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'Evolving and adapting:' Ottawa fashion boutique changes with the times

Midweek Mugging: In an ever-changing fashion industry, Schad Boutique co-owner Chantal Biro-Schad says keeping up is key

While adaptation is a key to success in the business world, in the fashion industry, it’s even more crucial.

Proof of this is Schad Boutique, which has been in business for over 20 years in Ottawa in various forms, with the latest iteration focused on women’s fashion.

Chantal Biro-Schad is the co-owner of the boutique, along with her husband Andre Schad.

As times and trends have changed, both on the business and fashion side, the need to re-invent yourself is at the forefront for those in the industry, according to Biro-Schad.

“Owning a business that is kind of fickle, like fashion, you’re constantly having to evolve,” she said, adding that certain trends over the years completely change the way people shop and what they wear.

She used jeans and denim as an example, as their store was the first in Ottawa to bring in designer American jeans, which were still over $200 per pair at the time. 

“We were the first to bring them in and they finally fit most women really well… but people weren’t used to those prices,” she said, noting it changed people’s habits as well, moving towards more separate pieces of clothing, rather than full outfits.

‘The denim revolution’ as she puts it, hurt boutiques and retailers forced to adapt to offer more pieces instead of outfits, but schad managed to come through and become stronger.

More recently and similarly, ‘the sneaker craze’ has affected how many shoes Biro-Schad carries to match other outfits and pieces, as she said many people including herself now wear sneakers with everything.

Changes to buying habits have also been top of mind over the past decade. The boutique first offered its products online through Shopify about six years ago, which accounted for one-to-two per cent of sales. Now it’s upwards of 25 per cent.

“That’s big. I’m told it’s a very impressive for an independent boutique like ours,” she said. Schad has also partnered with an American clothing website with the rise of online sales.

While online shopping has had impacts on many ‘bricks and mortar’ industries, it’s also presented opportunities, like opening to an American market and a strengthened focus on customer service, where Biro-Schad believes they thrive.

“The reason I think people come here and what differentiates from the mall is most boutiques offer different collections you can’t get anywhere else, but you’re also getting personal service.”

She said this really has made her focus on hiring employees who are geared toward personal customer service and offering prudent fashion advices. 

Access to information and trends online also keeps Biro-Schad on her toes, as now it's customers coming to her with new or emerging high-end brands from New York or Los Angeles, products they’ve seen online or elsewhere.

While the industry has its challenges, like any other, fashion is a passion Biro-Schad has followed since she was a kid. It's something she ‘blames’ her mother for, and her being an “impeccable dresser.”

“I had my first pair of leather pants when I was eight and my mom said, ‘you’re not allowed to get black, they look too cheap’,” she said with a laugh, noting weekend shopping outings in the market were a regular thing.

“It’s always been an important part of who I was… and still to this day, even if I’m casual, it has to look a certain way otherwise I don’t feel right. I’d say it’s pretty innate.”

That was one factor in why Biro-Schad, a former psychology researcher at the University of Ottawa and project manager for the Children’s Aid Society, decided to drop her desk job and join her husband in business, which at that time was focused on boots.

“I started helping him out with the buying and its kind of evolved from there.”

The idea was building a store that would essentially be a bridge between high-end retailers like Holt-Renfrew and mall shops, which didn’t have access to new collections. Other boutiques were simply meant for older shoppers.

"There was really nothing for the 20 and 30-year-olds, so that was our target market when we first opened," she said.

The pair have moved through many iterations and evolutions before the Schad Boutique opened on Elgin Street and then moved to Sussex Drive before it moved to its current location, also on Sussex Drive. 

“It’s hard not to evolve with your store and have your store evolve with you.”

Being 'open to evolution' is advice Biro-Schad now gives to anyone looking to open a business, particularly tailored to fashion. She keeps looking ahead at changes on the horizon.

“Be prepared.”


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