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Can Aritzia Become as Well-Known in the U.S. as in Canada?

Canadian retailer Aritzia has opened 15 stores in the U.S. since 2007 -- but Americans' awareness of the brand has yet to match its retail footprint.

Aritzia is one of the best-known -- and beloved -- women's retailers in Canada. And though the 30-year-old, family-owned company now has 15 stores in the U.S., bring up the name "Aritzia" in the States -- even to someone in the fashion industry -- and, more often than not, you'll be met with a blank stare.

"When I was trying to understand what people's perceptions about Aritzia in the U.S. were, people either hadn't heard of it, or it was their best-kept secret," says Oliver Walsh, who left London (and the helm of the prolific digital agency he co-founded, Wednesday) to become Aritzia's chief marketing officer in Vancouver almost exactly a year ago. "People struggle to articulate it as succinctly as they could. We maybe haven't educated our customer in as proactive of a way about what our brand is; [instead], we've let them experience it, and take different things from it."

To Americans, Aritzia could perhaps best be described as a more fashion-forward Anthropologie, with a crisp, understated aesthetic that is more similar to VinceClub Monaco and Ayr. It got its start as a single boutique in Vancouver in 1984 and, like Anthropologie, aims to maintain that boutique feel at each of its locations. Its price points are similar to those four American brands: cotton and wool sweaters run between $60 and $175 on average, and a smart wool coat will typically cost around $350. Most of what you'll find in Aritzia's stores are brands that the company itself designs and manufacturers -- there are 14 private labels in total, each with its own own creative director and design teams, whose goods are sold exclusively at Aritzia. The retailer also carries a range of third-party brands including Rag & Bone, Frame Denim, 3x1, Mackage and Alexander Wang to round out the mix.

What Aritzia is not is fast fashion. "Our mission is to conceive, create, develop and retail fashion brands at a quality which no one can match at our competitive price point," says Walsh. "We don't want to compete with fast fashion… we compete on quality, not on price." Quality, he says, doesn't just mean great design and materials; it's also about how the clothes are styled and represented, and the level of customer service offered in stores and online. "If I had the opportunity of buying an ad" -- Aritzia doesn't advertise in print -- "or introducing better customer experience through live chat or same-day delivery, I know what I'd choose. Great customer service is your best marketing," Walsh says.

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To grow brand awareness in the U.S., Aritzia has hired a small PR team in New York -- a new move for the company, which has "never really done PR," says Walsh. The team is focused on educating the U.S. market about Aritzia and its seasonal collections, and getting Aritzia's goods on the backs of celebrities -- Jessica Alba, Taylor Swift and Jennifer Lopez have all sported Aritzia product in recent months.

One thing Aritzia won't be promoting? Its Canadian heritage. "We don't want to be known as a Canadian brand," Walsh says. "We're very proud of it, but we're not shouting it out. A brand [can get] a lot of equity saying we're in New York, which you don't get saying we're from Vancouver, even though we do fashion a lot better than some New York players."