Alison Garwood Jones

Selling labels

Originally published in September 2007 in The Globe and Mail

The pull-tabs on the Red Bull were hissing and the volume on the house music was calibrated to organ-jostling decibels at the recent opening of COAL, Toronto’s newest destination for premium street fashion on the trendy Queen West strip.

Lured by the electronic beat, passing cars, stroller pushers and Sk8er kids all rolled to a halt at the site of a pair of live models gyrating in the window in $300 hip-hugging jeans and fluttery baby-doll tops.

As if that weren’t enough, a pack of denim-clad beauties trotted their way up and down the sidewalk in front of the boutique, trailed by their square-jawed escorts, also in denim (shirts optional). Diesel, √Čnergie, Miss Sixty, Paige, 7 For All Mankind, Ringspun and Firetrap were some of the pricey labels the models revealed to the growing crowd.

“Just call us the denim kings,” co-owner Peter Scida says later, standing in the graffiti-covered alleyway behind the store. The comment gets a chuckle from his partner and identical twin, Paul.

“Everyone we hang out with has upgraded from faded button flies to premium jeans,” says Peter. “We’re bringing in the labels you won’t find at the mall or the big box stores. And by limiting the selection to two or three sizes per style, you won’t be bumping into yourself the next time you’re out clubbing.”

Also, offering men’s and women’s fashions in one location helps to keep the party going.

For the Scidas, 27-year-old web designers and entrepreneurs from Caledon, Ont., COAL, an acronym for Come Out And Live, is more than just a retailing opportunity in Toronto’s hippest hood, it’s a cultural experiment.

“We already have a store in Bolton and by opening a second one on Queen Street we’re trying to forge a sense of community and encourage constant creativity,” explains Peter, wearing Diesel boot cuts ($250), √Čnergie runners ($189) and a Ringspun tee ($110).

“Yeah, the group of people we grew up with and went to school with aren’t pulling together like our immigrant parents did. Everyone seems to be going their own way,” laments a just-married Paul, wearing in a $40 COAL T-shirt, Firetrap army shorts ($125), √Čnergie flip-flops ($110) and a COAL-stamped orange rubber wristband (the sort usually reserved for health or political causes). “In the beginning I thought COAL might stand for Can Our Art Last?” he says.

But last it must. Raised on the Just Do It philosophy of lifestyle branding – where the selling of ideas is just as important as products – logos are the glue for this generation of young entrepreneurs (in case you’re wondering whatever happened to No Logo, it was replaced by the anti-war and green movements).

And the model for the lifestyle the Scidas are selling? It’s none other than the websites for these premium denim lines. Click into Diesel Cult on, for example, and get up-to-the-minute global coverage of the contemporary art, music, interior design, film and restaurant scenes; more than just quick hits of information, these websites provide thought-provoking essays on cultural trends.

Similarly, browsing through the racks at COAL serves as an introduction to the creativity and philanthropy of the brothers and their circle of friends – young, hip professionals including the graffiti artist who sprayed their walls, the furniture designer who custom made their urban-chic arm chairs and cash desk, and the deejay who mixed the COAL CD, which is free for shoppers who splash down the cash for a pair of designer jeans and a top or two. (All of the above have their business cards lined up at the register.)

Together they are updating the neighbourhood with their entrepreneurial efforts. Shared, a Toronto-based clothing line soon to be carried by the Scidas (owned by another friend) donates 50 per cent of its profits to local charities because, its website explains: “It’s more rewarding to watch money change the world than to watch it accumulate.”

That about sums up this tribe.

For the Hollywood starlets who flock to Sevens and Rock & Republic, take note: Fashion is not an end in itself, it’s just the beginning.

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