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Civic Impact

Toronto Designers Market let up-and-coming local vendors shine

Tank tops for sale at the Toronto Designers Market.

Parkdale’s newest retail experience is a warehouse that’s been carefully stuffed full of artisan and designer goods. A the Toronto Designers Market, you’ll find vintage lamps cozying up to indie-designer yoga wear, handmade bowties sharing space with luxury face cream, and street-art inspired painting hanging near handcrafted jewelry. There’s also healthy dose of Toronto pride: Greater Toronto Apparel’s tank tops borrow New York City public transit iconography and transposes it with local neighbourhoods, while at the back of the space, a glowing sign spells out “416 Love.”

The brainchild of Parkdale Flea owner Joshua James, the Toronto Designers Market is a challenge to the traditional retail experience. Small stalls line the space, usually showcasing vendors specializing in one or two specialty goods. Instead of haggling over commissions or selling wholesale, vendors pay rent—James says it’s a few hundred dollars a month—and the Toronto Designers Market handles their sales. “A lot of these designers dream of owning their own store, but the overhead doesn't make sense, or the capital to start it just isn't there,” he explains. “I believe the Toronto Designers Market is a stepping stone and training facility to prepare a local designer for the real world of business and doing things for themselves.”

This low-cost, low-impact model allows local vendors to have a real storefront with consistent hours, and James’s carefully curated selection of Torontonian artisans and businesspeople creates a one-stop shopping destination. The success of long-running artisan showcases like the biannual One of a Kind show has primed shoppers to interact directly with local and Canadian entrepreneurs. “The concept of DIY lies deep in the hearts of most people, and it's usually the fear of failing that keeps them on the straight and narrow, working nine to five, and collecting a cheque. The younger generation has squashed that fear and become much more self-sufficient,” he says. That generation is also adept at social media, which James credits for its ability to connect vendors directly with their fans.

Wandering the aisles of the Toronto Designers Market, it’s easy to see the local talent on display. “I really hope by having a facility like the Toronto Designers Market we can mix a few brilliant and dedicated minds with a few ‘cowboys’ and really teach them the ropes of what it takes to make it in a real rodeo,” James says. His new market, and its innovative business model, will let vendors test the ropes themselves.

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