It was with excitement and a healthy dose of trepidation that I opened our bricks-and-mortar shop in 2015. In all honesty, the opportunity just kind of fell in my lap and there was no way I could turn it down. Isn’t this what I’ve always wanted? The answer was a resounding YES!” Also, I’d had a bunch of very successful pop-ups and studio sales in the same spot and the timing was good. After a bit of research and some deep soul searching, I forged ahead.
It was a TON of work. Of course it was! Anything worthwhile takes hard work but I was so lucky that in those early days I also had a ton of help. Friends and family rallied ‘round and built fixtures, painted, shlepped boxes…just about anything I needed. The retail gods also shone down and gifted me some fabulous staff members early on (and until this day!). For a couple of years we bopped along, selling, laughing and just about breaking even.
Then, in 2017, a hiccup. The space we were in was going to be absorbed into an existing business owned by the landlord. I knew the space wasn’t forever when I rented it, the landlord had been upfront that they would likely be expanding their business into our unit within a few years. I figured that would be a good time for me to re-assess and decide if I wanted to continue on in a storefront. And you know what, I did. So, the search for a new location began. Again, the retail sun was shining and we found a larger space just five shops away! On the same block! Easy move, people could find us (although it did create a few confused looks when customers came in saying “I could have sworn you were down the street…”) and there was so much space that I could move the studio in as well. Everything under one roof. It was perfect.
And, it was pretty perfect. We were able to use the extra floor space to bring in more products from designers and artisans that we loved. I was able to increase our cutting and sewing capacity and hire more wonderful production and retail help. Commence with the bopping.
Then, 2019 happened. I don’t think a lot is made of the retail landscape in 2019, but it was pretty brutal for retailers big and small alike. Remember Forever 21? Zellers? Payless? Gymboree? Just to name a few well known brands that called it quits in 2019. Speaking with fellow independent retailers at the time, we just couldn’t figure out what was going on. Walk-in traffic had slowed and sales just kind of evaporated. At Mandala, we were still doing ok because we had other revenue streams to prop up the shop (events and shows, other retail partners) but by the end of 2019 even some of those were in trouble. At that point, a few of the shops that carried our collection had already closed and then… what’s that on the horizon? A…. pandemic? A… what?
Yup, 2020 was when things really went south. We were shut. We were open. We were shut. No, open. No… On and on it went. My lovely co-workers were at home and helped when I really needed it (and could afford it), but there was no consistency to anything and I had no idea when we’d get back to normal, if ever.
Anyway, you know what comes next - 2021. A little better than 2020, I guess. Although even more of our retail partners had closed their doors by then and there had been no in-person events for 2 years, at least the shop was open more regularly and I was able to bring back our core staff. But still, sales lagged. Most customers were working from home (still are) and not venturing out to shop, and if they were, they didn’t really need a cute new dress. We were really struggling. I decided I’d simply keep working hard and hope that things would magically turn around. We improved our online presence and social media engagement (Lauren, you freakin’ rock!) and that has helped a great deal, but if online sales are the way of the future, do we need the expense and the added uncertainty of a storefront?
Cue, The Big Move. Mr. Mandala and I have long been dreaming and talking about a move out of the city. One day. As the pandemic dragged on, ‘one day’ became ‘one day soon’ became ‘what the hell are we waiting for?’ became ‘let’s go’. And so, we did. We sold our city home and moved to paradise on a lake about half way between Toronto and Ottawa. I had put together a plan for the shop. I would travel in once or twice a month for a few days, work in the design room, use the huge cutting tables to cut some production (and then sew everything back up at our new home), work in the store and check-in with Lauren, Catherine and Jessie. It was a solid plan and had sales at the shop improved, it would have been a great plan. Sadly, that hasn’t been the case.
Since the beginning of 2022, I’ve been eyeing my lease renewal date at the end of August as a sort of make-or-break deadline. If the shop started bopping again, amazing! Lease renewed! However, if things weren’t getting better, I’d have to make a much harder decision. Sadly, that’s where we are now and unfortunately, it’s clear that it’s time for me to close the bricks-and-mortar shop.
Although this retail journey of mine is coming to a close, this is not the end of Mandala Design! Not by a long shot. My desire for designing and making the clothing you love lives on and likely will until I can’t see the eye of the needle! I’m converting our little garage into a proper studio in the woods, making plans to improve the website and discussing how to create better content for social media. I’ve signed up for a few in-person events this year (and more to come next year!), I’m researching pop-up locations and hoping to make new connections with retail partners. Also, the Fall Collection is under-way!
It has been quite a journey! I think I speak for the entire Mandala Gang when I say that it has been such a blast meeting each and every person who has come through the shop door.
We love you.
We thank you.
We will see you again.