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Burnaby clothing stores hoping to dig out of pandemic hole with summer surge

New data shows people are ready to buy new outfits

It’s been a bad time for Burnaby retailers, especially those that sell clothing.

Clothing store sales have plummeted during the pandemic, dropping 86.7 per cent in Canada in April 2020 and remaining below pre-pandemic levels since. 

Last summer’s reopening helped, of course, but sales have been down as people avoid in-person shopping. Many stores have not reopened their changing rooms, which means people can’t try on clothing before buying. Rising COVID-19 cases counts in the fall and then this spring have also seen people staying home more.

Burnaby mall staples like fashion retailer Le Chateau Inc. and Reitmans (Canada) Ltd. are among the apparel stores that have filed for creditor protection. Both closed stores in Burnaby. Other stores like Frank and Oak and Pink ended up leaving Metropolis at Metrotown, although the mall has added a Hugo Boss and a new Forever 21.

The good news is that more than half of Canadian consumers plan to purchase new clothing once pandemic restrictions are relaxed, a new report by market research firm The NPD Group said. 

Among consumers aged 18 to 34, that number jumps to two-thirds planning to buy new apparel, the report said. 

“There is built-up consumer demand for newness,” Tamara Szames, Canadian retail industry adviser with The NPD Group, said in an interview with the Canadian Press. 

“People are ready to start socializing again and even if it’s just a backyard barbecue with friends and family they’ll want to look good and maybe wear new clothes.”

Aritzia temporarily closed all its stores at the outset of the pandemic, sending sales and revenues plummeting. 

But the Vancouver-based clothing retailer, which operates out of Metropolis at Metrotown in Burnaby, has managed to recoup most of its revenue through e-commerce sales and is banking on a post-COVID recovery.

“While the uncertainty of the pandemic remains with the ongoing closure of half of our Canadian boutiques and economic conditions varying widely, we're well-positioned,” Brian Hill, founder, CEO and chairman, said during a recent conference call to discuss the retailer's results.

“Regardless of whether the pandemic carries on or whether we come out of it sooner than expected, we’re going to be ready for it at Aritzia.”

The return to social events and travel has spurred apparel sales, with categories like swimwear seeing the fastest recovery, Szames with The NPD Group said. 

Clothing sales have picked up, she said. 

Women’s jeans, for example, were up one per cent compared to March 2019, Szames said.

“That’s an indication that once lockdowns lift, we can get back to those normal levels,” she said. 

While the return of zippers and buttons and belts might feel jarring after more than a year of yoga pants and joggers, Szames said the post-COVID clothing trend will be a hybrid of comfort and fashion. 

“Overall comfort is still the driving factor,” she said. “But for 18- to 34-year-olds, fashion was just as important as comfort.”

In the jeans category, for example, expect softer denims and baggier, wide-cut legs, as opposed to skinny jeans, she said. 

“We’re not going to see all of a sudden a flip to extreme fashion,” Szames said. “It’s going to be grounded in comfort.”

  • With additional reporting by the Canadian Press