She needed a footstool to get on the chair so she could see over the cash counter. Tribal handicrafts and clothes were stacked and displayed floor to ceiling, so she had to use the ladder constantly. “This does not work for me,” said Rokie. And thus the idea for Snowflake was born.
October 14, 1979 was a beautiful fall day. The painters, carpenters and other workmen had finally left. The store was ready for opening. Located in the lower level (a fancy name for basement) of the Sundance Mall, the original Snowflake was truly a showcase. It featured hand rolled stained glass, arched display cases, and a u-shaped floating cash counter. It was only 400 square feet, but was merchandised like a full service store. In the early days Snowflake sold boots, shoes, hand painted long underwear, and clothing for men and children as well as women. As well the store carried a wide array of Canadian -made leathers, furs, sweaters, outerwear and accessories – for which Snowflake is now famous.
Rokie was and still is a visionary. She reasoned people coming from all over the world would not want to buy plastic Mounties - made in Japan. Her idea was to sell Canadian – and to promote new Canadian design talent. She sold the first ever Paula Lishman knitted furs (a story in itself), and supported companies like Lyn Leather, Norma and Jinx. Gabriel Levy, Annie Chouinard and Cheryl Straby were all young designers showcased at Snowflake. Over the years Rokie refined the concept of Snowflake. Men’s wear, children’s wear, shoes, jewelry, belts, panty hose and cloth coordinates were all dropped from the product mix. Snowflake as we know it today took shape.
The second Snowflake store opened up in the lobby of the Banff Springs Hotel in the spring of 1980, and is still located there. Megan, Rokie’s sister joined the company as manager in the fall of 1981. By 1983 Megan had moved into the office looking after the money -the advertising -the maintenance- and the…
Along the way, sister stores Wild Rose, Snowrose, and Softwear came and went. Wild Rose sold casual coordinates and sportswear. Snowrose was a permanent sale store, and Softwear sold outerwear and accessories. In 1987 the first Vancouver Snowflake opened up in the Landing. In 1988 the chance to move onto the Avenue in Banff arose and Rokie seized it. Construction was interrupted first by the Olympics and then by a fire. The store as it presently stands opened up that May. It was the first of many stores designed by Bob Cameron. 1989 was another dream come true year – a store in Whistler! 1991 brought the opportunity to get out of the Landing and move onto Robson Street. This was just a stepping-stone to where Rokie envisioned Snowflake to really be – in the lobby of the best hotels. In 1993, this dream became a reality. Before the opportunity to get into Hotel Vancouver (October 1993) came along, the Bayshore (May 1993) another dream location came available.
The company was getting larger. Doing business was getting more complicated. Technology was taking up more time and space. No longer could Rokie and Megan run Snowflake out of the back of a store. And so, in 1995 the office moved into the Showmart building.
Retail opportunity again knocked and so in 1996 a second store in the Banff Springs Hotel (arcade level this time) came into being. The Snowflake family was busting at the seams. Head office staff was flushed out. Someone was hired to look after operations. Tracy was brought in from the stores to be associate buyer. Business has been better every year. The expansions at
Revised: July 2012
Hotel Vancouver (1996) and Whistler (1998) were terrific. Head office moved to a larger location, and the Head Office Hunnies acquired a full time assistant.
Parkhurst was a staple at Snowflake in the beginning, and were instrumental in getting our private label – Miriam Joy, off the ground. Miriam Joy was a tribute to Rokie and Megan’s mother who died in 1997. The collection of cashmere and cashmere blend sweaters and accessories has changed over the years. Some are made in Canada, and some – another Snowflake first - are made in China and the Philippines.
In 2000 Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts, owners of the Banff Springs Hotel changed their management strategy. They decided to run their own retail. And so, after more than twenty years we no longer had a presence in the hotel.
2001 saw other changes for Snowflake. A new head office location in the FX Exchange Building; with storage on site and room to grow.
The company continued to grow. Rokie’s philosophy on expansion is that any location to be considered must be on the corner of here and now. Miriam Joy, located at the front of the Cascade Plaza (Banff Ave and Wolf St) in Banff, fit those criteria to a T. Like the private label, the store was a tribute to Rokie and Megan’s mom. It’s a concept store, “From extremely affordable to a tad indulgent; life’s little luxuries in cashmere and fine furs”.
Along with the opening of Mariam Joy came another private label, Gram’s Girls – cotton picture sweaters made in China. Gram was of course Miriam Joy.
Furs have always been featured at Snowflake. Even in the years when selling fur was unpopular with environmentalists the company supported the Canadian fur industry. When fur became more popular again Snowflake chose to add yet another private label – Il Fait Froid for furs and furries from China.
Gazelle and Honey Furs were the last private labels to join the team. The Gazelle label features leather and reversible leather jackets, some with detachable fur. Honey Furs are not so traditional – traditional furs mostly in mink. Both Gazelle and Honey Furs are made in China.
December 31, 2005 was a sad day at Snowflake. Our store in the Westin Bayshore closed after 12 years. New owners of the hotel decided to do another major renovation, and so took back our space.
As we all know, time means change. It is a 24/7 world. People are busy, and busy means business in a different way. Since 2005 Snowflake’s international clientele have been able to shop from the comfort of their own homes.
After an absence of over 20 years, Snowflake again carries that special something for men. Most stores have a section for men featuring, fur and leather outerwear – as well as gloves, hats, scarves and boots. Launched in the fall of 2007, the men’s lines have been very successful.
Another first for Snowflake occurred in the fall of 2007. The B.C. stores received the Fur Salon of the year award from Consumers’ Choice Awards.
2008 ended on a high note with a new store in the Banff Springs Hotel. After almost eight years waiting and hoping to be in the hotel again, we were invited back. We are very glad to be there.
With the encouragement of Fairmont, we opened a separate men’s store in Chateau Whistler. Though only open for the “Olympic” season, it did introduce the world to our menswear collection.
Sadly after 17 years our lease in the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver was not renewed. On September 30, 2010 we closed our doors there. Fortunately we were able to find a new home just a few blocks away at the corner of Pender and Howe.
2011 saw the closing of another store, this time our choice. It was a tough decision but the time had come to let Miriam Joy go. The Cascade Plaza in Banff did not turn out to be a good fit for us. With tough economic times still looming, it made sense to consolidate our resources and concentrate on the best of the best.
The first decades have been an incredible experience. We have had many memorable moments, moments of sadness, moments of gladness and moments of madness. What will the future bring? Rokie is trying to spend less and less time in the office and is leaving more and more of the day-to-day running of the company to the Head Office Team. She is still President and CEO, and continues to hold the overall vision of the company. Megan Halprin sits in the chair as CFO.
And of course we have an able team of buyers. With the support of our suppliers, agents, and staff we will continue to grow and thrive. Simply the best in great Canadian design has been our catch phrase for over three decades. We will continue to grow into it.