August 25 – 31, 2004 – The Express
‘Bathing Beauties in Bauline’
Designer sewing roots – and swimsuits – in Newfoundland
By Ashley Bursey
For the Express
Never in a million years did Marie Routhier think that she would meet up with one of Canada’s top fashion icons in Tors Cove.
During a recent photo shoot to the area, the unimaginable because a reality for the young designer when she came face-to-face with Fashion Television’s Jeanne Beker, an entertainment reporter with a basis in the fashion industry.
“Did that actually just happen?” Routhier wonders shortly after, still in shock over her encounter – and exchange of business cards – with the famous fashion journalist.
The two chatted for an hour or more on the picturesque wharf that is home to a boat tour.
Beker, who began a broadcast career at CBC in Newfoundland, returns frequently to the island for quiet summer sojourns. With many friends in the Bauline area, she loves the secluded, scenic atmosphere of the small community on the southern shore.
Today, however, her excitement at meeting fellow members of the Toronto “fashion incubator” is apparent. Beker laughs easily, throwing around ideas for her next column in the Globe and Mail.
“Bathing Beauties in Bauline,” she giggles as she fingers one of Routher’s custom-made swimsuits. With her digital camera at the ready, she has already begun dreaming of images to accompany her column.
Routhier, who has been design custom spandex-inspired figure skating and synchronized swimming costumes since age 11, recently began recruiting workers and salespeople for a new line of swimsuits.
The home base of IQ Sportswear Incorporated will be none other than Paradise – a long ways away from her native Winnipeg.
‘ECONOMICS AND EVERYTHING’
She cites Winnipeg as an “old boys club” with respect to the business industry, and says she found it difficult to launch an enterprise as an innovative young woman.
“When it all came down to it, it was good for my business to move here, just for the economics and everything,” Routhier explains. “There weren’t very many resources for starting out or expanding…the environment here is perfect for young business people.”
Routhier’s new business is a follow-up to a popular line she has already begun to sell. The Unabashedly Canadian line features the Canadian Flag on a variety of bikinis, tankinis, sportswear and one-piece swimsuits, as well as being available in a Speedo-esque style for interested males.
Each piece is hand sewn and stitched, with a double lining for extra protection.
Despite being made of white spandex, Routhier insists the pieces are durable – even the whitest of white won’t suddenly become washed-out or see-through in the water.
“The good thing is that our’s are fairly indestructible,” she says. “They last quite a bit. If they can survive some of the athletes, they can survive anyone.”
A background in tailoring and sewing has given added boost in the competitive world of custom spandex suits, be they for figure skaters or synchronized swimmers.
“I was a figure skater in a poor family,” she says. “I learned to make my own costumes because we couldn’t really afford to buy them, and it kind of went from there.”
‘DIDN’T WORK OUT’
After making several costumes for herself, she began taking orders from fellow skaters. Eventually, gymnasts began calling for her suits. Her business, built from the ground up, took its cue from her initial seamstress training.
Self-taught, Routhier confesses to dropping out of high school due to a lack of interest in academia.”I tried doing a year of fashion tech and design in high school, and that didn’t work out too well,”* she says.
The courses she was required to take just didn’t pique her interest. Creating costumes and custom swimsuits was an original, creative way to explore one of her marketable talents – and it didn’t require a high school education.
Although Routhier returned to school a few years later and obtained a diploma, she has opted out of University, wishing instead to involve herself in the creative and entrepreneurial processes involved in launching a new business.
“I didn’t learn anything,” she says of her high schools days – her self- taught techniques seem to have launched her further than a stifling classroom did.
Despite her initial distaste of classroom learning, Routhier hopes to return to school some day.
“It’s my hope now that I’ve got employees and that I can wean myself off the work,” she says. Her staff – a small, “scientific, outside-of-thebox” set of thinkers – is “a really great team of employees,” she says.
Routhier is hopeful that she can add another name to the list quite soon. And, once that happens, she plans on a university career centered around microbiology.
“Kind of a jump in careers, hey?” she laughs
‘FELT LIKE HOME’
Jumping careers is one thing, but jumping locations is something entirely different. Originally stationed in Missisauga, ON, Routhier admits moving her product to the slightly fashion-backwards island of Newfoundland had much of the Toronto fashion community giving her flack.
But her love for the island and its people, as well as her brand new design ideas, has given her the confidence that Newfoundland is truly home.
“I stepped off the plane (in Newfoundland) and it felt like home,” she says, reminded of her long-ago first trip to the island. Despite having parents of Irish heritage, Routhier had never been to the island before.
“I had heard it was a peninsula! I knew nothing about it,” she acknowledges. “I had never even heard a Newfie joke before I came here.
Years later, she has grown to love her newfound home.
“I love the water, more than anything – it’s so open,” she says.
Referring to Winnipeg, she adds: “The air is so stagnant, and it’s so flat. It’s very claustrophobic. Here, you can see the rest of the city, and if you can’t, you can just walk and have a better view.”
Her love for the province and its Irish history has resulted in unique swimwear styles – one featuring the Orange, White, and Green of the Irish flag, and another displaying the increasingly popular Pink, White, and Green Republic of Newfoundland flag.
“I wanted to start marketing the Newfoundland flag stuff,” she says. Although her store won’t be open till May, she already has sales reps scouting for prime locations.
The spandex suits, which can be custom-sewn and fitted, are an intriging take on the growing popularity of the Republic of Newfoundland merchandise. T-shirts, tank tops, hoodies, and hats have all becoming commonplace amoung St. John’s locals. Why not add swimsuits to the mix?
“A lot of people are really excited,” she enthuses. “The big comment I get is ‘there’s nowhere here to get swimwear’. The fashion seasons are really set.”
In a city where commercial merchandizing appears to be the norm, distinct fall-winter-spring-summer clothing blocks don’t really allow for year round merchandise of any one variety. Routhier’s store – which will also sell competition suitsm fitness suits, and sportswear – promises year-round products for a varying clientele.
“If someone wants a sparkly top to go to the club, they can call up and order it,” she says. “Honestly, I love dealing with spandex. Now that the company’s so big, we have clients around the world…”
Around the world, yet she continues to live in Newfoundland. Her choice, however,has more to do with the quality of life here than anything else, she says.
“The people here are so nice,” she smiles.
(Editor’s note: The article’s author was involved in a photo shoot for Marie Routhier’s products over the weekend.)
* NB from marie: Just to clarify : I dropped out of a fashion technology and design program because of a LACK of academic focus at that particular school, in favour of her highly academic high school. The decision to temporarily drop out of high school was on account of too heavy a workload, NOT a lack of interest in academics. Though I didn’t always have the levels of intellectual stimulation I would have liked (it got boring at times) I loved high school, and look forward to furthering my education. Make no mistake – I’m a nerd, and proud of it! The “not learning anything” applied to my year at a fashion vocational course – NOT my high school!