How it All Began
Snowflake’s founder, Rokie Bernstein, 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. Thus the idea for Snowflake was born.
On October 14, 1979 the first Snowflake store was ready for opening. Located in the lower level 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 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 specializing in outerwear and accessories created from natural fibers like: cashmere, shearling, wool, leather and fur. Snowflake as we know it today took shape.
Locations and Expansions
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 and currently holds the position of CFO.
Along the way, sister stores Wild Rose, Snowrose, and Softwear came and went. Wild Rose sold casual coordinates and sportswear. In 1987 the first Vancouver Snowflake opened up in the Landing, in Gastown. Then in 1988, the chance to move onto the Avenue in Banff arose and Rokie seized it. The store as it presently stands opened up that May. It was the first of many stores designed by Bob Cameron. In 1989 another dream come true year – a store in Whistler! 1991 brought the opportunity to move from 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 and stores were opened in the Hotel Vancouver (October 1993) and the Westin Bayshore (May 1993).
The company was getting larger and Rokie and Megan could no longer run Snowflake out of the back of a store. And so, in 1995 the office moved into Vancouver’s Showmart building.
Retail opportunity again knocked and so in 1996 a second store in the Banff Springs Hotel came into being.
The Snowflake family was busting at the seams. Head office staff was flushed out. As well, there were expansions at both Hotel Vancouver (1996) and Whistler (1998).
In 2000 Canadian Pacific Hotels and Resorts, owners of the Banff Springs Hotel changed their management strategy and 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. There was a new head office location in the FX Exchange Building; with storage on site and room to grow.
Rokie’s philosophy on expansion was always that any location to be considered must be on the corner of here and now. Miriam Joy, a new concept store at the front of the Cascade Plaza in Banff, fit those criteria to a T. Like our successful private label, the store was a tribute to Rokie and Megan’s mom, “From extremely affordable to a tad indulgent; life’s little luxuries in cashmere and fine furs”.
On December 31, 2005, the Westin Bayshore location closed after 12 years. New owners of the hotel decided to do another major renovation, and so took back the space.
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 and we are very glad to be there.
With the encouragement of Fairmont, we opened a temporary men’s store in Chateau Whistler during the 2010 Winter Olympics and introduced the world to our menswear collection.
After 17 years at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver our lease was not renewed. On September 30, 2010 we closed our doors there and moved to 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. With tough economic times still looming, it made sense to consolidate our resources and concentrate on the best of the best.
In 2015, we moved into a temporary Vancouver location on Howe Street between Pender and Dunsmuir. Now in 2016 we have four bustling locations and we are anxiously awaiting the opening of our new Vancouver home. We will be moving in the fall, and can hardly wait!
Growing our Private Labels
As with the rest of the company our products are forever evolving. In the beginning, Rokie deliberately chose not to brand Snowflake but chose to only promote Canadian designers and companies. Over the years, that philosophy has changed slightly. Hand in hand, along with our continual support and promotion of great Canadian companies select private labels have been developed to enhance some of our unique products.
Our private label – Miriam Joy, was helped in the beginning by Parkhurst, a three generation Canadian knitwear company. 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. Woven cashmere capes, jackets, shawls and coats have now joined the Miriam Joy family.
Along with the creation of Miriam Joy in 2001 came another private label, Gram’s Girls – cotton picture sweaters. They were designed in Canada and made in China. Gram was, of course, Miriam Joy.
Il Fait Froid, translates to It’s Cold -- A perfect name for our unique and luxurious collection of woven fur accessories. Designed in Canada and made in China, the line has everything from hats, headbands, scarfs, shawls and vests.
Athabasca Softwear, named after the iconic Canadian body of water, is the name of our exclusive line of outerwear. From down-filled to fur lined our outerwear is well designed, well-made and always distinctive.
Named after Rokie’s daughter, Miel, Honey Furs is our stunning line of truly extraordinary fur garments. As with all of our private label products – it is set to the highest standards of design, quality and workmanship. It is designed in Canada and is made both in Canada and China.
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 online from the comfort of their homes. And soon, along with the opening of our next location, we will be relaunching a brand new eCommerce web-site.
Simply the best in great Canadian design has been our catch phrase for over three decades. With the support of our customers, our suppliers and our staff we will continue to grow into it.