Photograph by Raphael Thibodeau
Maguire Boutique is the shoe closet of your dreams, and Myriam Maguire is the woman behind it.
Born in Quebec City, Maguire always had a knack for style. Her interest didn’t focus on clothes like the rest of her peers growing up, but footwear.
“My mom told me that I insisted on choosing my shoes from the age of four,” said Maguire. “At a really young age I had a niche, a lot of girls that loved fashion wanted to go into clothing design, but I wanted to do something different.”
Something different is exactly what she is doing. Following a five year stint with the ALDO Group, Maguire launched her own footwear company fittingly-called, Maguire.
The antithesis of fast-fashion, Maguire is focused on high quality, classic and stylish footwear that is made ethically and transparently. Online you can find price breakdowns for each item and information about the factories the company chooses to work with and why.
Interested in more than creating beautiful products, she wanted to elevate the shoe shopping experience. The walls of Maguire Boutiques are lined with every style and size, inviting guests to try on as many styles as they please. Say goodbye to the days of waiting for a sales associate to grab your size from the back.
“Customers are excited every time they see the concept,” she said. “We can see that they’re trying a lot more shoes than they would in stores where you wait to be served.”
With a flagship store located in Montreal, and a second Maguire Boutique that recently opened in the west end of Toronto, Maguire hopes to revitalize the footwear industry.
While COVID-19 has put constraints on the retail world, Maguire is not letting the pandemic slow down business. Just as Maguire Boutique disrupted the in-store shoe shopping experience, the company is planning ways to improve online shoe shopping as well.
For this week’s Women Who Lead spotlight, Bay Street Bull spoke with Myriam Maguire, founder and designer of Maguire, about elevating the shoe shopping experience, holding her own as a woman in the male-dominated footwear industry and the lessons she’s learned along the way.
Where do you find the inspiration for your footwear designs?
I think there’s two types of designers. Some people don’t look at anything and don’t want to be influenced by anything. However, I come from a more commercial footwear background. I used to work for the ALDO Group and I travelled around the world to see everything that was on the market to see the trends and where they’re going. So, I love to do as much research as possible and see what everyone is doing so that I can position my product at the right time and place, but design it and make it different from the others.
I found what sells the best are styles that we put a lot of effort into, where the design is different from everything else. That’s why I need to do a lot of research, because I want to make sure I’m not doing the same thing as someone else.
During your time with the ALDO Group, what did it teach you about the fashion industry as a whole?
I had the chance to work with Mr. B, who is the founder of ALDO, and I saw how he created relationships with factories and partners around the world and I think it was really inspiring. I learned how to grow a company because I had the chance to work with people who worked back in the day when they used to take polaroid pictures of styles in Europe and send them back via fax. I saw how ALDO was really small, like Maguire, and became this huge corporation.
It accelerated my growth because I was able to see how a business worked. I saw good practices to take from the business and the things I wanted to improve. I used to design maybe a thousand styles in a year, and at the end of it I would have no more inspiration. So, I wanted my business to focus on the key pieces that people really need, to move away from fast fashion and do something more meaningful. And do it with factories that really care about their product and their employees. The ALDO Group helped me decide what I like about fashion and the things I like a bit less, while having an overview of the industry and the business in general.
A big thing that Maguire focuses on is transparency—with your prices and even the factories you’re using. Why is transparency so important to you?
As I was discovering the footwear industry and the people behind it, I found it really interesting and I would tell my family stories about the factories. People were like, ‘I had no idea that this is how shoes were made or this is how much it costs.’ So, I was like, ‘Why don’t we share it with everyone else?’ There’s really nothing to hide, except for the fact that most companies are a traditional wholesale business model, which allows for many people to change the margin of a product—they don’t want customers to know because sometimes the margins don’t make sense. For example, if I was selling my shoes to a third party, I would have to add a margin to the price to make sure that the third party makes money, I make money and the factory makes money.
With the transparency, we were inspired by other people doing it at the time when we started the business. We found the concept of explaining the prices interesting, and for us, it’s more about educating the customer. So if the customer is aware that shoes made in Italy that look a certain way and with a certain quality cost $70 to produce, then they can ask themselves how much do the shoes from a different business actually cost to produce versus the price? We’re just trying to help people reflect on what they’re buying.
And you guys have a pretty unique business model in the footwear industry, every size of shoe is on display for customers to pick up and try on—the ultimate shoe closet. Why go this route rather than the traditional model of keeping shoes in the back and waiting for a sales associate to grab a size?
We realized that more shoes tried on, equals more shoes bought. The ability to try on a lot of styles allows them to make the right decision, so you get less returns. Also, because they’re able to try on more styles than the shoes they might want right now, we make more sales long term. They can think about the other styles they tried on months from now, and when it’s time to need them, they think of our shoes and can go online to buy them.
Also, customers are excited every time they see the concept. We can see that they’re trying a lot more shoes than they would in stores where you wait to be served. There’s really no store where people can try on eight or nine different pairs of shoes, because sales associates don’t have the time to help. It makes the experience more efficient because there’s less waiting, and as a store, we can serve more customers at the same time.
Your sister, Romy, leads Maguire’s marketing and strategy. What is it like building a company with her?
My sister and I work in two different backgrounds, and when I started working on my business, I think out of pity, she was like, ‘Oh, I’m going to help her because it’s a lot of work.’ As she was helping me, I realized that we really aligned in terms of values. We worked in the same way, but we didn’t know because we never worked together since we’re in different fields.
