CEM's Transition Into 2022

As of the beginning of the new year, it’s finally official! Cool East Market has a brand new owner, though we’ve known him a long time. We’re thrilled to announce Ivan Hui as the new leader of our shop and see where this year and the following ones will take us together. We thought you’d like to get to know Ivan too, so we asked him to write a few words of introduction.

And to honour her legacy of growing this business from its initial concept into a flourishing community, we asked Leslie to share her experience so that everyone can join in congratulating her hard work and success. Leslie, we all hope we will make you proud by continuing to provide the amazing service you made Cool East Market known for, from a place of integrity and care. 

You can read both of their statements below.

Happy New Year and from the whole team, we hope you enjoy many adventures full of play, laughter and love in 2022.

From L-R: Annanda, Ivan, Leslie, Brody, and Hannah celebrate Leslie's retirement with some delicious dimsum!

Ivan writes,

I was first a customer of Cool East Market in 2017 when I bought my first pair of Xero sandals. I was working in digital marketing and came to the decision to focus more of my time and energy on my true passion, movement and health.

I reached out to the owner of the store, Leslie, about various initiatives I could help out with and started working with her on different projects, mostly to strengthen the store’s digital presence.

Over the next few years, I worked intermittently with Leslie and the rest of the Cool East Market staff while also pursuing my own movement studies, teaching classes as a movement instructor and personal / group training coach. I also spent time supporting other health-related companies with my digital marketing skills, helping them grow and connect with communities.

Leslie and the team have built a truly unique store that goes beyond being a retailer of tabi and minimal footwear. The knowledgeable staff have always strived to educate and support customers with transitioning to wearing minimal shoes and improving their mobility and overall lifestyle.

When Leslie let me know she was hoping to retire, I wanted to help continue Cool East Market’s role in the community, providing excellent service and education. Going forward, our team will keep connecting our customers with footwear and accessories that they love and we’ll do our best to empower others on their journeys in movement and health.

Leslie regards a landscape with dog

Leslie writes,

Every business starts with a dream. After working as a manager in Bell Canada’s mainframe computer department for thirteen years, and then trying to work in Toronto’s film business, I had a dream to be my own boss. In 1999, I decided that I would sell a unique product, something you couldn’t get at a regular store, and I would try to sell it online. 

My background in IT made me confident that I could code a web page and communicate by email with customers. I also had studied Chinese and wanted a connection with China. I originally thought of importing and selling some Asian themed items, such as cloth-soled shoes and a Chinese herbal shampoo I liked. I took a free government course on importing, bought a book on HTML, and started corresponding with Chinese export companies.

One of the possible products was Tabi Socks. I had a pair of traditional all cotton Tabi Socks with the metal fasteners, given to me by a friend who sewed costumes for the Stratford Theatre Festival. The Tabi were so ingenious, practical, and comfortable. You could wear them with your thong sandals. I had a hunch that a modern version of stretchy cotton-nylon Tabi Socks were made in China for the Japanese market. Would other people in North America besides me want to wear these with their sandals?

None of the other products I was interested in were working out, but I found a company that made Tabi for Japan and would sell them to me at a low price. The first shipment of several thousand pairs of Tabi Socks arrived at my house in Spring, 2000. I remember thinking, “if this doesn’t work out, I’ll be giving away a lot of sock puppets.”

That first month I had three orders and I was over the moon! Eventually, using PayPal, then eBay, the Tabi Socks sales expanded. I ordered more and began dyeing them different colours. A customer asked me if I could get the Tabi Boots used for Ninjitsu and it wasn’t hard to find a supplier. The Tabi Boots and Tabi Socks were doing very well. Almost every day, people were dropping by the house to try them on or just pick them up. I thought, why not try also selling them in person in a physical store?

In 2012 I opened the store on the Danforth. After a few years, Tabi sales began to flatten but fortunately, just at that time, a customer showed me his Xero Sandals, which he had made from the DIY kit. The Tabi Socks were perfect to wear with them. Xero was coming out with ready-made sandals and he wished there was a local source for them.

Intrigued by minimal shoes, I started researching. Coming from a martial arts background, minimal shoes made a lot of sense to me. Once again, here was a great product with lots of potential and no one in Canada was selling it. I contacted Xero and got on board.

I had always been annoyed with how difficult it was for Canadians to buy online from the US and decided to make it as easy as possible for fellow Canadians to buy our products. That’s why I established price-tiered free shipping in Canada from the beginning. Meanwhile, the market for minimal shoes exploded and so did the range of minimal options available. I added other brands and then brought in staff to help. Soon we established Cool East Market as the place to go for minimal footwear in Toronto, and the best place in Canada to order from.

The pandemic meant some big changes. One surprise was how well the appointment system worked out. Originally designed to comply with COVID restrictions, it turned out that a private appointment with a fitting specialist actually provided a better experience for our customers.

I’m very grateful to all the staff who have been at Cool East Market over the years, especially Hannah and Annanda who supported me, encouraged me, and taught me more than I can describe here. And to the community of customers who shared information and tips, and helped spread the word. I learned so much from everyone I encountered through Cool East Market.

At 74, it’s time for me to move on to other projects. I’m studying Chinese again, knitting, finally mastering sourdough, and taking nature photos on long walks. When the situation allows, I’m hoping to do some traveling and volunteering in the community.

I’m also very grateful to Ivan Hui, the new owner of Cool East Market. I’m looking forward to the next chapter of my life, confident that Ivan, Hannah, Annanda and now Brody will be there to continue to provide great customer service and move the company forward. 

Cool East Market, I’m leaving you in good hands. Thank you, Ivan, Hannah, Annanda and Brody! All the best! Good Health and Keep Moving!!!