With a mission to offer European quality leather footwear at a fraction of the price, sisters Romy and Myriam Maguire launched Maguire, a line of Italian-made footwear that combines style and comfort. Based in Montreal, shoes sell for about 50% of similar quality shoes. Now the duo are bringing the shoes to the United States with their first store opening in Nolita.
In a silver lining story, the pandemic played a role in their expansion into the United States. Before the world shut down, thanks to Covid-19, Myriam won the chance to participate in a mini-MBA program in January 2020. During this time, she met vital players in New York to help them navigate the market. Before that, she had spent a lot of time shopping for shoes in New York. “The Nolita area (especially Elizabeth Street) was always where I discovered new brands or found something unique that I hadn’t seen before,” the elder Maguire said.
The loss of other retail space in New York helped cement a goal that seemed a long way off before 2020. “Like all retailers, we have suffered during the pandemic, but we are reminded that every crisis has potential opportunities,” she continued. As other brands reduced their physical footprint by focusing on digital, vacancies in key prime locations opened up. The sisters traveled to New York when the Canada-US border reopened in search of available retail space. “We quickly realized the rents were half of what they were before the pandemic and knew we had to act quickly. By the time we signed the lease in February 2021, we were told we had the last bargain on the street,” Romy noted, adding, “New York has always been a dream for us, but it seemed a long way off. Strangely, it was the pandemic that allowed an independent company like ours to realize this dream sooner.”
The couple are also proud of how they funded their growth. “Many of our competitors have received millions of dollars in venture capital to open in the same neighborhood as our new store. We have done this through steady organic growth and small business loans! There is a culture in startups that emphasize capital raises and scale before profits. Hopefully, we can bring attention to an alternative and more sustainable way of building a business,” said Myriam.
The Nolita store will feature the brand’s self-service shoe closet, which is also present in their stores. The brand has two stores in Canada; a Montreal store that opened in 2018 and one in Toronto that opened in 2020. After working in the small store’s sales room themselves, they quickly realized that the experience of a store of traditional shoes was unpleasant. “There were boxes everywhere, staff were constantly rushing to the store to get another size or color, new products damaged by previous customers trying them on, etc., and they started to tackle the problem. “, Romy said. Their concept is to have all sizes and colors on the floor so they can try on multiple pairs quickly and easily with staff on hand to provide advice and product and brand information.
In addition to the potential for exclusive colors and styles in the Nolita store, Maguire will sell iconic sunglasses and a collection of caps and bags made by Catherine Potvin. Prices for the shoes are usually between $180 and $300, also thanks to their DTC status. Maguire is perhaps more closely aligned with brands such as Loeffler Randall, Ganni, Labucq or Miista, although they tend to be higher because they sell wholesale, according to the sisters. “It’s a price almost unobtainable for products made in high-end European factories,” Romy notes, pointing to other DTC brands like Intentionally Blank and Alohas as shoes from clothing brand Reformation.
Prices are also kept reasonable by removing intermediaries. “We don’t work with other conventional distributors or retailers because that would increase our prices by forty or fifty percent. viable solution for freelancers and direct- to client brands.”
Myriam has ten years of experience in the footwear industry, most recently within the Aldo group and notably in Italy at Fabrica, the research center of United Colors of Benetton. “I quickly realized that price is not synonymous with quality. The same factory produced shoes for different brands that sold between $200 and $500, even $800! The customer has no way of knowing if he pays for a quality product or brand image.” said Miriam. This prompted them to adopt a transparent pricing model revealing production costs. “Customers can see for themselves what they’re paying for right on the website,” she added. Romy’s background was in marketing, specifically marketing film festivals, including Cannes.
It also involved shifting production from factories based in Asia to those in Europe. “Initially, we were working with some suppliers in other regions, particularly in Asia and Africa. It quickly became clear that a European-made offer at our price point was unique, and that’s what our customers were excited about. , so we have moved in that direction.”
The sisters bought all the factories themselves, visiting trade shows to meet the owners and tour their facilities. “We checked the working conditions ourselves and as a result found European suppliers easier to work with. For starters, it’s a shorter flight with less time difference. We mainly produce in Italy, Spain and Portugal; I speak French, English, and Italian, so communication is easy, important when you’re not using an agent,” said Myriam. They also found the European factories more suitable for production in small batches and order volumes.
That could change, however, as the brand continues to grow. Currently, ten percent of sales come from the United States and the rest from Canada. Although a digital-first brand, physical locations increase visibility and credibility in new markets. “Every time we open a store in a new city, our online sales triple in that region,” notes Myriam.