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The Lavish Minimalism of Montreal’s SSENSE Studio

It’s not often that anyone other than a professor will read a final project, but Rami Atallah’s computer engineering graduate thesis turned passion project became SSENSE. Pronounced essence, the global fashion platform is averaging 32 million page views per month.

Atallah emigrated to Montreal from Damascus, Syria with his family when he was fifteen. While attending Polytechnique Montreal, he built the first SSENSE e-commerce platform. Seeing the potential to scale, he enlisted his two brothers Bassel and Firas—now the COO and CFO, respectively—to launch the business in 2003.

The Montreal-based company has made a name for itself in the international fashion market by specializing in luxury and designer streetwear, carrying both independent and avant-garde labels. Offering menswear and womenswear, anything from a Balmain tailored blazer to a Yeezy oversized bomber jacket represents the mix of both high-fashion and upscale streetwear offered on the site.

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Nearly 80 per cent of SSENSE customers fit into the millennial demographic, buying socks for as little as $20 and limited edition Rolexes for as much as $30,000. The high price points are what make the luxury fashion segment an international market pushing $400 billion annually.

SSENSE serves 114 countries, boasting high double-digit annual growth since inception. The company has become a brand all on its own with a curated selection of menswear, a growing women’s collection and its own original content.

Today, the company has almost 500 full-time employees in Montreal, doubling their staff in the past year alone. Inside its recently expanded head office,SSENSE continues to grow one of the world’s most successful designer fashion platforms.

Work

On Chabanel Street in Montreal’s Garment District, SSENSE took over a former textile factory to create a multipurpose headquarters: part office, part studio and part warehouse.

A black marbled granite reception desk is a striking welcome to the office. Around the space, the factory windows are refinished, pouring in light and providing an unobstructed view of the city center.

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Glass meeting rooms, minimalistic furniture, and white walls give the space a sleek feel, warmed by textured accents. The original warehouse lighting was tailored to the SSENSE aesthetic and reconfigured into an alternating linear grid.

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The entire space is open to promote teamwork and transparency, with ideas sparked through informal desk-side chats.

Employees work from long desk clumps, break-out alcoves, communal standing desks and quiet rooms for silent work. SSENSE’s collaborative culture means even executive leadership sit with their teams in the open office concept.

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A cozy lounge in the center of the office is outfitted with leafy plants, terrazzo tables, and soft seating. For some private time to relax or do research, employees can flip through a magazine or book in the library nook.

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SSENSE houses seven studios along with teams of stylists, photographers, hair and makeup artists, photo editors and copywriters. These teams work incessantly, flying through clothes, poses, photos, and styles. Their photography is one of many industry standouts thanks to a proprietary lighting configuration which, among other things, is hidden from our cameras.

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Food

The laboratory-feel of the kitchen is stocked with hot coffee, grab and go snacks and fresh fruit. SSENSE bookends the week with morning bagels from the notorious St-Viateur on Mondays and beers on Fridays.

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For a true coffee break, the office has two refreshment counters with drip coffee, tea, and espresso and cappuccino machines.

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Culture & Education

SSENSE has a fully-equipped gym, bike storage and showers so employees can squeeze the most out of their day. They also offer discounts on merchandise, public transit passes and the local Énergie Cardio gyms.

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Enrolling in courses, conferences and career development workshops are some of the opportunities offered to the SSENSE team. Internal conferences and departmental lunch and learns are also hosted to further educate employees with past topics including unboxing hype and virtual reality production.

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The company recently launched SSENSE University for its engineering team, an internal conference program where different team members or guests share topic-based presentations to teach skills. There are about eight classes a month, and the company plans on opening the program to other teams soon.

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Fun

Whether it’s wrapping up a big project, launch or feature, SSENSE knows how to party. Team dinners, New York City retreats, and even a yacht party are all perks that teams have enjoyed in the past, not to mention the annual BBQ and lavish holiday parties.

Ping pong, foosball tables and video game stations encourage teams to take a break to play throughout the day. Need some mid-day puppy therapy? The dog-friendly office typically has a few four-legged friends roaming around.

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Photos by Matt Odynski

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