When Yorkville men’s boutique Uncle Otis turned 20, they had booze sponsors, Toronto’s top DJs—Brendan Canning, John Kong, DJ Serious and designer Hiroshi Awai—and a Red Bull patio packed on a Sunday afternoon-turned-evening with what owner Donnell Enns describes as “fashion types, music-heads, industry people and people that shop at the store and appreciate what we do.” Since taking over in 2000 and bringing in manager–co-buyer and fashionable gent Martin James in 2009, Enns transformed Uncle Otis from go-to street style (think Stussy and Supreme) to upscale emporium with casual lines like Dunderdon, Rag and Bone, Wings and Horns, Klaxon Howl and Kin by Sydney’s. But a company can’t typically last 20 years without encountering a few bumps, and Uncle Otis saw its share—from recessions to inflation to staff changes—but the store survived and prospered through a period fuelled by what Enns calls “naïveté.”
“We carry 20 to 30 brands, so we can really focus on our curated selection of products. We’re also [carrying] a lot of Canadian [designers], which is really important,” says Enns. “But what sets Uncle Otis apart is our customer service. Great, honest, earnest customer service never goes out of style. We’ve always offered that.” This could be why customers have stayed with the brand for over 15 years (it also might be that, on top of the store having great pieces and friendly faces, there just aren’t that many menswear stores in Toronto).
Much like big retailers Hudson’s Bay Company and Holt Renfrew, Uncle Otis is offering limited-edition collaborations with Canadian designers they love (for Uncle Otis, it will service as a tribute for its 20th anniversary).“The collaborations are very, very exciting for us. Our theme is local, besides one collaboration we did with Rag and Bone, which was a great scarf,” says Enns. “But we’re keeping it Canadian, because there is amazing Canadian product being recognized internationally.” This fall, Uncle Otis will be carrying a redesigned Constable jacket with Canada Goose, mélange wool vest made with Klaxon Howl, a double-pocketed shirt with Kin (Kin has yet to put pockets on its shirts), back-buckle black jeans with Naked and Famous and a branded hatchet with Base Camp X in the shop’s signature cyan blue. A stylish axe? Yes, please. (Lizzie Borden would be so proud.)
Uncle Otis, 26 Bellair St., 416-920-2281, uncleotis.com.