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photo by Mico Mazza

Local clothing store turns 15

PEOPLE GENERALLY COME to Ottawa for the novelty of visiting Canada’s capital. Tourists take in its beautiful landscape, historical monuments, and its academic and bureaucratic atmosphere, but rarely its fashion.

As the humble neighbour of major cities like Toronto and Montreal, Ottawa’s fashion scene is mercilessly outshone by the gleaming Yonge Street and the lively Ste-Catherine Street. Still, Ottawa has a few fashion gems of its own. NRML clothing, which celebrated its 15th anniversary this summer, is one urban streetwear boutique that Toronto and Montreal can’t hold a candle to.

“Growing up in Southern Ontario and influenced by street culture, the owner and his partner developed the store’s concept which is community-based, deeply rooted in graffiti, underground rave, and street culture,” says Josh Chambers, a NRML employee for three years and manager of the store’s website, Facebook page, and blog.

Located in the heart of the Byward Market, NRML began from the ground up as an independent business in 1997. Gradually gaining attention and esteem in the local fashion industry, NRML has become one of Ottawa’s elite fashion shops.

“The idea behind NRML started with the brand itself. It evolved from selling what companies in Ottawa provided at the time to opening a retail store for [the] public and selling other brands,” explains Chambers.

NRML sells a mix of international and local brands as well as its house brand. The international brands include the familiar Vans, Keds, Fred Perry, Nike, and Timberland, while locally based brands include Bad Habit and PICA jewellery.

Contrary to the belief that NRML is a male-oriented clothing store, its upper floor houses only women’s wear. It draws in a wide range of customers.

“We have a way of attracting everyone. Some brands are more youth-oriented but we also have more mature looks such as Fred Perry and Penfield. With [selling] Canada Goose, we already have a mix clientele because everybody wants to get warm in the winter. Our main segment is males and females ranging from ages 16 to 38 but we are open to everyone,” says Chambers.

To commemorate its 15-year milestone, NRML launched a special in-store event this July in collaboration with Nike, releasing two models of Nike shoes inspired by the anniversary. Thirty-eight pairs of shoes were given away to event guests. There was also a  performance by Los Angeles-based modern funk singer Dâm-Funk. As part of the same event, NRML launched limited-edition T-shirts with designs by French graffiti artist 123 Klan.

NRML’s clientele isn’t just limited to the downtown area. The brand is branching out on Canadian  and international soil thanks to its newly designed online store. NRML receives orders from the United States, Australia, and Singapore. However, it’s the local fashion scene that helped NRML get to where it is today.

“I think the local fashion scene here is underrated; I don’t think Ottawa gets the credit it deserves, but at the same time there is always room for growth. Young people should support local independent shops like NRML. As Ottawa grows, so will [its] fashion,” says Chambers.

—Quan Wen