Companies & Industries

How Frank & Oak built one of Canada's most exciting brands

A Q&A with the co-founders


It’s taken Frank & Oak just over a year to establish itself as one of Canada’s most exciting retail and fashion brands. The Montreal-based online clothing brand has amassed about 500,000 members thanks to combining a smooth e-commerce experience, with a slick magazine-like interface and a fashion sense that got the attention of men’s bibles like Esquire and GQ.

In January, the company launched its mobile app and says it already accounts for 15% of sales. Last month in Toronto, they unveiled a new line of undershirts and underwear, expanding its offerings to all aspects of the wardrobe.

I spoke to co-founders Ethan Song and Hicham Ratnani about starting a brand from scratch, the challenges of success, why they’ll never leave Mile End and more.

Building a brand from scratch is no easy task. What’s been the most significant ingredient in building the Frank & Oak identity?

Ethan Song: “To build a brand, you have to have a set of values and right from the start both myself and Hicham have held to these. We’re both well-travelled guys who have lived around the world so there’s always the travel aspect of the brand and also injecting the entrepreneurial spirit into the brand identity is something we’ve done.”

Hicham Ratnani: “Ethan is an engineer who went to art school. I’m an engineer who was also a bit of a jock, so we mix and match different spheres of our lives. Ultimately, today’s modern man is not one thing or the other. There are different spheres to his life. What we’ve been able to achieve, is take the retail concept of seasons and apply it to our technology-driven brand and apply that concept to monthly collections and more data-driven collections where we study our clients, what they want, what they’re buying, along with other general trends and come up with something unique.”

Your brand and products quickly went beyond Canadian borders. How important was it for you to start and headquarter the company in Montreal? Is international expansion ahead or necessary?

Hicham Ratnani: “There’s always people who will say you have to go to New York or Silicon Valley. Ultimately, we’re a mix of retail, fashion and technology and we’re firm believers that Montreal is the perfect place for that mix. The city has a very deep history in textiles and garments; there are many strong international and Canadian retail brands headquartered in Montreal; and for technology, the city has top-notch universities and talent. So we’re at a unique intersection of all of these and very proud to be there.

Montreal, as a city, is exotic enough to be intriguing but close enough to be familiar. And in a way, that’s what we try to portray in our brand. That being said, 70% of our sales are in the US and a third of those are in California. We ship a lot of goods south of the border and we’re very happy to bring that capital back to this country and to Montreal.”

Given those numbers, is having an American base of operations in the works?

Hicham Ratnani: “We’re looking at different partners and talking to various people about these possibilities. The guys at Beyond the Rack have been great help and we’ve been talking to them about various ways to find the best win-win situation.”

Over the past few years, the idea of brands producing content has been a hot topic in marketing. You guys unveil your collections in very magazine-like issues, with video trailers. How important is that for setting the tone of the brand identity?

Hicham Ratnani: “It’s extremely important to establish the tone and voice of the brand. We’re happy to produce the products, marketing and customer service, but to also put those products into perspective. It’s a way to illustrate the philosophy behind the products and the brand.”


E-commerce can be a cold experience. You guys incorporate a few touches to add some personality to it, like the handwritten notes inside each purchase. Why is that important?

Hicham Ratnani: “Think about the fortune cookie. When you open that up your reaction is based on the specific emotion of surprise and delight. We try to replicate that—something that’s a nice surprise and a feel-good moment. That’s what we try to do with our personalized touch in every single box. Every single card is handwritten, short and simple. The card is also themed by whatever collection the item is from. As a consumer, you open up the box and you’re happy with you’re product but then there’s this little personalized note that just adds to the experience. Focusing on those details is very important.”