Suzanne Descarries has always loved sewing. For fun, the Québec-based retiree would make handbags from scraps of fabric and recycled materials, such as old belts and curtain rings. Then one day in 2010, she found a piece of faux fur on her workroom table.
“It was too small to create a whole bag,” she recalls. “So I just played around with it, feeling its softness and beauty. I wrapped it around my calf and all of a sudden I said to myself, ‘Wow! What if I made some kind of boot cover? Something useful to keep your pants from getting dirty in the snow?’”
Descarries made a few samples and called a focus group that told her to not just think about the utility side. “Think fashion, fashion, fashion, and we would go for it!” they said.
Thus, an entrepreneur resurfaced after a short retirement, and Gazelles Fashion was born.
Measure of Success
Starting up and branching out to different markets throughout the world
Have passion! You can’t buy it, and you can’t walk your journey without it.
Read, search and think out loud! “Branding for Dummies” is a great book to help take your idea, product or service into the marketplace.
Focus. Determine a goal and stick with it.
Don’t worry about age. Karl Lagerfield started his own brand at 57, and Ray Kroc was 53.
Don’t lose confidence. This just means you’re tired! Talk to people about your idea until you find the spark again.
Business is in Descarries’s blood. Her father had been a shopping-centre promoter. However, initially the business life sounded too insecure for her, so she became an anthropologist and taught at a college. Just a few years later, though, her father asked her to work with him as shopping-centre manager. For 15 years, she worked for different regional shopping centres around Montréal, negotiating leases, managing tenants and activities.
In 1995, she dove headfirst into the entrepreneurial life, purchasing eight convenience stores, with 65 employees and $13 million in sales volume. She sold her business in 2007, building a workroom for her sewing hobby, but retirement didn’t last long. She knew her faux-fur boot covers could take off.
Descarries started small but professionally. Branding was important. She worked for a year with graphic designers to create the right logo and images, and to get all of the necessary permits, accounting, production, packaging, and shipping. Being made in Québec was important, too. Early on, Descarries showed her samples to a friend, a manufacturing agent in women’s clothing. He introduced her to some of his clients he thought might be interested.
“My first appointment was Globus, a retail chain in Québec with 11 stores,” she recalls. “I was so nervous. Mr. Poudrier and his daughter Melissa listened closely to my presentation, and when I finished he took his calculator, pinned numbers, and said, ‘We’ll take 262 pairs.’ My knees almost buckled; I thought I was dreaming.”
Murmure, a Québec City retailer with four outlets, met with Descarries next and ordered 72 pairs. Descarries says her original goal was to sell 500 pairs during the first season; in her first day of sales, she had sold more than half of that goal.
“Every time I met with retailers, I was pleased by their openness to buy when they discovered that all of our accessories are made in Québec and do not come from Asia,” Descarries says. “This makes me want to keep it that way.”
Moving forward, Gazelles Fashion is expanding into home décor, which Descarries says will help increase revenue and seasonality.
“We are working with designers and hotels interested in our high-end home accessories,” she says. “Our passion is fabric and innovation. Our madness is fur, especially faux fur.”
To grow the business, the company recently launched a new website, offering clients exclusive products not found in retail stores. Descarries is also working on a wholesale section of the website to reach businesses. And she and her staff attend major trade shows.
“It takes eight years to have a recognizable brand,” Descarries says. “We are working hard to spread our name. We’ve been on TV shows, had multiple articles in newspapers and magazines, been to fashion shows, and now we’re aiming at national retail chains. We are in Simon’s and Tristan and are working on two other majors. And we want to expand to Europe and South America.”
With all of the success and plans in place to further Gazelles as a household name, it’s clear that Descarries has no intention of slowing down anytime soon. “What’s next?” she says. “Everything!”