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Q&A Shayne Stephens

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T his country’s most influential men’s fashion and lifestyle expert, Shayne Stephens is the host of the upcoming new series Style Scout for ET Canada. We sat down with the Winnipeg born journalist turned fashion/retail executive to get the scoop on his new show and find out what’s ahead in the world of fashion.

Q: Congratulations on becoming the host of Style Scout for ET Canada. What sort of person is going to love this show?

A: Thanks! It’s definitely an exciting time for me. That’s a great question. In each episode, we explore what makes a different city or region unique and culturally relevant according to the locals, not the guidebooks, so I think that Style Scout will be loved by anyone with an adventurous, curious spirit.

Q: Why did you want to be involved in this show?

A: Who wouldn’t want to be a part of this show? As someone that loves to travel, explore and meet new people, it’s literally my dream gig.

Q: What’s going to surprise people about Style Scout?

A: I think people will be surprised by how multi-faceted the show is when it comes to subject matter. There is a common misconception that style and fashion are synonymous, when, in fact, style encompasses so much more than just fashion. Don’t get me wrong, fashion plays an integral role in the series, but so does food, drinks, music, art, design and anything else that contributes to a locale’s greatness, which means there’s really something for every viewer.

Q: What do you love most about fashion?

A: Maybe it’s the Winnipeg in me, but I love the freedom fashion offers the bold. It’s very ‘punk rock’ that way. I wear what I like when I want to wear it, dress codes be damned. It’s probably the only part of my life where I’m in complete control. That doesn’t mean I’m disrespectful or inappropriate - I range from bespoke suits to nerdy things I like from subcultures I’ve never been a part of - but it allows me to always be unapologetically me.

Q: How did your upbringing in Winnipeg shape you into the person you are today?

A: Winnipeg is a rough and tumble prairie city full of wonderful people that don’t get too caught up in materialistic bullshit and aren’t impressed by things that don’t really matter. They work hard, play hard, and are as likely to give you a hug as they are a shot in the nose a few drinks in, if they feel you’re getting too big for your britches. What generally impresses my Toronto counterparts tends to get me a light ribbing from my Winnipeg friends. I think that has kept me pretty grounded. The city is also extremely diverse and unique in that it’s best and brightest have always peacefully co-mingled with its rougher characters, which means that from very early on you end up exposed to, and building relationships with, all sorts of people, no matter what their background or social status. Because of this, I can speak as comfortably with a biker as I can a banker and oddly enough, that has been an invaluable skill.

Q: You’re an award-winning journalist. How did you transition from that into the marketing world?

A: Years back, while living in Winnipeg, I came to a place where I didn’t feel inspired or challenged by what I was doing in the publishing arena. I loved writing, but it was becoming increasingly more difficult to make a living at it, so to pay the bills you had to work as an editor, which meant I either needed to pack my bags and head back to Toronto or be okay with editing lackluster trade publications for the rest of my life. I chose Toronto, but before I moved, I ended up at Peter Nygard’s Bahamian paradise, helping a friend host a party that Mr. Nygard was throwing for some international beach volleyball stars. It was then that I met his Director of Marketing, Tiina Tulikorpi, who claimed to have seen something in me, and offered me a job in her department. I’d never even contemplated marketing as a career option and was intrigued, so I accepted. She was my boss and mentor for seven years, patiently teaching me the fundamentals, drilling the importance of strategic partnerships into my head. That time with her set me up to make the jump to Holt Renfrew and then Saks Fifth Avenue. I owe her a lot.

Q: What makes a successful marketing strategy?

A: Marketing is actually very simple. You identify your target demographic and then figure out clever ways to communicate your message to it. It’s not rocket science. A couple things are key to a successful marketing strategy. The first is a clear definition of your target. Without that, you’re doomed. The second is a smart, strategic collaboration plan. Partnerships, more than ever before, are an affordable way to open your brand up to new eyeballs, foot traffic and potential clients, making them an imperative component of an overall strategy.

Q: Fifth Avenue. What was the biggest accomplishment you contributed to the company?

A: I think my biggest accomplishment was assembling a marketing team that was able to successfully position Saks Canada as a cultural tastemaker, which is something I think the brand struggles with internationally. We made the brand cool by being unexpected and edgy - without sacrificing luxury - creating memorable, once-in-a-lifetime moments for the community. We also showed Toronto that a retailer - now seen as antiquated - could be relevant and that getting a Saks Fifth Avenue invite was an honour.

Q: What are some of the biggest events you’ve been involved with and how did they affect the overall success of the brands?

A: At this point, I’ve been involved in a ton of big events. My favourite thus far, however, was the Saks Fifth Avenue X Guccighost event we held to celebrate Canada 150. The original concept was to host a Canada 150 series, throwing a quarterly event in celebration of a different internationally renowned Canadian artist. The US team liked the idea, but scaled it back significantly, only approving one event. To make it big, we collaborated with Trevor Andrew, a.k.a. Guccighost, on a partnership that saw him come to Toronto and create 17 new, original pieces for a Queen Street window bank takeover, conduct media interviews, attend a VIP client luncheon and associate meet-and-greet and curate - slash almost completely destroy - an unoccupied office space in Simpson Tower for the VIP party for over 500 guests. It successfully showed the marketplace that Saks had its ear to the ground and could identify and celebrate a Canadian starting to make waves in a realm that wasn’t fashion, but clearly aligned with it. It wasn’t about selling product. To this day, people bring up that event as their all-time favourite and offer how it changed the way they saw Saks moving forward.

Q: What does success look like to you?

A: Success to me is having married your passion toyour profession in a way that earns you respect, a living and a rolodex of people that will gladly come to the table for you when your niece and nephews need their first internships.

Q: If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before the beginning of your career what would it be?

A: There was this saying floating around Instagram not too long ago, and while it’s a tad cliche, it’s true. It was, “trust the timing of your life.” I think we get so caught up in the hustle, chasing the end game, comparing ourselves to others, that it’s easy to become anxious and disheartened instead of thankful. I think I would tell myself choose contentment during the tough times and make big, bold, out-of-my-comfortzone moves during the good. I’d also remind myself that no matter how I feel along the way, I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. That all will work out.

Q: What drives you each day?

A: Continual progression. I need to know that I’m moving forward, always working on bigger and better things. If I’m not, it’s time for me to move on.