashion management program, bonded over a project that had them develop a retail concept from the ground up, and upon graduation, they did just that. They opened a brand new women’s wear shop. That was seven weeks ago.
Their desire was to create the dream closet.
Decorated with restored antique furniture and dollhouse-inspired pastel colours, the owners beautifully display hand-picked clothing, footwear and jewellery. Not only are the fashions affordable (I checked) but also unique. Their merchandise comes mostly from imported Korean labels and a handful of local designers.
I visited the shop soon after it opened, when I took part in the creation of a mini-doc about Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood. Since then, I’ve been smitten by the lovely and lovingly curated space and asked the ladies to give a little insight into their lives as small business owners.
Name of shop:
Sylvie and Shimmy
What do you sell?
We sell contemporary women’s clothing, mainly imported from Korea but we do carry 6 Canadian designers (1% Talent, 3rd Floor Studio, Crywolf Clothing, Hello Morico, JYK, and Sara Duke). We have three styles of clothing that we carry in our store (causal, semi-formal and dress wear). Our summer style for 2013 is very feminine and chic with light cream and pastel colours, lace, and baby doll silhouettes. We also carry shoes, jewelry and accessories. All of our jewelry and accessories are from Canadian designers. For the upcoming Fall/Winter season we plan to have more Canadian designer lines.
How long have you been in business?
We have been in business for about 7 weeks. We opened our store front on June 1st 2013. We are quite new as a business but Shim has past experience in Korea as a buyer and several years of Canadian retail experience. Caroline started her own jewelry business in 2010, and knew soon after that operating a store front was what she wanted to do.
What makes your shop unique?
Shim: We believe that our shop has a uniquely cozy and comfortable atmosphere. Two years ago, when we started brainstorming our ideas for the store and looking for inspiration from other retailers, we decided that we would like to create a store with a different, but very comfortable atmosphere. We wanted a concept that would feel as though it were a modern apartment; with a lot of charm and character. Our store attempts to combine the new and the old, mixing trendy with classic, chic with feminine, and so on.
Korean fashion is not as popular in Canada as North American brands. So we carry limited quantities of each style but have a lot of different styles. We also look for young and talented fashion designers who have a unique style.
Ultimately, our aim is to give our customer access to fashion which is difficult to find here.
Tell me about your customers.
The majority of our customers are from the neighbourhood. Our target market is women aged 25-39.
Why did you choose to set up shop in Parkdale?
Caroline: We love the atmosphere of Parkdale, everyone is really welcoming, it’s kind of like a small town in a big city. It’s also an up and coming neighbourhood; still a little rough around the edges but that’s what makes it appealing. It’s edgy and cool all at the same time.
Shim: We believe Parkdale is edgy and full of diversity. Although, Parkdale does not have very high foot traffic during the week it does have a lot of potential. It’s surrounded by Trinity Bellwoods, Roncesvalles, the lake and High Park. It will be changing vastly in the coming years. A lot of young people live in this neighbourhood and they are unique, fashionable and friendly. We have done a lot of research about Parkdale to finalize the location. What we loved most was the unique and diverse atmosphere.
Why did you want to get into retail?
We both met in Fashion Management School in the fall of 2011 and we knew that this is what we wanted to do.
Shim: I have been in the fashion industry almost 10 years and I studied fashion design and fashion management. Retail is an attractive part of the fashion business; it addresses customers needs and wants (which are constantly changing) directly.
What’s the life of a shop owner like?
Caroline: It’s a lot of hard work and sacrifice but if it’s what you want to do its defiantly achievable. We work a lot of long hours, the shop is open 55 hours a week plus we are in the store about one hour before and one hour after operating hours, that’s roughly about 70 hours in the shop. This doesn’t include the research, paper work; ordering, overseas phone calling that is done from home which averages about another 15 hours a week.
However, the long hours are definitely worth it. Each piece of clothing is carefully considered by the two of us. When an item sells it’s very exciting because it is like a little piece of us has found a happy new home. We love hearing positive feedback from customers about the garments we choose.
Most memorable client?
Caroline: I can’t think of one person in particular, but it’s really nice to see regular customers, people who have come in three or four times since we opened.
Also, a lot of really cute babies and puppies have dropped by in the past few weeks. It will be nice to see them grow!
Memories of your first day in business?
Actually, our first day is kind of a haze. There was a lot of adrenaline pumping and so many of our friends and family came out to support us. We were in a sea of friendly faces and well-wishers all day. It really hit us in the following days, when we were servicing “real” customers not just our friends and family and they had plenty of positive words of encouragement for us. It was lovely!
What’s the biggest misconception about owning your own business/shop?
Shim: There isn’t any big misconception about owning your own business. So far everything has turned out pretty well and we understand that it takes to time to settle down. We are very satisfied with what we are doing and working hard to make it better every day.
Best advice you’ve received about running your own business:
Caroline: Invest in marketing.
Shim: Do not focus on making money at first. Focus on what you want to achieve. Trust your business partner and work as a team. Be positive!!
Greatest lesson you’ve learned while being a business owner:
Shim: Being a business owner is not easy; there is a lot of responsibility involved. Being well prepared is always necessary in order to bring out the best results. While preparing the business I had to collaborate with others and this taught me to be considerate and has helped me develop my leadership skills.
Coolest thing you have in the shop?
Caroline: I can’t think of one item that I love more than others but, I would say I think the aesthetics of our store are pretty cool. I love how we were able to repurpose all of the furniture that was inherited from a loving home into a unique store front.
Name three other businesses in Parkdale that are must tries/must visits:
These are solely on our strip (west of Sorauren) but there are lots of other great places to visit between Dufferin and Sorauren too!
1. Crown Flora
Sylvie and Shimmy
1640 Queen Street West, Toronto
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11 am – 7 pm / Sunday 12 pm – 6 pm