Ontario-Based Fashion Retailer Grit & Grace to Open 2 Stores in Toronto [Interview]

Boutique clothing store Grit & Grace has its sights set on expansion with two new stores scheduled to open over the next six months in Toronto, bringing the brand’s presence to four physical locations.

The store currently is open on a seasonal basis from May to October in Sauble Beach with a permanent location in Guelph.

It will be expanding with locations at the mixed-use massive project The Well in Toronto, as well as to one of the city’s trendiest streets, Ossington.

Image: Grit & Grace

“Sometimes life throws us a curveball; the only thing in your control is how you react to it. It’s how you find out that you can do hard things. I did a hard thing,” said Penny Light, Founder of Grit & Grace.

“When the world went into lockdown, I did the most challenging, counterintuitive thing I’ve ever done. I opened a physical store. Nobody thought it was a smart move.

“But I was confronted with three problems: I lost my business, no friends or a sense of community in Canada, and no Canadian-appropriate clothes.

The solution to all three problems was how my new business, Grit & Grace, was born. After six years of living in Costa Rica and building my adventure travel business and marketing consultancy there, the world shut down, and my company shuttered. I moved back to Canada, but after living abroad for so long, I had no real sense of community here.”

Penny Light, Founder of Grit & Grace at Future Ossington Location
Image: Grit & Grace

All she owned were bathing suits and flip-flops. Not very Canadian weather appropriate. 

“But while shopping for a new wardrobe as a, then, 46-year-old woman, I became very disappointed in the selection and very frustrated by the shopping experience. It sucked. So when I launched Grit & Grace, I wanted to create a gathering space for women of all ages who enjoy what I do – yoga, books, travel, poetry, fabulous fashion, music, meaningful conversation and learning new things. And also wine. I wanted to design a place where they’d feel welcome and confident in their skin. And with clothing that appeals to women like me – curated with high-quality, timeless, simple and comfortable pieces,” she said.

“It’s a big reason my stores have a cozy, living-room-style seating area for hanging out. You feel like you’re in your best friend’s living room.  If I wasn’t going to be able to run adventures through travelling abroad anymore, I figured I’d help women live more adventurously in their everyday lives by assisting them in finding their confidence. My counterintuitive bet paid off. I opened two stores in less than two years, the first in Sauble Beach (summer of 2020) and the second in (downtown) Guelph (November 2020). I have two more stores opening this year, one in Ossington (March) and one in The Well in September.  

“I’m proof that anyone – I had absolutely no retail or fashion experience – could build something great if they lean into what they want to see in the world.”

The Well in Downtown Toronto on Thursday, March 2nd, 2023 (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
Touring The Well with Penny Light, Founder of Grit & Grace (Image: Dustin Fuhs)
Penny Light, Founder of Grit & Grace at The Well
Image: Grit & Grace

Light described the women’s retail fashion store as Boho Chic, a little bit more high end. 

“We had the concept kind of sketched on a back of a napkin in February of 2020. In fact we were in LA buying product when there were musings of this pending potential pandemic happening,” she said. “After we gathered more information, we made the decision to purchase a lot of inventory thinking that probably the world was going to come to some sort of halt or shipping was going to come to some sort of halt. So we stocked up.

“That March everything came to a grinding halt and lasted way longer than we anticipated. The next several months were trying to figure out how to pivot, or what to do. At one point the idea of liquidating the inventory was on the table. The decision to open finally came when the government announced that retail could open with restrictions in June 2020. It was go time. In 10 days we renovated, knocked down walls, built change rooms, and painted until 3am the night before opening the store.

“With the obvious exception of the last few years, a store a year is the growth plan. I’d like to get to 10 stores across Canada and maybe even re-introduce and tie some adventure travel offerings to the Grit & Grace guest.” 

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