Tucked away in the Yaletown Shops on Homer Street lies a little fashion gem: the whimsically named Woo To See You boutique. It’s where shoppers can find a well-curated mix of unique Korean designs, European styling, as well as local jewelry.
Two mannequins standing outside the shop gave a small indication that fashion existed inside the indoor plaza. From the outside we could see the entire shop in one glance. Although Woo To See You is small in size, it’s jam packed with great products, and a great shopping experience too.
Ours began when we met Hans Woo, store owner of Woo to See You. Dressed in a slick leather jacket, harem pants, winter tuque, and peep-toe pumps with socks, we could tell this was one woman confident in expressing her unique style.
In her down to earth manner she told us her story. A fashion designer by trade, Hans worked in Korea’s fashion industry but needed a break from her work. She first visited Vancouver in 2008 and immediately fell in love with the city.
In 2009, she moved back, got some experience in retail and started planning her own store. She created an e-commerce store in 2012 because she wanted a flexible schedule. But the charming and extroverted Hans soon realized it was more fun for her to meet people face-to-face, whether it was customers she introduced new brands to, or suppliers stopping by to check on how their pieces were doing. So in the summer of 2013, she set up shop in Yaletown.
The idea of Woo To See You was to bring Korean culture and style to Vancouver. And how exactly? It had to stay small and personal. Things have definitely changed since she started. Hans says, “When I first started this business I was only thinking about ‘Is this going to sell or not?’… It is a different culture and different style where I am from, so I was always thinking about if this will do well in North America… So I started thinking like, if this piece doesn’t sell, do I keep it? Am I confident enough to say this looks awesome, like you have to have this piece? Or do I need to wait for someone to walk in who really likes this stuff. So I started shopping by following my style.”
By sticking to her guns, she ends up spending countless hours researching the perfect mix of product for her customers. Each brand she brings in has to pass three tests: the design has to be unique, of good quality, and reasonably affordable.
I tried on an oversized blue and white Pink Berry sweater coat, and immediately noticed there were 3 different kinds of patterns in the knit. I confessed to Hans that although the oversized sweater was super unique, it wasn’t a silhouette I was used to seeing on myself. She assured me I wasn’t the first person who reacted to the designs this way, and went on to explain why she chose a looser aesthetic.
“I don’t wear really tight-fitting dresses. We did have a lot of straight fit last summer. I had so many people who came in and tried them on and asked me for a belt, and I was like ‘No belt! Not allowed here!’”
We couldn’t help but crack up laughing because it’s so true: Vancouverites can definitely play it safe, but Woo To See You is here to push your comfort zone, in the kindest way. She takes great care of her customers by educating them that loose-fitting cuts, drop-shoulder styles and cocoon shapes are an aesthetic to be embraced, not belted. “I think people just need to try… and just experience,” Hans remarked.
I asked her to elaborate on what she meant by ‘good quality.’ Instead of luxury fabrics we would expect like silk and cashmere, she made a case that good quality also meant longevity. Hans said, “I do love cashmere but I stopped buying cashmere products because it’s so hard to take care of them… so I do think about those factors. If people do buy this, is it easy to wash or take care of?” I wholeheartedly agree with her philosophy; it might be a lot more closet-sustainable if you can wear it a hundred times rather than wear it only a few times before the delicate fabric tears, or having to endlessly pay for dry cleaning.
For many of us who are shop high and low, who pick up pieces at Forever 21 and occasionally drop a few bills at Holt’s, Woo To See You could be our new best friend. A beautiful black coat by Barcelona designer Nerea Lurgain retails at only $179 – a price which is nearly impossible to find in the mall let alone a Yaletown boutique. Anyone can afford to look unique here, as the store carries limited runs of each style.
When asked whether she misses fashion design, she said with a knowing smile, “I think I had fun with it but I am in a different place now. I have more fun curating pieces than making it. “
In the future, we will be seeing her own designs – although not in fashion. She and her husband, Justin, plan to start a lifestyle line (stationery, tote bags) named after his grandmother, Hilda, who had a passion for sewing.
“We’re really excited to do it! We just have to find some time to do it.”
Be sure to check out all the amazing designs at Woo To See You in Yaletown at 129 – 1208 Homer Street.
Words by Miranda Sam
Photos by DesireeAnne Holder