The Genteel
December 18, 2017
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Best Kept Secrets

An inviting look from the back of the shop. Source: Luis Valdizon.
Lark, Vancouver, Fashion, Clothing, Apparel, The Genteel, David Walmsley, Luis Valdizon
A glimpse at Lark. 
Source: Luis Valdizon.

Walking into the majority of chain retailers is like walking into a trough: wares are lined up by category and laid out - strategically - to maximise the number of visible items. Retail is a simple commodity exchange. However, some independent retailers are defying this model, turning the retail experience into one that is about lifestyle and knowledge.

One retailer making leaps and bounds in exuding its own lifestyle is Lark, a Vancouver store and e-shop that is geared towards craftsmanship, apparel knowledge and community. Owned and operated by Veronika and Dane Baspaly, Lark has become ground zero for quality fashion in Vancouver's Mount Pleasant district. With its incredibly knowledgeable sales staff, the shop was recently named one of Canada's 20 best stores for menswear by Sharp magazine. 

Far from your average retailer, Lark welcomes visitors with vintage furnishings from Vancouver's Blue Owl Home Boutique, a sauntering shop bulldog named Hunter and a wealth of industry knowledge to rival any European merchant. The staff can regale you with tales of fabric history, designer memoirs and specific construction details that will quench any consumer's thirst for better acquaintance with his apparel. 

The apparel on offer take the shape of "a pretty classic aesthetic where the beauty lies in the details of the fabric, the cuts, the tailoring and a timeless quality," asserts Veronika, with stock that includes American Colors by Alex LehrBarbourJohn SmedleyPointer Footwear and Yoshi Kondo. Veronika adds, "Rather than asking that our clients bend to the whims of fashion, we offer what we think is the best item for whatever activity they may enjoy doing, and we make it work for them." So, instead of purchasing stock and hoping the right clients walk in, purchasing is done with their established clientele in mind. As one might conclude, the buying mantra at Lark stems from a love of their work, not mass sales. "My buying is always done with our customers in mind. I want them to put on the clothes they purchase from us in the morning and then get on with their day, without giving it another thought," says Veronika.

My buying is always done with our customers in mind. I want them to put on the clothes they purchase from us in the morning and then get on with their day, without giving it another thought.

Lark buys and sells products for the working professional: the cyclist, the stylist, the graphic designer, the gardener and the weekend camper. Regulars at the store come from a wide range of backgrounds and professions, coming together over a mutual respect for quality, multi-functional garments. The list of musicians and entertainers who have visited the store include Bon Iver and Bob Rock to Judy Greer and Olivia Wilde, painting a picture of Lark as an international destination for fashion.

The brand's lifestyle experience goes beyond its physical location. Aside from building its own e-commerce site, Lark also does all of its photography in-house. This creative control allows the brand to have maximum input in product photos, infusing the brand's persona into every shot. Lark also optimises a large set of social media networks to further develop in the online market. Although managing and creating content for so many platforms can be time consuming, it has become an integral part of enticing customers and growing its community.  

Community partnerships are a main tenant of how Lark operates. Instead of creating an insular community based solely around the fashion industry, the Baspalys are heavily involved in various non-profit campaigns, community garden projects and neighbourhood initiatives. Among these efforts include chairing the Mount Pleasant Food Co-op (a proposed cooperative food market in the controversial Rize development), raising awareness and holding events for InspireHealth and partnering with Vancouver-based urban gardening outfit, Victory Garden

Lark, Vancouver, Fashion, Clothing, Apparel, The Genteel, David Walmsley, Luis Valdizon
Just some of the impressive
selection at Lark.
Source: Luis Valdizon.

The shop's social gatherings are also a gem: aside from hosting charity events, Gin Thursdays attempts to bring the community together over cocktails. What better way to learn about your favourite brands and styles than over a strong drink, with company who share your interests? 

Lark's incentive may remind The Genteel readers of Shirt Bar, the Sydney-based tailoring and shirt shop with its own whiskey bar and café. It is the social camaraderie behind Lark that brings customers back and allows Lark to be more active and progressive than many of its contemporaries.

Lark's ideal - of being more than a simple retailer - relies on a community and living the lifestyle it represents. The Baspalys spent many hours with me discussing the quality and artisanal attributes of garments, as well as their charitable and community-based initiatives. In a competitive and relatively small market such as Vancouver, the Baspalys openness and love for the industry is behind the brand's success. Many other businesses and industries can learn from Lark's approach; by shaping their businesses around passion and community, rather than solely around profits and quick success.

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