Vancouver's Board of Trade Co. brings high-end fashion to Chinatown

Meters away from the site of a restaurant where a young Jimi Hendrix developed his love for the guitar, you can find Eunice Quan and David Lim expressing their love of fashion at The Board of Trade Co.

Their strangely named clothing store, which opened two months ago on Union Street, is geared towards those seeking a creative and unique approach to style. The name Board of Trade aims to revisit the familiar while putting a twist on it. The name also seems to be an appropriate play on words, mocking the commercialism which dominates the fashion industry, as evidenced by the store's minimalistic decor.

 “We just had to have that name,” said Quan. “It's like anything else in art. Once you have your mind set on something, a certain aesthetic, it can only ever be that one thing in your mind that will satisfy you.”

Quan and Lim's customers have equally adopted the same attitude. With Board of Trade's merchandise coming from designers that limit the amount of work they produce, shoppers are invited to find that one special item they are looking for, aware that if they do find it that it may never be available again.

“We had one customer interested in a pair of sunglasses, but didn't buy them. When he came back in later to find they had been sold, he did not believe us when we told him we could not re-order them,” said Quan. “In fact, he came back several times convinced they would be there.”

Controlling supply, creating a sense of urgency, while reproducing a vintage, garage sale ambiance is a clever business strategy coming from the pair of young entrepreneurs who profess to be more concerned with the art of fashion than the business of fashion. Both Lim and Quan, however, have committing their pooled savings into the venture, so it can be argued that there must be more to their work than just the expression of art.

The clothing business can be a risky and difficult one, especially based on their choice of location. While many competitors have chosen to operate in Gastown or downtown, where the foot traffic is heavier, Lim and Quan feel that setting up shop in Chinatown will ultimately pay off.

“We wanted to be a destination for our customers. So far the response has been really positive. We have a cult following and we are getting people coming back repeatedly, hoping to find that unique item,” said Quan.

According to Diamond Liu, Executive Manager of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association, they are happy to welcome Board of Trade as the new neighbours and sees their arrival as part of a trend of non-traditional merchants choosing to open their doors in Chinatown.

“In Chinatown we already have so many Chinese style clothing boutiques, but now we're getting more modern idea fashions,” said Liu. “That creates a very balanced mix of retail.”

Liu then echoed what Quan and Lim had expressed about the value of being unique and the importance of being a destination. “I think shopping in Chinatown is a very exciting experience. There are lots of old buildings to see and you'll find unique things that you would never find at the mall.”

While Union street is far away from the centre of the fashion world, Quan and Lim hope they have discovered the right place at the right time, and when it comes to art, timing is everything. “It's scary trying something new,” said Quan. “We had a lot of people try to talk us out of it, saying it was too risky. But I feel there is a void for young creatives that needed to be filled."

"Vancouver has great creative community and we want to be a place where people can come to express that creativity.”

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