Nomad, located at 819 Queen Street West, provides men from all ages with designer high-end luxury clothing influenced by the skateboard youth culture. Owners Jesar Gabino, Zeb Munir, and Matthew George are longtime friends and have been in business together for 20 years. Jesar and Zeb met in Vancouver as they were part of the Rascalz, a b-boy group devoted to the difficult art of break dancing. Gabino explains that fashion was an integral part of the hip hop and b-boy culture and they admit to dressing above and beyond their means. “Hiphop is a culture that emphasizes struggle and fashion expresses just that,” says Gabino.
Matt George also lived in Vancouver and they met during exclusive sneaker time. They worked at a store in Vancouver called twenty-four where Zeb and Jesar were introduced to global streetwear from Tokyo to New York City. The clothing was a voice for men who were considered outsiders. Nomad was inspired by twenty-four and the desire to bring it to Toronto.
Nomad is filled with neo-trad offerings like sturdy Filson totes ($135–$455), emerald-green Canada Goose wool bombers ($1250), A.P.C. jeans in steel-grey ($210), and tons of items from awesome Vancouver line Wings + Horns.
The early years were met with a lot of travel, including weekend trips to New York, Chicago and selling out of their car – it was a “how to make it in America” story. “People connected to the style, culture, sports, punk and hip hop everything we grew up with,” they recall. The brands that Nomad carries speak to the young professional. They feature authentic roots and heritage brands that have been around forever (like Levi’s, Gitman Brothers). They also have new brands that appeal to the young professional like Wings and Horns, Comme des Garcon, Play, Junya Watanabe, Robert Geller, Adam Kimmel and Naked and Famous. The clothing is influenced by timeless pieces that you can wear five years later, with attention to fabric, fit, details, buttons, the level of quality that can’t be beat.
What were the biggest challenges to starting this business?
The biggest challenge was dealing with the audience response. Canada is conservative in nature so it takes longer for new things to pick up. We joined the social media game early on and it has played a huge role in our success. Another challenge was growth – when you are a small business of entrepreneurs, it is difficult to keep up with growth in terms of funds, cash management, having to hire more staff and bring in more product to accommodate the growth in a total “roll of the dice.” Management was also a challenge, comparable to throwing yourself into the fire if you don’t have a mentor….managing 20-30 people can be pretty difficult. The three boys do everything themselves.
Advice to other YPs
Follow your heart and follow your instincts. Stay true to yourself and what you believe in. It is all about perseverance and persistence.
What makes Nomad unique?
The brands are what make the store unique, they are only carried in maybe one other store like Holt Renfrew. Nomad is a voice formed by young guys, so when men walk in they understand that the product is special for them and the hand-selected high quality. The store design reflects the caliber of the brands they carry and was designed by the managers themselves to reflect an organic design, using natural materials and keeping much of the existing structure of the 1920s building including exposed bricks and joists.
How did you market yourself when you first started?
The three entrepreneurs started out selling exclusive sneakers out of their cars and when the word got around town, it was time to open a store. Their first project, GoodFoot, was a store devoted to their exclusive sneaker finds from all over the world. Once the Internet became a big thing, it helped them to market and advertise their store and eventually they expanded from sneakers to apparel.
What is a typical day?
Coffee, emails, delegate duties, management, shop operations. There are five people in the store on a daily basis. Then there is the creative part: marketing, web design, the window display and product merchandising.
What are your plans for the future?
Next year is our eigh-year anniversary and we have a special project in the works. Stay tuned.