Making the Brand

How Janice Fleming-Gole built the Morega Agency into one of the industry’s premier distributors and brand developers

Before founding Morega, Janice Fleming-Gole gained plenty of experience with such companies as Alfred Sung, Ellen Tracy, and Dana Buchman.

The Morega Agency is more than one of Canada’s most successful importers and distributors of high-end women’s wear; it’s a product-management machine, with the ability to make the success of a brand in the country’s fashion industry.

“We import brands—brands that are either very well known, or brands that we’re trying to build—and we make sure the brand is nurtured and its integrity is maintained,” says Janice Fleming-Gole, who worked for a number of fashion companies, including Alfred Sung, Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman, before founding the Morega Agency nearly a decade ago.

At the most basic level, Morega is an importer that makes bringing goods into Canada simpler for retailers and suppliers alike. “Using Morega benefits retailers because they have a showroom to view product, and the particulars involved with bringing the product over the border, from converting the dollar to completing customs documents, becomes our headache,” says Fleming-Gole. She notes, however, that suppliers also benefit from using a middleman such as Morega. “If a supplier has Morega as its major account, instead of chasing 400 invoices, it can chase one,” she explains.

The Morega Agency, however, is much more than an importer. In addition to serving as a go-between, it obtains exclusive distribution rights to the brands it imports, which makes all the difference to its business model. “Most agents are responsible for selling product into a retailer; as importers, we also take it one step further and get it into a state that’s viable for the retailer,” says Fleming-Gole. “I can develop a pricing strategy and determine who gets the product and who doesn’t.”

Measures of Success
Acquiring brands and forging client partnerships

Ground your business with a proven brand, such as Hanky Panky.

Price your product well.

Have integrity, which means being honest and doing what you say you’re going to do.

Don’t get caught up in the glitz of the fashion world.

Don’t try to make a fast dollar.

That’s a lot of power, given that Morega has a brand roster that includes fashion favourites such as Hanky Panky, Weston Wear, Banjo & Matilda, Munki Munki, Sir Alistair Rai, and Twistband. Recently, the Morega Agency has begun assembling a large international brand base, including Pip, a Netherlands-based brand of robes.

Exclusive distribution rights are important, says Fleming-Gole, whose retailer base includes 400 and 500 high-end boutiques in Canada, including well-known department store Holt Renfrew, because they allow Morega to be discerning about where products are placed. “Americans, by and large, are looking to put the product into a retailer; they don’t know if someone is doing home parties and doesn’t have a storefront,” she explains. “We want to have control over where the product goes.”

It may seem counterintuitive: don’t you want your product in as many locations as possible? Fleming-Gole, however, says that Morega’s success is not just about making a buck—on either the supplier or retailer side of the deal.

Many suppliers, for example, approach the Morega Agency wanting it to present their brands, and Fleming-Gole regularly refuses. “I have to look at whether the new brand meshes with the assortment we carry, whether we have the manpower to carry it,” she says.

On the retailer side, Fleming-Gole is equally picky. Consider a brand like Hanky Panky, which sells lingerie and sleepwear, including the World’s Most Comfortable Thong. Fleming-Gole refuses a number of Canadian retailers access to Hanky Panky in any given week. Sometimes it’s based on location. “I don’t want one retailer too close to another retailer,” she says. Other times, the retailer simply doesn’t present the kind of image Fleming-Gole wants the product to have. “We know the market—who should have the product and who shouldn’t,” she explains.

That approach has cost Fleming-Gole business, but she’s stuck to her guns. “A retailer with many stores has attempted to get all of our brands from day one, but I just don’t think this retailer can handle the price point of a brand like Hanky Panky, so I’ve chosen to sell to fewer retailers in order to build brands with longevity,” she says. “I work to keep the retailer happy.”