New fashion shop has designs on success despite stiff competition

Yellow Pages' Shop The Neighbourhood initiative designed to help local retailers like designer Emily Ma

Local designer Emily Ma
‘I think it is so important to support local and independent artists and businesses, says fashion designer Emily Ma. Ma recently opened Em.Me.Ma at the Shops on Yonge. (Lucy Qi/Toronto Observer)

Emily Ma is taking a big risk.

The fashion designer recently opened Em.Me.Ma, her first retail store at the Shops on Yonge.

With Christmas just around the corner, big department stores, shopping malls and online retailers draw consumers in with sales and expensive advertisements, which can be hard for a small shop like hers to compete with, she said.

“Every day is an obstacle,” Ma said. “I could be thinking about whether what I’m making is meaningful, or if I’m even able to pay my rent this month.”

On Nov. 29, Yellow Pages Canada ran its Shop The Neighbourhood initiative to help support local retailers. More than 8,300 businesses across Canada were set to participate.

“Taking place during the busiest shopping season of the year, Shop The Neighbourhood raises awareness of the large-scale push from retailers, both online and across the border, which moves dollars away from the small businesses,” Yellow Pages said in a press release.

Anna Zhang is a vintage shopper and loves digging in local shops for accessories and unique pieces to suit her wardrobe.

“Style is not about buying a shirt on sale for $30 and walking into a restaurant and seeing three other people wearing the same thing,” Zhang said. “Toronto is a city of fashion, and you often find that fashion in these small stores.”

That, said Ma, is what Em.Me.Ma is about.

“I want to put back the value of handcrafted apparel and fashion items to the general public,” the 22-year-old said. “Then you don’t have to look the same.

“I want to grow with the artisans. That’s why I’m also carrying locally made jewelry and accessories, such as Inyoka by Marissa Angles and unisex bow ties by Paras2.”

Opening Em.Me.Ma is just the latest step the designer has taken in a long-held passion for fashion, said Ma, who has worked a sewing machine for almost 10 years.

“I do it because I’m attracted to the concept of fashion, to the meaning and story behind a collection,” she said.

It’s that drive Ma hopes can overcome the stiff competition from big retailers.

“A recent StatsCan study stated that over $8 billion in Canadian consumer dollars went to the U.S. in 2012 alone,” Yellow Pages said.

That, along with other threats closer to home, is why Ma welcomes initiatives like Shop The Neighbourhood, she said.

“I think it is so important to support local and independent artists and businesses,” she said. “It is such a shame to see talents closing down because of Zara or Walmart opening next door.”