How This Montreal-based Footwear and Accessory Brand is Changing How You Shop For Shoes
Meet Maguire, which recently opened a Toronto boutique (and yes, it’s open)
When sisters Myriam and Romy Maguire launched their namesake footwear and accessory label just a few years ago, it was spurred on by an understanding of how the footwear industry could be improved, from customer experience to manufacturing transparency.
Myriam—who studied footwear design at Cordwainers in London and worked at United Colours of Benetton’s research centre before returning to her native Montreal—cultivated a deeper knowledge of footwear as a designer for the Aldo Group; she was there for almost six years before venturing out on her own. “I started to see all these women-owned fashion companies like Glossier and Stitch Fix, and also direct-to-consumer businesses,” she says of her inspirations.
Through her experience working with other brands, Myriam was acutely aware of how quality and pricing didn’t necessarily intersect in the industry, noting that Maguire’s pieces are made in factories alongside those from high-end brands. “I thought for sure there’s a way of producing shoes of good quality in the same factories as my favourite brands, but selling them for half the price,” she notes.
Unlike most other labels, whether they sell garments, shoes or accessories, Maguire outlines its pricing and compares itself to other business models like wholesale in the hopes that consumers will learn more about where their money goes when they make a purchase from any brand. “We were inspired by Everlane,” she says. “It’s an educational thing so customers know the actual cost of product. We’re working on clearer graphics to explain the difference between our business model and traditional wholesale; the reason we don’t do wholesale is because if we added the margin for a third-party seller, our shoes would almost double in price.”
Maguire’s website also shares information about the factories where its inventory is made. “The types of factory that I work with are very proud; they’re usually factories that have been run for generations or they’re new factory owners that are trying to change things,” she says, adding that her experience in the industry has illustrated how few female-owned factories exist in the world.
Myriam and her sister are themselves working to innovate in the fashion industry through their novel store concept. The brand’s first shop is located on Montreal’s St-Laurent Blvd, and a new Toronto location opened its doors a few weeks ago; both are operating with COVID-19 measures in place. “My sister and I had never worked in a shoe store when we started Maguire,” she says. “I decided to open a small shop in Montreal, and I had to staff the shop every day and design the collection and develop the product; I was doing everything. As I was working in the shop, I thought it was annoying that I had to take the shoes out of the box, and then sometimes after bringing someone a certain size, you’d realize they were a different size so you’d have to bring back all the boxes. Then, the customer is left waiting for their size and at some point there’s no service, or once you ask you the person to bring all these boxes you feel bad not buying anything, so you might buy something you don’t really like.”
These observations prompted her to devise new approaches to customer service, and in Maguire boutiques you’ll find each style of shoe in each size on the floor for easy access to try on. “We felt like the experience of buying shoes hasn’t changed in years and the footwear industry hasn’t either,” she says. “We decided to think of a way to let customers try as many shoes as they like—all the colours, for example. We wanted to make the customer experience as nice and easy as possible. Now, with COVID we’re asking people to try things on using a glove, and then when they leave with a box it’s untouched and completely new.” Used samples from the boutique floor eventually make their way into a bi-annual sample sale, so “everyone is happy”, she laughs.
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Like the rest of the fashion industry, Maguire has had to innovate in the online space as well, and Myriam highlights a key area of opportunity when it comes to a better e-commerce transaction. “Before, our growth strategy was to have a store in every major city,” she says. “And then we asked ourselves, what if this is the new normal and people won’t be shopping in stores as much and will shop a lot online? We’re currently improving the experience for customers, starting with choosing your size. That’s the most difficult thing; how do you know you’re buying the right size online? How do you know it’s going to fit if you have a high arch? Everyone has a different type of foot. Now, we’re developing a tool that allows you to measure your foot at home; because we don’t have a huge production run, we’re able to measure each shoe. We’ll measure each style of each shoe so we can set perimeters so that if you have a foot that’s 24 cm long, we can tell you what size in what style would be best because each one is different because they come from different factories. The idea is to make it easier to shop and to reduce returns.”
While COVID-19 has certainly posed challenges to everyone who works in the fashion industry, Maguire is encouraged by her brand’s own developments over the last few months. “That’s one thing I think that’s good that has come from this; a lot of people have had to accelerate their technology,” she says. But she’s also confident in the brand’s fans who have remained supportive through it all. “It helps that our customers are educated in terms of already knowing that buying local and from ethical companies is important,” she says. “They kept buying during the hard days of COVID, and that helped us stay optimistic.”