In 2013, Caroline Sylvester (Sylvie), a long-time Toronto resident currently living in Trinitiy Bellwoods, and Kyungjoo Shim (Shimmy), a South Korea native living on the Danforth, graduated from George Brown College’s Fashion Management program. That same year, the duo opened Sylvie and Shimmy, a one-of-kind fashion and style store, at 1640 Queen St. W. in Parkdale. How did two alumni achieve their dreams of opening a store in downtown Toronto so soon after graduation? We sat down with Sylvie and Shimmy on a humid summer evening to get the scoop.
Selling Canadian produced jewellery from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal as well as clothes by small, independent designers from South Korea, nothing inside Sylvie and Shimmy is mass produced or available at other stores in Toronto.
“If you see someone walking down the street wearing something that looks totally one-of-a-kind, it’s probably from our store,” Shimmy said, laughing.
When this fashion-sensible duo met two years ago, they both had the let’s-open-a-store bug.
“I always wanted to open a store,” Sylvie said, adding, “I owned my own jewelry business and wanted to launch a shop for the products I was creating. Then, I met Shimmy!”
“I worked in the fashion industry for 10 years prior to George Brown, so I felt that was enough experience to lead me to this next step, but I always thought opening a store would happen later in life. I loved the idea of having creative freedom. Then, Sylvie encouraged me to open the store,” Shimmy said.
After convocation, a quest to find the perfect location began. As Sylvie lived in the city’s west-end, she saw the available spot on W. Queen W. The entrepreneurs spent a lot of time researching the gender and average ages of people who lived in the Parkdale community. Of course, they also walked along the strip and met other retailers to compare experiences and average monthly costs.
“We got into Parkdale at a really great time. It’s becoming more established and more city-folk are trekking out this way to experience bars, restaurants and shops,” Sylvie said.
Though living their dreams in Toronto’s ever-evolving Parkdale community, Sylvie and Shimmy face a number of challenges on a daily basis. It gets tough to work with just two people in the shop.
“We have to figure out everything by ourselves,” Shimmy said.
Still, Sylvie and Shimmy appreciate not having too many cooks in their kitchen.
“There are no limitations when it comes to trying something out. We can try anything,” Shimmy said.
Proving this statement true are Sylvie and Shimmy’s self-taught website development and social media management skills. They say learning how to operate their brand online was complete trial and error.
“It was great to challenge ourselves. We overcame a lot of fears,” Sylvie said.
Sylvie and Shimmy has over 2,000 followers on Instagram. Customers come into the store and say, “We follow you so we wanted to come in and see your stuff.” The social media platform has proven to be a huge benefit for their demographic.
Of course, there are other advantages to running your own ship, but Sylvie said the best part of it all is when customers take one of their favourite pieces home.
“We love to see customers wearing something of ours,” Sylvie said.
Offline, the storeowners practice retaining their customer-base in a few simple steps: They remember their clientele and what they’ve purchased.
“If I remember a customer bought a certain skirt, I’ll ask that individual how the piece is the next time I see them. People love our pieces because no one else sells them and that means the world,” Sylvie said, adding, “There’s a teacher who comes to our store because her students shop at major retailers and she doesn’t want to be caught wearing something someone in her class is, too.”
On top of their uniqueness and superb memory, Shimmy said new items are delivered to the shop each week. When the store gets new merchandise, they change the layout.
“We always try to make the shop look fresh. This keeps customers coming back. Each time they enter Sylvie and Shimmy, they see something new,” Shimmy said.
Over the last two years of business, Syvlie and Shimmy wouldn’t change one thing. Each day, they have learned a new lesson to help their company succeed.
“I’ve learned to be patient. Being self-employed doesn’t mean you can do everything yourself. There isn’t enough time in a day to do that. I’m working on learning how to take steps to appreciate the process,” Shimmy said.
When the store opened in 2013, Sylvie and Shimmy feared they wouldn’t meet their financial needs.
“Fortunately, we’re still here,” Shimmy said, with a smile.
“Sometimes, you just have to take the risk,” Sylvie added.
Sylvie and Shimmy encourage other entrepreneurs to chase their dreams.
“Owning your own business is achievable but it must be something you really want. It’s not easy,” Sylvie said. “You need to learn to stay consistent. If you close at 7:00pm everyday, you can’t choose to close at 5:00pm one night. Though you have creative freedom, there are sacrifices you need to make as an entrepreneur. You can’t do anything you want.”
Shimmy agreed with Sylvie and encouraged any budding business owners to go for it. However, she advised future entrepreneurs they must be ready to work hard.
“I would encourage anyone to try and get as much experience as they can beforehand, just to get their feet wet,” Shimmy said.
Congratulations to Syvlie and Shimmy for a successful two years. We can’t wait to see what’s next for this duo.
For more information on Sylvie and Shimmy, visit their website or check out their store at 1640 Queen St. W.