Also, she just had a baby, so it’s been challenging. She had the baby in January and then COVID-19 happened and we had a lot of things to manage while she was working with a baby on her lap. If you’re 50/50 in a business and then your business partner isn’t doing as much work as you for a while, it can be challenging. But in our case, because it’s my sister and she’s raising my nephew, she can be free to do what she has to do and I won’t be upset about it.That’s one thing that’s hard about being a female entrepreneur. Men don’t have to take having kids in the middle of growing a business into consideration, while women have to plan for it. And sometimes having kids can slow the growth because you need to do both at the same time.
It’s hard to raise a kid and a company at the same time.
I’m raising the company, my sister is raising the kid [laughs]. She’s going to be back to work in August, and I’m really excited. I see a difference when she’s there and when she’s not. Plus, I can go on vacation when she’s back.
And you and your sister brought Maguire onto Dragon’s Den last year. What was that experience like?
The experience was really stressful because it was not in our first language. You always feel not as intelligent as you would in your first language; I’m sure a lot of people that speak a second language understand that. So, that was one stressful part.
The other part that’s not shown is that every dragon was talking at the same time, plus it was hard for us to understand certain things. The way they edited the episode was great: we look good and we look smart, but on the show so many things were happening at once. One dragon was running around, the other was asking for sizes, and all while we were trying to answer another person’s question. It was very chaotic and challenging. I think they try to do it to get a close up or if your face where you’re confused or scared, but because we did the French version of the show, we knew how it worked.
The men on the show were pretty aggressive with us, but the three women on the show defended us and defended the product. So it was good to have this realization that having women representation in the room makes a big difference. We felt supported by the three women that were there and that they understood the product and business.
Click here to watch the Dragon’s Den episode and find out if Maguire received an offer.
That’s fantastic to hear, and on that note, what has it been like for you as a female in the footwear industry, which is pretty male-dominated?
I think my professional experience has helped gain the respect of the men in the industry. Since I worked for such a big company before, whenever I talk with them, they’re like, ‘Oh, I think she knows what she’s doing.’ But, I’m sure it’s not the same experience for everyone.
It also helps that I speak some of the languages that the people in the factories speak: French and Italian. It’s a really traditional industry, and some of the owners of these factories don’t speak English. When you speak their language, they feel more comfortable and like they can trust you more.
Also, we select partners that are not afraid to work with women. I’ve seen many different factories, and we pick the factories where the guys are ready to work with us as equals—you feel it when you meet them. I had a situation with my factory in Spain, where one of my competitors went to the factory and tried to block me from working with the factory. He said, ‘If she’s working here, I’m removing all of my production.’ And the factory owner said, ‘No, she’s not going anywhere. She’s doing her own product and your products don’t look the same. So, we’re keeping her.’ The factory actually backed me up, which I find really nice.
That’s crazy. I can’t believe someone tried to block your production. I’m glad the factory stood up for you.
Yeah. That’s what happens when you choose the right partners. They stand up for you and they don’t let you down.
That’s awesome. Your flagship store is in Montreal, and you just opened the second Maguire Boutique in Toronto. Where do you want to see Maguire go in five to 10 years?
Right now, we’re trying to make Maguire international and focus more on online sales. With what happened [with COVID-19], it forced us to improve the website and improve the communication with our customers virtually. We’re taking this opportunity to really grow online. How we see it now is that we’re online first, and then we will have stores in different cities around the world that make the experience of shoe shopping interesting. When we open a store in a region, like we just did in Toronto, we see online sales rise because people think, ‘Oh, if it doesn’t fit, I can just bring back the shoes to the store directly. Or I can do an exchange there.’ It gives confidence for the customer to buy online.
We see us growing more online and going international. In Canada, you don’t pay for shipping and returns. It’s included in the price, so you don’t have a surprise at the end of our purchase. So right now, we’re working on including all the duties in our prices internationally to make shopping online more accessible.
We’re also developing a tool that you can print out that would be custom for each style of shoe, so that people can put their feet on the piece of paper and be like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going to be a 37 in this style.’ Because we design all of our shoes and we don’t have a lot of styles compared to our competition, we know each size and we can measure to make sure that the style fits a certain length of foot. A lot of our competitors just go to footwear shows and buy a bunch of shoes that are then branded with their logo [so sizing can vary]. We can work with the factories and develop this tool to make online shoe shopping easier for people at home. Once this is available, it’s going to be easier for us to open internationally online.
There’s so many times where you see reviews being like, ‘Oh, this style fits larger or the shoes fit smaller than normal.’ So I think that’s really, really smart. I guess my last question would be, what advice would you give to your younger self?
For me, it’s about all the hard experiences that I’ve had. I had a few difficult situations at work, like a boss that was super difficult to deal with or things like that. At the end of the day, all the experiences helped me build what I built today. Of all the things I didn’t like from my past work or my past experiences that affected me, now I’m able to make a change and do things differently in my company. So, I would say that every time I felt really irritated with something at work to just take it in and not worry too much about it, because at the end of the day, it’s going to help me later.
When you’re young and you start working, you’re really affected by certain things or you feel like your career is not moving fast enough. I’m 35 now, and I make less money than I was making when I used to have a big corporate job, but I’m much happier and I don’t really care about that anymore. So, I’d tell myself, all of these things that you think are important are not so important as you grow older.