On founding Maguire Boutique and increasing access to high end fashion, a conversation with Myriam MaguireFeatured

I spoke with Myriam Maguire, founder of Maguire Boutique, a Montreal based, omnichannel company selling affordable luxury shoes. Myriam grew up in a small town in Quebec, went to college in the city to study industrial design, and studied in London at Cordwainers College, learning how to make shoes at fashion schools. She then worked in Venice and subsequently Montreal at Aldo, one of the world’s largest shoe corporations, where she learned everything about the shoe business. As part of her work with Aldo, she traveled to China when she was just 25 and led many of their business efforts there, liaising with customers, factories, and other partners. Through this role, she rapidly took on lots of responsibilities and gained more experience than her counterparts in Canada, the United States, or Europe. More broadly, Myriam traveled around the world and deepened her understanding of the disparate consumer preferences and behaviors in different cultures and geographies within shoes. After several years at Aldo, she realized that she was working so much at her role that she might as well start her own business. Moreover, she was assigned to work with the wholesale team, where she saw cheap shoes being made. This was a tipping point for her: through her deep understanding of production costs in factories, she felt there must be a better way to make high quality shoes at a good price. So, 4 years ago (inspired by other female founders, such as Glossier’s Emily Weiss, who were emerging around that time), Myriam quit her job to start Maguire Boutique. As a founder and CEO, she now has more responsibilities than ever before but finds the work substantially more engaging especially because she is able to see and be a part of the full process, not solely the design portion she had been focused on at Aldo. When Myriam started Maguire Boutique, Everlane had recently launched their transparent pricing initiatives in clothing, but there was no analogous transparency in consumer shoes (this was before the rise of Allbirds, Rothy, and M. Gemi). Still now, there is no similar initiative for high end brands within the shoe category. From working at Aldo, Myriam knew that high end companies could produce shoes for $20 and sell them at a massive markup for $400. With Maguire Boutique, Myriam sought to find a better way to service the consumer. To launch Maguire Boutique, Myriam had to find and build relationships with factories from the ground up. She was not able to rely on the network she had built at Aldo because these factories were not of the quality she aspired to. More broadly, in founding a shoe business, Myriam fully realized the irony of the male dominance of the field: footwear is an industry practically entirely controlled by men but the market of consumers is largely women. Men, in general, will buy just a couple pairs and purchase the same shoes each time. In contrast, women will own many shoes for all types of occasions and constantly search for new styles. This mismatch between the designers and consumers was shocking, and Myriam sought to disrupt this dynamic by creating a brand (all female team) with a deep consumer resonance and understanding. With Maguire, Myriam only sells direct in their own store and online. They do not sell wholesale given the particularities of the wholesale calendar (shoes have to be ready a full year and a half in advance!). In this way, they have less waste, no marketdowns, and make better design and other strategic decisions with the benefits of being closer to the season. Since incorporating, Maguire has doubled their growth each year and built a business with very limited outside investment (primarily loan financed). When asked about her advice for fellow female founders, Myriam shares the following: Raise money before you need it. In the first year of Maguire’s opening, the company almost went bankrupt when trying to open their big store. They were ultimately saved by the many customers who loved the product, but in hindsight, Myriam underscores the importance of always having cash on hand. Conversations with credit and equity investors are much easier when you are in a financially stable position, so start fundraising at these times to be prepared for investments needed in the future. Start a business after gaining some professional experience. Reflecting on her founder journey, Myriam is grateful to have been in a secure position financially when launching Maguire Boutique. Particularly in the challenging COVID-19 environment, she has been able to get more access to loans given her financial position and access to collateral (her home). Target the right investors. One of the main outside investors Myriam brought in was someone she got to know over an extended period of time and who demonstrated long term thinking and a deep understanding of her business. Small loans and grants can be helpful, but through targeting the right investors, you can get access to more capital in the private markets (with more security relative to the volatile public markets) and access to the networks of these investors to help in growing your business.