Ottawa, Canada is not exactly one of the world’s fashion capitals, but a new store is helping to bring high fashion to the Canadian capital. Retailer Nader Salib recently opened Common Concept Shop – a hybrid fashion / lifestyle / restaurant which offers the world’s coolest luxury streetwear labels (think Rick Owens, Rochambeau) alongside contemporary art, books and novelties.
With a growing interest in high-end fashion and creative practices, a unique concept, and new opportunities being opened for imaginative youth within the city, Common presents the potential to see Ottawa become a relevant player in the fashion and arts scene on an international platform. --Will Tattersall
( C ) Can you explain the fashion scene in Ottawa and why you thought that opening a high-end boutique that offers brands like Rick Owens DRKSHDW and 424 was an idea that was going to flourish?
NS: The fashion scene in Ottawa is very tricky. It’s the capital of Canada, a conservative city where the majority of jobs are related to politics. We’ve never really given it a fair chance. In the past, Ottawa wasn’t very fashion forward but now with social media and fashion being a little more accessible, people in Ottawa are getting a chance to see what the rest of the world has to offer as far as fashion goes. Growing up, I always had to drive to Montreal, Toronto or even go to the states to find the aesthetic and the brands I wanted. Of course you can also shop online, but a lot of these brands sell out quite quickly, and there’s always the sizing issue as well. So instead of waiting for someone to be the first to open a luxury boutique in Ottawa, I decided to take the initiative in the hope that we can finally build this community together and inspire people here to pursue fashion as an option of their futures, and not just be tagged as a “government city”. We knew education was going to be a huge part of the process but to our surprise there was already a large following for a lot of these brands and people in the city have been so supportive and given us such good feedback even though it is something they may not be used too.
( c ) How did this idea get started, and how did everything come together? Why did you decide to open a common space for a variety of independent businesses?
NS: I had the idea of building a strong platform for me and other artists to show the work we can do. So I traveled a bit and met some people while traveling, one of which owned a store in the LAB anti-mall in California. I instantly loved the idea, it was only independent businesses and they all had the best in quality food, clothes, art, and books. You name it, they had it. So I wanted to start something similar in Ottawa. Of course this is on a much smaller scale, but I love the idea of independent businesses helping each other grow within the same vision, rather than competing against each other. You will notice that all the businesses at Common serve a different purpose. I was looking at a few different locations to use, and when I landed on 380 Elgin and I knew right away this was the one. At first I was going to start with just a retail store and then potentially a restaurant in another location, but this space gave me the chance to put my ideas together and have them all in one space, as I could open multiple spaces right next to each other.
( C ) What separates Common from not only the other fashion boutiques in Ottawa, but around the world?
NS: I think it’s more than just the boutique, we built something where we are driven by art. By art I mean, fashion, hairstyling, culinary arts and design. To me, all these things are art. Common Eatery, which is the restaurant side of Common, also enables us to have special events here that relate directly to the store and the brands we carry. We always want to be slightly ahead of our time and offer something new, not just to Ottawa but also to anyone who comes to visit from around the world. The highly curated brands we carry are very sought after and very exclusive to only certain boutiques around the world. We are very lucky to have the opportunity to work with some of these great brands and designers, from GQ’s number one men’s brand of the year “STAMPD” to one of the most respected designers in the world Rick Owens.
( C ) Beyond a store, what is Common?
NS: Common wouldn’t be Common without all the people involved and the people supporting it. We created a space where you will be able to learn and grow regardless of the art you’re into. We have put so much thought into every detail. This is more than just a boutique; this is really a platform to help enable Ottawa’s amazing creatives from within their own city. We have so much talent here, but the first thing that artists do is leave to bigger cities because there is no opportunity for them here. At Common we want to change that. We want to make this a creative hub for people to feel comfortable to come in and work at any time of the day. Between all the businesses, we are open from 7am - 2am.
( C ) How much of a role does the city play in the business?
NS: I would say the most important part of this whole project is the city. Each and every single event we have had has sold out up to date. We can’t thank anyone for that except the people in the city who support us. Ottawa being a very economically stable city gives it the potential to be something special: we just need to give it a chance. There was always the possibility that this concept “isn’t for Ottawa”, but everyone has been so supportive and excited that it leads you to believe this is just the beginning. We want to grow and continue to provide the city with things they may not have seen yet in Ottawa.
( C ) You are consistently showing faith in the youth of the city, giving them opportunities to showcase their creativity and mentoring them to grow their talents and as individuals. Why do you believe empowering the youth is so important, and how to you plan to use Common to further help push the art and fashion world's future, especially considering the nature of the city in relation to fashion and youth in general?
NS: Some of these youth blow me away. They’re so much cooler than I was at their age. They know so much about the big and up-and-coming fashion brands, and their creativity is really something to admire. With all that being said, they still have a lot to learn and need some guidance. I’m by no means anything special but we have a solid team here that helps work with the youth in figuring what direction to take some of their artwork. I can’t stress enough that all forms of art are so admirable and Common wants to be able to bring all that together. From the fashion, food, and cocktails, to architecture, design, and hair. You name it. The youth don’t really have much to work with here or anything to really do in Ottawa other than the going to the mall and seeing very commercial brands and stores that no longer really interest the young men and women of our generation. That’s why Common is our small little “anti-mall”. I think its important to help keep their focus on things that interest them but at the same time benefit them, because its very easy to get distracted and get into some trouble when you’re young and have nothing to motivate you or take up your time productively. I’m excited to see what a lot of them have in store, up to now I have very high expectations for them and it’ll be up to them to work hard for it.
Common Concept Shop, 380 Elgin St, Ottawa, ON K2P 1N1
photo credit: Wassim Farah