Loretta Hsiao brings home global fashion trends from three continents.
It’s a wonder Loretta Hsiao found a moment to speak with me.
Half the year, she’s in Taiwan managing distribution of fast-moving designer apparel from Japan. If she’s not in Asia, she’s in Europe—Milan, Paris—and, every six months, New York, for fashion shows and buying trips. She runs two retail stores in Greater Vancouver and keeps up with which celebrity just wore what item from whose label. She maintains an up-market, education-hungry clientele who rely on her for everything from stand-out shoes to dresses, sweaters, coats, purses and jewellery.
Among all that, Hsiao found time to fall in love and get married. “I was very worried about whether I would be alone for the rest of my life,” Hsiao said, “I was too busy. Just work and home, work and home.” Now, “on the side,” she helps her husband with his event planning business. Fun and gusto course through her veins. So do beauty, brains and business acumen.
Hsiao won First Runner Up at the 2000 Miss Chinese Vancouver Pageant. It was her first (and last) beauty pageant and could have launched her into a celebrity lifestyle as it did for that year’s champion. Star-making producers knocked loudly on her door. But Hsiao had other ideas.
Even at 16 years old, when she moved with her parents from Taiwan to Vancouver, she knew she would follow in her father’s footsteps and own her own business. The unforgiving, fickle world of fashion did not intimidate her. She plunged in at the tender age of 21, opening her first boutique. Today she runs Niche, a blank canvas for the ongoing imaginings of Alexander McQueen, Valentino, Prada, local up-and-comers, and designers from the parallel universe of Japanese fashion. “I love fashion. If I close my business now, I don’t know what I can do. I can only stay in the fashion business.”
2013 was her 13th year in operation and she has not let past successes dull her edge. “I know many people are afraid to change since old patterns made them successful. I always told myself, I need to be more creative. If I always stay with the old patterns, one day I will be out.”
Hsiao, in fact, plans to expand Niche’s square footage, she’s sketching the first collection of her own brand and sourcing a manufacturing partner. She scours three continents continually to find next-generation designs and luxury shopping trends.
10 Corso Como is one such discovery—a destination store in Milan founded by Carla Sozzani, editor of Italian Vogue Magazine, that touts “slow shopping” or “a philosophy of seeing and shopping that entices visitors to leave their speedy mood behind, take in art, books, drinks, retail and design all in one place, a place where they can find surprises and small treasures” according to its website. Hsiao has visited 10 Corso Como on numerous occasions and has brought home its vision.
“The one-stop shop is not too popular in Vancouver,” Hsiao mused, “but it is getting so popular in Europe, especially in Paris and Milan. It’s easy; people don’t have to go here to buy bags, go there to buy clothes, and there to buy shoes—they can have everything [in one place].” Proprietors of these types of stores know intimately which cuts, colours and fabrics best suit their clientele and hand-select pieces for upcoming seasons.
Catching sight of small, very high end labels is another reason Hsiao attends the world’s greatest fashion shows. One collection in particular from Turkey caught her eye with leather, fur and French lace jackets. Only a couple of pieces are handmade in each style—single orders are taken with a three to four month wait time—placing these labels just south of haute couture. Although she may not carry them herself, first-hand knowledge from every corner of the industry influences her recommendations, and, in small part, what Vancouverites look like walking down the street.
Hsiao’s ability to focus aids her success. Niche only carries extra-small, small and medium sizes. Hsiao sometimes closes its doors to walk-in customers so she and her staff can accommodate a single client. With the right music, a curated selection of global designer brands, a table of fine food and a multifaceted conversation flowing across Niche’s couches, BC is starting to look a little more like Europe.
Photography by Hugh Zhao