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Ssense: The Canadian Innovator Blending Music and Fashion

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  • BoF Team

MONTRÉAL, Canada — Founded in 2003, Montréal retailer Ssense has emerged as a directional leader in the marketplace, in addition to being a popular online retailer for international consumers from around the world. Running through the Ssense proposition is a keen interest in music, best represented by its music and video series filmed especially for the site, and styled exclusively in Ssense merchandise. The series has featured Sky Ferreira, Rad Hourani and numerous other musicians and designers. The store and e-store's menswear buy is focused on designer and luxury streetwear categories, creating an accessible but directional edit.

BoF spoke to Federico Barassi, Ssense's head menswear buyer.

BoF: How do you approach Ssense’s product assortment and buying?

FB: For me, there is a certain kind of magic to Ssense. We share our point of view and endeavour to approach every action with a sharp, curatorial eye. We covet the brands and products we believe in, rather than those dictated by the industry. This approach is translated by the content we provide, functioning not only as an online retailer, but also as a media channel of sorts. Over the years we have groomed the product offering to cater to a unique client that likes to be different.

BoF: How has the Montréal market fashion market evolved?

FB: Montréal is not necessarily known as a fashion capital, but with the power of the Internet, there has been a great increase of awareness of the fashion world for Canadians as a whole. At the same time, Montréal is and has been known for producing great talent across the creative industries.

BoF: Who is the Ssense menswear consumer?

FB: The Ssense menswear consumer is somewhat of a black sheep. He is in tune with cultural events and happenings, dresses in a subtle but directional way, making him recognisable for his style. However, he wants something different from his friends. We tend to have a large amount of men who work in creative fields, perhaps due to the clean, uncluttered experience they receive on the site. Our menswear client base has had huge growth since we began and we are constantly tuning the content we produce and product we offer to ensure that Ssense is more than just a store.

BoF: How significant is Ssense’s online proposition?

FB: Ssense was conceived as a retail experience that transcends both physical and digital. On an international level, Ssense is predominantly a global online retailer. We provide a selection of product and content that crosses cultures worldwide. We ship globally and have seen huge support from the Canadian consumer, through to the US and as far-flung as China, Korea and Australia. Canada makes up a significant part of our business but we aim to increase our relevance globally but also regionalising our content to appeal to targeted audiences as well as a more mass and globally-minded market. The Canadian consumer is particularly savvy and with Ssense having been conceived in Montréal, a huge centre for music, our focus on our content is very much in line with what we live and breathe.

BoF: How do the two points of sale relate to each other?

FB: We want our customers to have the same experience whether they shop online or in our store and in line with the aesthetic you will find on ssense.com, our store is merchandised and designed in a way, which allows for easy navigation and a smooth customer journey. We have used sleek and slender lines throughout the store with a juxtaposition of materials, which add a dynamic feel to the space. We aim for the design to emanate a warm but luxurious feeling for our customer. For online, the navigation is key for us. You will see a very clean format across the site, which has an architectural feel and flow.

BoF: What is unique about Ssense’s approach?

FB: Both our online and physical stores are effectively a curatorial assortment of content and product that allow us to express our thoughts and point of view. We have positioned innovation at the heart of all that we do — the way we buy, the way we think, the way we work in the team, right through to how we develop relationships with our partners. Music is the overarching factor that sets us aside from other online retailers. Currently we are exploring the relationship between technology, fashion and music through an ongoing music video series in which all products are immediately shop-able. We see this not as a huge commercial goal but rather an investment in what we love and a way in which we can support the industry, helping a varied number of artists create videos which would otherwise not exist.

BoF: What are Ssense’s key product categories?

FB: We have seen a strong response to our sneaker and accessory categories season over season and have worked with our partners to secure exclusive styles in both. In particular, the sneakers from Giuseppe Zanotti, Givenchy, Rick Owens, Saint Laurent and the jewelry from Margiela have been strong players. Equally, our investment in denim, particularly Balmain, has shown a great return.

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