Many brands talk about their values, but Frank And Oak have placed theirs at the absolute heart of all that they do. The Canadian brand will be celebrating their 10th anniversary next year, but they’ve already become an iconic and beloved part of Canadian fashion and retail culture. We spoke with Nate Jones, Head of Retail at Frank And Oak, about the brand’s single-minded pursuit of quality and sustainability, their international expansion strategy, and their first of many Leap-powered stores in New York City.
If you know one thing about Frank And Oak as a brand, it’s likely their commitment to sustainability, purpose, and conscious consumption. They have been one of the brands leading the push for sustainability since before it became one of fashion’s biggest buzzwords.
“We really see sustainability as table stakes for fashion,” says Jones, “For us sustainability is about our product and materials, but it’s also about the impact we have on our community, how we work in-office, how we build our stores—it plays a role in everything we do.”
To illustrate, Jones told me about one of the brand’s recent all-hands meetings. Co-Founder and CEO Dustin Jones was recognizing various employees for their contributions, and had printed out the employees names onto pieces of paper that he was pulling out of a hat. Afterwards, while collecting feedback on the presentation, the most common piece of constructive criticism was to stop using paper during that portion of the meeting.
“Our employees and community hold us accountable. It all starts with the little things, until it becomes a bigger part of the brand ethos. It makes us totally unique as a company, because it’s fundamental to how we were built.”
Frank And Oak’s mindful, long-term approach to apparel plays a major role in their design process and the materials they use. It’s their greatest differentiator, and something they have a great amount of passion for at every level of the organization.
“Most fashion brands start with their design first, then go to their suppliers and tell them what materials to use for each,” Jones said, “Instead, we start with materials first and work backwards. For example, instead of using goose feathers in our down outerwear, we use the fruit of the kapok tree, which provides the same sort of warm lining but is fully sustainable. We start with that material, then see how many ways we can use it in different items of clothing.”
All store employees are well-versed in Frank And Oak’s approach to materials science, and can expound on their use of fibers such as hemp fibers and Seawool, a yarn made from recycled plastic bottles and oyster shells.
“During our hour-long call to brief the sales associates at the SoHo location, we spent 50 of those minutes talking with them about materials science—what our goods are made of, why they’re better for the earth, why they last longer and can potentially be recycled, what it means to be a certified B Corp.”
Their approach even has an impact on suppliers themselves: “Our suppliers love it too, because we push them to be more sustainable and lead them in making new innovations.”
2021 marks the year that Frank And Oak is making their big push to expand their footprint and bring their brand to customers internationally, with a number of stores planned to launch in key markets across the US. The brand already has a devoted following in the lower 48, with 25% of their online business already coming from the United States. To meet this clear demand, Frank And Oak is leveraging the Leap Platform to launch retail stores in locations where they’ve found customer demand and alignment with their brand values. Leap is able to compare potential locations based on brands’ shopper profile, local demographics, seasonality, and more to predict how brands will perform in different locations. Based on this Predicted Performance Value, NYC’s SoHo neighborhood is the site of their first of several Leap-powered locations. It’s a natural fit. Part of the reason Frank And Oak chose to deploy with Leap in the first place were the similarities between our strategies for finding and choosing locations:
“Leap’s community based approach is very important to us. Our retail expansion strategy in the US is about communities and where people are, not where we want them to be. We want our stores to reflect the community they sit within. And Leap has been on board with that from the beginning.”
Both Leap and Frank And Oak are highly data-driven, and together we are able to find the city, neighborhood, street, and address that is optimal to reach the maximum number of customers while telling the brand’s story and displaying its product in the best possible way. This new SoHo location at 252 Lafayette Street is designed to reflect and communicate what Frank And Oak stands for to the NY and American market.
“It’s a place to communicate with customers and educate them on the brand as much as it is a place to make sales volume,” Says Jones, “This is going to be our #1 store for introducing the brand to this really important community and to the broader NY area.”
As an international brand continuing their expansion into major markets with their first full-time US stores, Frank And Oak found that there were a number of advantages to making the Leap Plaftorm part of their rollout strategy.
"Leap has a value proposition that is unlike anyone else out there in using a turnkey solution for a retail platform. For our purposes, it makes the most sense.” Says Jones.
For brands like Frank And Oak that have aggressive growth goals and strong brand values, Leap is an effective way to scale with speed and efficiency while maintaining brand integrity.
“Working with Leap means we can open a variety of different spaces in totally new markets—and do so in a way where we don’t have to invest tons of capital expenditure to build a store, train staff, or hire store teams in these markets. There are so many synergies we can leverage together that are perfect wins for us.”
Fundamentally, Leap is the right choice for Frank And Oak because retail is evolving. Speed, flexibility, and risk management are more essential than ever for the success of retail brands. Those that can adapt and evolve at pace will be here to stay. As Jones put it:
“Being able to be agile and pivot is so crucial. In today's brick-and-mortar world, there are no knowns, it's all unknowns. We think the best approach is to test and learn and be agile. You can’t force that, you can only listen to the customer. You have to listen and go to where the customer is, and being able to do that agilely with brick and mortar is a huge game changer.”
Finally, as Frank And Oak is now in NYC full-time, we asked Nate (a former New Yorker) his favorite place to eat in the City.
“For me, it’s La Bonbonierre. It’s a simple local diner that’s had the same owners for 30 years, and there is always a line out the door. I came across it organically because it’s just a few minutes away from where I lived in the West Village. Their food is really hearty and delicious, and they must have the best French toast in the world. By the end of your meal, you’re gonna have a tough time walking out of there.
“Leap allows companies to expand into retail without throwing too much money into it or incurring much risk at all.”
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