New York-based concept store The Canvas opens first European store in Antwerp
In Antwerp, the fashion hotspot of Europe, The Canvas opened a sustainable marketplace for fashion, art and experiences, as they describe themselves. After their store opened in Brooklyn in 2018, they chose Antwerp for their first venue outside the US. Devin Gilmartin and Tegan Maxey (President and CEO) came to Antwerp for the opening of the store and to talk about their dream of expanding from New York to Antwerp.
The Canvas: a unique concept in sustainable fashion
The Canvas offers shoppers in Antwerp an unusual retail concept, focused on the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. They gather over 100 brands from different countries focussing on slow, ethical, socially and environmentally conscious fashion.
The newly opened venue in Antwerp is not just a store; there’s also a coffee bar with a lounge area, a yoga studio, and art lovers will be surprized by unique pieces displayed in the store.
Tegan Maxey: “Just like in our store in Brooklyn, we want to organize events here. Hopefully customers will feel at home, while also learning something about sustainability.” In New York, the store tempts between 1500 and 2000 customers every day with their unique concept. A deliberate choice by Devin and Tegan to be able to fully invest in sustainability, despite the difficult chances of survival for sustainable and fair fashion.
Devin Gilmartin: “Usually it takes a company a huge sum of money and an assortment of well-known brands to be able to open a space in a city like Antwerp or New York. By working out an agreement with landlords that is mutually beneficial, we change the way that operates. Our partners from MADE have a similar mission. They repurpose vacant buildings and have really helped us find the perfect location for The Canvas. This new way of working allows us to raise the bar for sustainability, while lowering the financial barrier. For many of our brands, this is the first time they’re in a major marketplace in the city.”
Expanding to Antwerp
In January, The Canvas opened its doors in ‘De Wilde Zee’ in Antwerp, a central shopping area known for its picturesque cobbled streets that welcomes a very special kind of shopper.
Tegan Maxey: “We’re excited that Antwerp is our first expansion location. We always talk about the Red Star Line and that connection between New York and Antwerp.”
Devin Gilmartin: “This city has a history of appreciating art. The people of Antwerp are interested in thoughtful conversation and engagement when it comes to art and design. We definitely want to make sure we’re meeting their standard, while also setting a new standard when it comes to sustainable design.”
Tegan Maxey: “The advice and guidance we received from the city of Antwerp, and especially the enthusiasm, really helped us to keep pushing this new project.”
Aside from the support they received from the city of Antwerp, Devin and Tegan connected with Antwerp local Steff Vermeesch to realize their dream of expansion. Born and raised in Antwerp, he saw his city grow into an attractive retail hub.
“In the last 6 years, Antwerp has gone through an incredible evolution. Real estate, start-ups, scale-ups, tech companies are all blossoming here. This has really diversified the economic and cultural areas. Sustainability in fashion has also made its way into Antwerp, albeit fairly recently. The Canvas is the latest addition to a growing list of sustainable fashion stores that open up in the city,” said Steff.
“And of course, Antwerp is one of the best strategic locations to start a European expansion. Due to its positioning, logistical force and strong relationship to the EU, Antwerp is a great choice to start for non-EU companies expanding their business.”
The young, energetic feel of Antwerp
Recently, Antwerp managed to attract other international retailers such as VF Corporation with brands like Eastpack and Lee as well. The most important retail hub in the country is able to highlight its assets; the busiest shopping street attracts 17 million shoppers each year; the diverse and multi-national shopping audience enables retailers to test and diversify their products; and retail prices are competitive. Besides these strengths, The Canvas noticed ‘an Antwerp vibe’.
Devin Gilmartin: “In Antwerp as well as in New York, there is a willingness to change the normal procedure. It’s a matter of questioning the status quo, and thinking of new ways to do business together.”
Tegan Maxey: “I also think there are similarities in the clientele. There’s a young, energetic feel to Antwerp in the same way that there is in Brooklyn. Going out and meeting people here feels very familiar.”
Future of retail
After Antwerp, The Canvas is planning to expand even more over the next year.
Tegan Maxey: “Devin is constantly on the phone with real estate agents, trying to find more spaces and more opportunities. Right now, places like Milan, Amsterdam and Lisbon are on our radar in Europe and then LA, Denver and Austin in the US.”
Their aim is to offer a platform to brands who work with sustainability in mind, and connect customers to this innovative concept.
Devin Gilmartin: “We’re definitely focused on the future of fashion, as a concept. That’s what we want to say here: ‘Welcome, and discover the future of retail.’”
photos: Frederick Van Grotel