At Seladex, we’re focused on helping apparel and accessory showrooms succeed by helping them stay organized, better manage their showrooms and increase sales through the use of our Apparel Industry CRM (Customer Relationship Manager).
However, we go beyond the use of technology as a means to help entrepreneurs in the fashion industry grow. We’re big believers in education, so from time to time we bring in fashion experts from around the world to help educate you, our blog readers, about the various ways you can grow your fashion empire.
Today, Seladex had the opportunity to speak with Ivanna Gecelter, the founder of Evolve Showrooms, about her experience growing Evolve into a recognized showroom brand in the Canadian fashion industry.
We have an exciting interview planned for you today, so without further ado, let’s jump in!
First of all, thank you for taking the time to chat with our blog readers about your experience in the showroom space. We really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to share your experience and expertise with us. Let's jump in and have you introduce Evolve Showroom to our audience. Tell us how the story of Evolve began.
Thank you for this opportunity! Well, I've been in the wholesale industry for over 12 years now. I worked as a sales representative right out of Fashion Business college for a big name brand where I got my initial experience in the industry, and then moved on to work for agencies representing multiple brands. I've always noticed this sort of gap in the market, especially the Canadian market, where most retailers were stuck buying the same brands every season, and the agencies that were around were not bringing in anything new, and were also kind of stuck in their own "old school" mentality of the way things needed to be done. Thus, Evolve began. I decided to quit my job at the time and start Evolve Showrooms, where I was determined to introduce young, fresh blood to the wholesale fashion business and bring back the passion for retailers to be excited about new brands coming into our market. After all, fashion is supposed to be fun right?
It looks like you currently represent about 9 brands. Do I have that right? Tell us a little bit more about the process of onboarding your first brand. When you were first starting out in the showroom space, how did you get people to sign on? Did you target emerging brands at first? Give discounts? How did you get brands to trust you before you had the positive reputation you have today?
Yes! I currently have 9 brands, but that number varies each season. I usually will add a brand or two into my mix each season. When I first started out, it definitely was a little more difficult to onboard new brands. I targeted brands that were primarily Canadian, local designers that were looking for a break in the industry. However, I was also pretty lucky because having the relationships that I had made over the years in my previous jobs also gave me opportunities to bring in already established brands my very first season. This was a nice happy medium because it allowed me to show that we were an already reputable company with the known brand names, but also that we were introducing newness and excitement into the industry.
Similarly, while scaling and bringing in more brands, what were your biggest growing pains and how did you overcome them?
This is a tough one! You know, there were many growing pains throughout the whole process. There still are, which is all part of the experience of having your own business. I think the biggest growing pain when first starting (and also presently) is the pressure to make sure the brands you're working with are successful while also making sure that your retailers are happy. When you're the new person on the block, you may not be well-liked by the competition, so I learned a lot about self-awareness and blocking out the noise if you know what I mean. I focused on building my customer base and bringing in brands that I truly believed would help the growth of my stores, which in turn would build trust with me as their rep.
Currently your connecting brands to retailers within Canada. Do you have any plans to expand outside of your national borders? What are the pros and cons of staying national?
Yes! I 1000% plan on expanding into the US market within the next 5 years. It's not common for an agent to have brands for both the US and Canada, so I don't doubt it will be a challenging endeavour because I will need to find brands that are not already represented in either country, and it will be a whole new territory to understand as the new fish in this much larger, unknown sea. However, I do believe the pros outweigh the cons and I think it would be a great opportunity for the growth of my company and reputation to take on this kind of an expansion.
Tell us a little bit more about what goes on behind creating an "exciting showroom experience" for brands and retailers?
Creating an exciting showroom experience continues to be a developing plan each season, as my ultimate goal is to be able to create a space that is unlike anything other agencies are doing. My showroom itself is very different and has a degree of novelty. I have this beautiful graffiti wall covering one end of the room, and an old school conveyer belt as an accent piece in the corner. It's very inviting!! Every store we work with has their own niche way of working, so we try to cater to their needs, understand their consumer, and provide the best knowledge on how their business will grow with the brands we think would work best for their store. I am a firm believer on building relationships, so giving the retailer my full attention and honesty is part of the experience in my showroom.
A lot of what you do is trend forecasting. Can you tell us a little bit more about how you approach trend forecasting? Forecasting in any field is a risky endeavor. What types of things do you do to hedge your risk?
That's an interesting question! I do my research when it comes to trend forecasting; I look at what the big designers are introducing into their campaigns in terms of new styles, colors, silhouettes, etc. which gives me an idea of what my brands should be doing. Trend forecasting is not a huge part of the area I'm involved in, and to be honest, the Canadian market is behind on trends compared to the US market, so while a new trend may be prevalent this season, it will only catch on a season or two later for the Canadian market. Still, it's important to make sure your brands are on top of the trends so they're not missing the mark for the consumer.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your process for building relationships with retailers?
Of course! When I'm trying to connect with a new retailer, it's not always easy. They are bombarded with emails and calls by tons of agencies and reps, so at the end of each season, I make a point to visit as many stores as I can and introduce myself in person. This way they can put a face to the name and will remember me the following season when I'm contacting them. I am also constantly sending them information on new brands and using social media to be more memorable as an agency.
What takes up more of your time; relationship building with brands or relationship building with retailers? Why is that?
I would have to say relationship building with retailers. When you're building a relationship with a brand, it's more of a professional relationship, with a goal to grow the brand in sales. With a retailer, it takes time to develop that rapport of trust, understanding what they need and being able to cater to that need. And it's important to be consistent, by visiting their stores constantly, showing a general interest in what brands they are carrying, merchandising, developing a more personal relationship because it is about them being able to trust you as their agent.
For Canadian brands (or international brands looking for Canadian distribution), what things should they have ready before pitching to your showroom? What are the three biggest mistakes you see brands make when trying to get distribution?
Great question! When you're pitching to my showroom (or any showroom), you should make sure you have a lookbook, line sheets, and a brand book to showcase. You have no idea how many emails I get from brands, and the ones that stand out most are the ones that are professional and organized. The biggest mistakes I see brands make 1. Not understanding how the Canadian market works. It's really important to be knowledgeable in the way our seasons operate, working with the Canadian dollar, and having the right system in place to accommodate shipping to Canada. 2. Marketing. When you're a new brand, I want to see that your social media is active, and that you have marketing materials in place to help the growth of your brand to retailers that buy it. I have experienced first hand the downfall of brands that put their marketing off to the side and it's a huge component of building your awareness as a brand. 3. Full commitment. Similar to my previous point, I often come across brands that are looking for representation/distribution but that this is more of a side job for them, and it almost always is a detriment. When you are not fully committed, but are expecting a wholesaler to fully commit to your brand, it can cause a downfall and hurt the brands reputation.
Lastly, knowing what you know now about the apparel showroom space, what advice would you give a younger version of yourself, if the younger version of yourself was just starting out in the showroom space today?
Be confident and take the initiative in every situation you're in. The fashion industry is competitive and diverse, and it's so so important (especially as a young person just starting out) to take initiative in front of your superiors so you stand out and be confident in the decisions you make. There are moments early in my career where I look back and think about the impact I would have made if I made these small changes.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with Seladex today about your experience in the showroom space Ivanna. It’s been educational and inspirational learning more about your journey. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Ivanna and Evolve Showrooms you can follow her on Instagram or head over to her website here.