Mississauga Business Times – A fashionable way to make money

Mississauga Business Times

A fashionable way to make money
Fashionable wear can make a bold statement at the beach or in the boardroom

June 26, 2004

It’s only with a chuckle that Marie Routhier accepts the mantle of Canada’s “Queen of Spandex”. But as the proprietor of the Mississauga-based Canadian Swimwear, this 24-year-old has built up a serious reputation as a custom designer/seamstress to the stars – synchro swimmers, figure skaters, body builders, professional wrestlers, and Olympic athletes.

And this year she brings her expertise to the masses with her ready-to-wear, “Unabashedly Canadian,” line of ladies’ swimsuits (www.canadianswimwear.com). It promises a better fit and enhanced durability. There are no less than 30 items to choose from – from the assymetrical cut-out one-piece suit, to the string bikini – all featuring a Maple Leaf/Canadian Flag design, in red and white.

They’re fun, flashy, and decidedly form-fitting. And, Routhier says, she offers higher quality than comparably priced competitors.

“It’s a very athletic-looking swimsuit, the way it’s contoured. It’s very flattering for the female,” she explains.

Mississauga firms are making big inroads into the fashion industry, whether at the micro (Canadian Swimwear) or macro level (Olsen Europe), and summer is the time to offer business executives some casual, alternative wear.

Meanwhile, Routhier is working hard to make her mark in a competitive field.

“Basically, my suits are fully lined. It’s a heavier, higher-quality lycra. They fit really well, and hold you in. Most suits sag when they get wet.”

This Winnipeg native began sewing her own figure skating costumes at age 11, and was soon custom making for others. Since then she has diversified her talents – sewing in Spandex, writing books on fashion, doing seminar tours, and taking courses in bridal consulting, and floral arts. Her goal: to become a scientist.

Her gowns have been worn to such events as the 1999 Canadian Search for Miss Universe Pageant, and the 1999 Canadian Model and Talent Convention. In 2002 she moved to Mississauga, where she soon picked up contracts with several synchro swim clubs. Last year’s national synchro swim team claimed silver at the PanAm Games wearing Routhier’s creations. She’s currently the official designer for Synchro Swim Ontario.

Ironically, a descendant of Sir Adolphe Basille Routhier (author of our national anthem), she’s proud of her strictly Canadian-made line. Her marketing likewise features Canadian modelling and imagery – right down to a fun fashion shoot done in the heart of winter, outside of the Canadian Parliament buildings.

O Canada!

She feels it’s time Canadians had some patriotic gear of their own. “You can buy so much Stars and Stripes stuff everywhere – and the Union Jack,” she observes. “It’s kind of weird, we adopt somebody else’s culture. I just always found that strange.”

Her flagwear has already proven popular with custom order clients. And now general consumers are starting to respond.

“The big comment we’ve had so far is, a lot of people get them when they travel overseas,” she says.

Routhier did a 15-minute fashion show at the Fitness & Model Expo this spring at Metro Toronto Convention Centre. Her flag swimwear was on sale at the national synchro swim championships in early May at the Etobicoke Olympium.

One of the more reliable brands of women’s fashions, Mississauga-based Olsen Europe, has been caught up in the spirit of sun, sand, and surf with its 2004 collection.

Lush tropical blooms, leafy palm trees, exotic wildlife, and native cultures have all found their way into this season’s designs, which are delivered in brilliant hues of mandarin, hibiscus, apricot, and oceanic blues and greens.

There’s bold stripes on everything from shoulder-baring knits, to flirty capris, to slouchy shoulder bags. There’s also pop inspired prints in graphic colours, and vintage washes, ornamental embroideries, and lacing and beading, creating texure and detail.

Olsen Europe suggests that women can find boundless energy in looks that are sexy and chic.

“We have been wearing lot of dark clothing in the last couple of years, and see this trend in colour as being fun,” says Sabrina Messina, Olsen’s public relations officer. “We’ve been very black and grey – especially in business.”

“Pink is a hot colour for this season – all shades of pink are a hit, this year more than ever. We’re seeing a lot of pop colours. For years, we never wore yellow.”

Famous for ladies knits and sportswear that you can “wash and wear for years to come,” this German company dates right back to 1901.

Its North American head office was lauched out of Mississauga in 1995 (at 5112 Timberlea Blvd.) and now numbers over 50 employees. Among other places, Olsen Europe’s bright red-and-white logo can be found at 19 The Bay locations across Canada.

With a price point that’s moderate to high, its demographic is brand-conscious women in the 35-and-up market who are looking for a combination of quality, fit, and fashion. Many of these women are successful in business.

“It’s classic, but it has a little bit of trendiness in there,” Messina says.

“Now we’re breaking away from that, to incorporate colour – and you can still have an impact on your employees. Into summer, it’s all about colour, fashion, and style.”

She notes that Olsen’s weekend wear can be jazzed up to double as evening or formal wear. Likewise, its accessories (handbags, scarves, etc.) can be used to add a sense of luxury to something like a basic T shirt and skirt.

“Spring and summer definitely, you’ve got to break away from the winter blues. If you’re not one for colour, just try to incorporate two or three colours max, just to be used to it,” she adds.

“And, I think a lot of women take good care of themselves these days and can wear a little more revealing clothing. Hemlines are at any length – it’s not just one length anymore.”

Meanwhile, the cutting-edge “Sligo” line of golf shirts – manufactured by Mississauga’s Canadian Wearables Group – brings a more fashionable option in golf apparel (www.sligowear.com). It reflects the higher percentage of younger people now taking up the game.

Sligo partner and director of sales, Shawn Aucoin, says it was designed for both golf, and apres golf. Its bright colours (lime green, baby blue, etc.) and neat lines make it primarily “a thin person’s” shirt.

“It’s multi-purpose, rather than just golf specific – if they’re going to spend $100 for a shirt,” he says.

“It’s kind of going against the trend, a bit. The only available (previous) option was to buy the same stuff our dads would wear. I wouldn’t wear anything else my father wore, so why on the golf course?”

Available for the past year, Sligo has attracted a small niche market – in pro shops, off-course golf stores, and menswear shops. It features more of a tapered, Euro cut than your standard golf shirt.

“It’s basically a fashion forward, technical golf line,” adds Aucoin, an assistant pro at Devil’s Pulpit Golf Course. “All of the fabrics will stretch, and there’s moisture wicking in them.”

Established in 1990, Canadian Wearables also makes the “Granite Ridge” line of fashion-forward Polar Fleece, Micro Fleece and Micro Fibre products for the green grass, resort, and corporate markets. In the fall of 2004, this line will be expanded to include seam-sealed garments, waterproof fleece and performance golf shirts.

“It’s more of a resort type of line for the pro shops,” says Chris Fisher, national sales manager for Canadian Wearables.

“We carry the Polar Fleece (for warmth and comfort), and the Micro Fleece, which is stretchy – a lot of people like to walk, or play golf in it.”

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