Yoka Fashions is thrilled to be open at its new location at 1627 Niagara Stone Rd. in Virgil.
While somewhat new to NOTL, Yoka has actually been in business as a high-end fashion retailer since 2001.
Owner Carla Kloosterhuis, a NOTL local since 2012, first opened Yoka (her mom’s name) as a cart in Oakville Place mall when she was 22.
With a strong fashion retail background learned from a family store in the Netherlands, Carla sought to bring that same look and feel to Canada and find a way to work for herself.
What started as a mall kiosk selling one size fits all imported fashion, soon became an institution for Euro fashion on Queen Street East in the Beaches area of Toronto, Carla’s 'hood.
Yoka became famous for its unique brands and the warm, welcoming vibe in the Beaches shop, keeping people from all over the GTA coming back for more.
But Carla always knew that just being a retailer wasn’t enough and was striveed to do and be more. At the mall, she rented out the food court and put on catered fashion shows and events.
At the Queen Street store, she had DJs spinning in the windows on Sunday afternoons and was always hosting private shopping parties.
Yoka’s collection always consisted of easy-to-wear fashion … with an edge.
Her collections grew into more than just Dutch fashions, adding plenty of Canadian-made designs and footwear from Spain and Italy.
In 2012, Carla decided to pursue another dream and moved to beautiful Niagara-on-the-Lake, shortly after starting a family of her own.
She maintained her Queen Street store and found a way to live both an urban and country lifestyle. It wasn’t easy, but nothing good ever is.
When the pandemic started in 2020, Yoka faced the challenge many small businesses did – the first dreaded lockdown.
All at once, 18 years of being dependent on foot traffic came to a halt and Carla knew it was time to build the one thing Yoka was missing: an e-commerce store.
She wasted no time and brought her first U-Haul of inventory home from the Beaches to NOTL in March 2020, to rebuild the business from her basement.
It didn’t take long before Yoka’s website was up and running. She modelled all the fashions herself, with longtime friend and legendary photographer Michelle Quance, choosing locations all over Niagara region as backdrops.
Carla decided not to return to Queen Street retail and make this new chapter of her life and business work, putting her young children’s needs first.
That summer, Carla did over 1,000 in-person deliveries and over 20 pop-ups in her old beloved Beach neighbourhood.
In April 2020, she tried her first Instagram Live show, which to her surprise became a huge hit.
Having a strong 18-year relationship with her followers, she was able to determine what styles and sizes her customers would need, modelling it all on Instagram herself.
“Friday Night Live” sent her business from surviving to thriving and now reaches customers nationwide with a steady following tuning in every week.
With a modelling background, Carla was a natural at presenting her hand-picked fashions and was not afraid of what might happen on a live show, often in front of as many as 200 viewers.
The live shows became a way for friends and longtime Yoka customers to connect, often laughing and commenting to one another through the feed and having a lot of fun.
It became a survival mechanism for many to get through the lockdown loneliness, which gave Carla a new purpose for her fashion empire.
In August 2020, Yoka moved into her small space on Mary Street, barely opening for retail as capacity limits were hindering and the Friday Live action turned the space into a studio, and pack-and-ship zone.
Now a month in at her newest location, Carla and staff are thrilled to welcome shoppers into a beautiful shopping space filled with all of Yoka’s favourite brands.
Yoka also has its own private label and continues to import from her homeland the Netherlands brands that are exclusive to Yoka.
Store hours are Wednesday to Saturday 10-5 and Sunday 11-5, with a Friday Instagram Live show almost every week.
Check out the website at www.yokafashions.com or follow her on Instagram @yokafashions to stay up-to-date and tune into Friday Live shopping.