Downtown pop-up, Three Pieces, offers a selection of vintage clothing as well as hand-made and reworked fashion
Designer and boutique owner Bobby Raffin felt like all his troubles just melted away when he was browsing the small, brightly coloured stores in Monterrey, Mexico. Now, he hopes his pop-up boutique will do the same for Guelph shoppers.
Three Pieces officially opened in September at 54 Carden St., offering an array of handmade and vintage clothing and jewellery.
Raffin said he hopes people feel “that really happy, summery, vibrant” feeling you get on vacation when they come into the store.
Born and raised in Guelph, Raffin often travels to Mexico, and was particularly inspired by the small, independent stores in a city called Monterrey.
“I was really inspired by that, seeing a lot of colours. The spaces they created had so much character and concept. And for me, that was very important. I like getting transported somewhere,” he said.
“You kind of get a hit of dopamine or something when you enter somewhere new,” he said. “My brand, Three Pieces, is inspired by travel and tourism, and that excitement you get when you’re escaping your problems.”
It’s something Raffin is committed to with little touches all over the store, from the essential oil diffuser with a unique blend of oils to the projector casting a concept video on the wall.
The store even won both first place and the fan favourite in the downtown Guelph Storefront Decorating contest mid-December, for a large, bright display handmade by Raffin.
“I’m very mindful of every single aspect that goes into that feeling when people enter,” he said, adding this is just the beginning, since the store only opened in September.
He shares the space with Mudanca, a Toronto-based size-inclusive brand that specializes in handmade slow fashion, like crocheted cardigans and halter tops.
The pair met a few years ago at a music festival they were vending at, and found they had a similar aesthetic and customer base.
“She designs things for people who go on vacation and go to music festivals. Same with mine, I design for somebody who wants to stand out and go to a music festival or go on vacation,” he said.
They decided to go in on a storefront together, since sharing the costs would bring less risk if it didn’t work out.
Among the bright colours and wicker decor, they sell a mix of vintage pieces, jewellery, Mudanca originals and some of Raffin’s own reworks, as he calls them, since he typically upcycles materials. For example, turning an old tapestry blanket into a new, fringe-covered sweater.
Some of his reworks are more neutral resort-wear, but others are a bit flashier, intended for stage performers or festival-goers, for instance.
“The pieces I make, anyone can wear,” he said. “I’m not restricting that for a male to wear, it could be a female, it could be anybody, non-binary. Anyone can wear my pieces. The main thing is making somebody feel really special and unique.”
His originals tend to sell quickly, and since opening the store he hasn’t had a lot of time to design. But he hopes that changes soon, and he can bring more of his own work to the store.
However, even the vintage pieces in the store have been touched by Raffin’s handiwork in some way. Pieces that have holes or stains, for example, have been repaired and reworked to look new again.
When it comes to clothes, “there are always ways to give it new life and make it desirable again. That’s the main concept of my brand,” he said, referencing the three arrows in the recycling logo.
The storefront is a year-long pop up. Raffin said they wanted to see how it goes before committing to anything longer.
He’s viewing this year as a trial period to figure out what works and doesn’t work.
“It was a huge leap for me, because I don’t come from money,” he said. “Anything that I built came from my foundation of saving and investing any money that I made from the markets into my business.”
Owning a storefront has been a lifelong dream of Raffin’s, one he says he can’t believe he’s living right now.
“But I’m taking it one day at a time and knowing that it could very well be taken away from me at any point, so I just really appreciate every moment of this,” he said.