Workspace of the Month: Inside SSENSE’s State-Of-The-Art Montreal HQ

The e-commerce pioneer is redefining how a digital-first company comes together IRL
When the company shifted to a hybrid model, its real estate team prioritized open-concept meeting spaces (Photographs: Richmond Lam)

Montreal-based retailer SSENSE has a global following not just for its curated selection of streetwear and luxury fashion but also for its distinct point of view—cool, confident and cutting edge.

It’s an unmistakable vibe that’s consistent at all touch points: on its clutter-free website and app, at its David Chipperfield-designed flagship store in Old Montreal and in its unassuming corporate headquarters in the Garment District. “Our office is very understated, which is a lot of what we’re about,” says chief people officer Julie Forman.

An early adopter of a less-is-more aesthetic, SSENSE fashioned its open-concept space in a brutalist style. It was designed by local firm Atelier Barda, which created custom fixtures like concrete Chabanel chairs that sit amid dozens of tropical plants in black resin planters.

The lobby of e-commerce retailer SSENSE with a human behind the front desk
The minimalist reception area is flooded with natural light thanks to wall-to-wall windows

You won’t find any blue-chip artwork on the white walls or any corner offices or other status signalling; members of the C-suite share the same space as every other staff member, and the flashiest thing about it is its unobstructed view of the city, stretching from Olympic Stadium to St. Joseph’s Oratory.

A finger scanner inside Montreal's SSENSE workspace
A high volume of people and goods is always flowing through HQ, so biometric scanners were installed for extra security

In the two decades since CEO and co-founder Rami Atallah created the e-commerce platform as part of his graduate thesis in computer engineering at Polytechnique Montréal, SSENSE has become a world-class retail leader, achieving a $5 billion valuation in 2021.

Its fashion offerings—which focus on luxury houses like Balenciaga, Gucci and Saint Laurent and emerging brands like Jacquemus and Chopova Lowena—have been rounded out by additional categories, including pet products, housewares, personal-care items, tech and kidswear, over the past four years.

Two workers standing in the hallway wearing black and talking to each other at SSENSE's Montreal office
There are no executive offices as members of the C-suite share the same space as every other staff member

Since moving to its current address from a previous space a few blocks away in 2013, the company has expanded across three storeys of the building, taking up a total of 16,000 square metres.

The multiple groups that work there range from legal, finance, HR, merchandising, marketing and customer-experience personnel to a tech team of 300 dev-ops and data engineers, quality-assurance testers, user-interface designers and product experts.

During the pandemic, renovation plans were reconfigured to accommodate a hybrid work model, which was officially put in place last year. Most of the company’s 1,800 employees—who are based in Montreal, Toronto, New York City, Dallas and London—work remotely, but those based locally can choose when to use the office.

A worker in a yellow sweatshirt working at a computer inside Montreal's SSENSE office
In the 10,700-square-metre studio space, team members work on uploading photos and descriptions of new arrivals to

“It’s really about letting employees decide how to spend their time and when they need to collaborate in person with colleagues,” says Forman, who joined SSENSE last year after working at organizational-consulting firm Korn Ferry.

The company’s real estate team created open areas with flexible seating configurations, like communal tables, mobile desks and window counters with stools, as well as spaces dedicated to meetings, including an auditorium that seats up to 500, and a quiet area for deep work.

A woman working on a laptop while sitting on a black couch inside SSENSE's office
Architecture and interiors firm Atelier Barda brought in custom furniture

There are also a whopping 39 on-site photography studios, with even more located at the company’s fulfillment centre 10 kilometers away. In these lively spaces, a cacophony of music and upbeat chatter fills the air as photographers capture as many as 1,500 brand-new products per day for the website.

In short, it’s a fashion lover’s paradise. “It’s probably the largest closet in Montreal,” says Forman.

This article appears in print in the Spring 2023 issue of Canadian Business magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $40 a year.

Caitlin Agnew
Caitlin Agnew
Caitlin Agnew is a freelance writer and editor based near Toronto. She writes about fashion, beauty, wellness, retail and lifestyle trends.