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T&T’s new creative director on bringing film, fashion experience to grocery industry

Photographer and filmmaker Justin Wu is tasked with introducing T&T Supermarkets and Asian food culture to the broader public
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Justin Wu. Photography courtesy T&T Supermarkets

He’s worked with the likes of Dior, Gucci, Netflix, L’Oreal Paris, RedBull and even the United Nations – to name a few – and now multi-hyphenate Justin Wu is adding creative director of T&T Supermarkets to his resume. 

T&T recently announced that the Toronto-born photographer and filmmaker had joined the company with the mandate to use multi-channel media content to “introduce the T&T experience and Asian food culture to the mainstage.”

While T&T acknowledges that a position more traditionally associated with the arts and entertainment industries is a novel concept in the grocery world, the Loblaw-owned retailer said the role is about exposing the brand to people beyond its core Asian customer base.

“More than just a place that sells bananas and bok choy, T&T is all about moving culture forward through food,” says CEO Tina Lee. “T&T is full of special people, products and recipes, and I’ve been looking for a way to bring these stories to a wide audience.” 

In an Instagram caption, Lee called the partnership a “crazy mash-up,” and Wu agrees. 

“It’s very, very out of the ordinary,” he says. “This is a job most often associated with fashion. But having been in the fashion world for so long, I see that there is a potential to use that mindset to present the brand in a new light.”

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justin wu t&t
Wu. Photography courtesy T&T Supermarkets

T&T Supermarkets is more than merely a grocery store, he says, having expanded into prepared foods and catering, while possessing acumen in areas like store design and product curation. “If you don’t see T&T Supermarkets as just a big-box supermarket, but an opportunity for discovery, that’s where the store can be experiential.”

Born in Toronto to Chinese parents who emigrated from Hong Kong, Wu started his career in banking in Paris before becoming an acclaimed photographer whose work has appeared in publications such as Vogue, Elle and GQ.

He later transitioned into film and TV, a move that included directing an episode of the CBC sitcom Kim’s Convenience. Wu has also worked with fashion and beauty brands such as Dior, Adidas, Coach and L’Oreal Paris, as well as celebrities like Selena Gomez, Victoria Beckham and Simu Liu.

Wu says this was not a role he sought out but one that came to fruition after a chance meeting with Lee at an entrepreneurial event. “It was really inspiring to hear her story and her mission to become an ambassador of Asian cuisine to the masses,” he says. “Our conversation sparked this interest and inspiration.”

After spending more than 14 years abroad in Paris, Los Angeles and New York, Wu returned to Toronto, where he saw ample opportunities to bring Asian cuisine to the masses. “I had been a big fan of it for so long, and being able to use the skillset I’d developed across so many sectors and industries was an opportunity I could not dismiss,” he says.

Wu cites several potential examples of how he plans to put his skills to use, including video content celebrating the supermarket chain’s unsung heroes, or showcasing foods that non-Asian consumers don’t know much about.

“I’ve always believed that food brings people together, and that the best discussions often happen over a meal, so why not take that idea and really take it to the next level through humour, celebrities and influential people from across the spectrum – from celebrity chefs, to actors, sports stars and politicians.”

He says T&T already has a passionate following among Asian immigrants. “I don’t know of a single Asian immigrant that comes to Canada and doesn’t discover T&T,” he says. But, he adds, food is also a way to provide a unique lens into Asian culture for mainstream consumers. “I think there’s a way to remix the story,” he says.

Wu says his ultimate goal is to create a content studio within T&T where he can work in partnership with people from the worlds of entertainment and culture around potential topics like their favourite dim sum dishes.

“Tina has given me the mandate, the budget and the mission to create new forms of content, new methodologies to elevate Asian food and continue to celebrate the brand,” he says. “I think it’s a very exciting prospect.”

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