New direct-to-consumer footwear brand Maguire opens Nolita Store
With a mission to offer European quality leather shoes at a fraction of the cost, sisters Romy and Myriam Maguire have launched Maguire, a line of Italian-made shoes that keep style and comfort in mind. Based in Montreal, The shoes are sold at approximately 50 percent of shoes of similar quality. Now the duo are bringing the shoes to the States with their first store opening in Nolita.
In a silver lining story, the pandemic played a role in its US expansion. Before the world shut down thanks to Covid-19, Myriam was given the chance to enroll in a mini MBA program in January 2020. Along the way, she met key New York players to help them navigate the market. Before that, she had spent a lot of time shopping for shoes in New York. “The Nolita area (Elizabeth Street in particular) has always been where I discovered new brands or found something unique that I had never seen before,” said the elder Maguire.
The loss of other retail space in New York helped solidify a goal that seemed a long way off before 2020. “Like all retailers, we suffered from the pandemic but reminded ourselves that every crisis presents potential opportunity,” she continued. As other brands reduced their physical footprints and focused on digital, positions opened up in key prime locations. The sisters headed to New York City in search of available retail space when the US-Canada border reopened. “We quickly realized that rents were half what they were before the pandemic and knew we had to act fast. When we signed the lease in February 2021, We were told we had the last good deal down the road,” noted Romy, adding, “New York City was always a dream for us, but it seemed a long way off. Oddly enough, it was the pandemic that allowed an independent company like us to realize that dream sooner.”
The couple is also proud of the way they funded their growth. “Many of our competitors have raised millions of dollars in venture capital to open in the same neighborhood as our new store. We made it through steady organic growth and small business loans! There’s a culture at startups that emphasizes raising capital and scaling before profit. I hope we can draw attention to an alternative, more sustainable way of building a business,” said Myriam.
The Nolita store will showcase the brand’s self-service shoe cabinet, which is also a feature in their stores. The brand has two stores in Canada; one store in Montreal that opened in 2018 and one in Toronto that opened in 2020. After working the small shop’s sales floor themselves, they quickly found that the traditional shoe store experience was uncomfortable. “Boxes were everywhere, employees were constantly running to the stockroom to get a different size or different color, new products that were damaged by previous customers trying them on, etc. and started addressing the problem,” Romy said. Their concept is to have all sizes and colors on the floor so they can try on many pairs quickly and easily, with staff on hand to offer advice and information about the product and brand.
In addition to the potential for exclusive colors and styles at the Nolita location, Maguire will sell signature sunglasses and a collection of Catherine Potvin hats and tote bags. Shoe prices are generally in the $180-$300 range, thanks in part to their DTC status. Maguire may be most closely associated with brands like Loeffler Randall, Ganni, Labucq or Miista, although the sisters say they tend to be higher because they’re wholesalers. “This price is almost impossible to find for products from high-end European factories,” notes Romy, pointing to other DTC brands such as Intentionally Blank and Alohas as footwear from clothing brand Reformation.
Prices are also kept reasonable by cutting out the middle man. “We don’t work with other distributors or conventional retailers because that would increase our prices by forty or fifty percent. customer brands.”
Myriam has ten years of experience in the shoe industry, most recently with the Aldo Group and, among others, in Italy with Fabrica, the research center of United Colors of Benetton. “I quickly learned that price does not equal quality. The same factory produces shoes for different brands that retail for $200-$500 or even $800! The customer has no way of knowing if they are paying for a quality product or for the branding,” said Myriam. This prompted them to introduce a transparent pricing model that reveals production costs. “Customers can see what they’re paying for right on the site,” she added. Romy’s background was in marketing, specifically film festival marketing, including Cannes.
It also meant shifting production from factories in Asia to Europe. “Initially, we worked with a few suppliers in other regions, including Asia and Africa. It quickly became clear that a European made offering at our price point was unique and that delighted our customers so we moved more in that direction.”
The sisters sourced all factories themselves, attending fairs to meet owners and tour their facilities. “We checked the working conditions ourselves and found it easier to work with European suppliers. For starters, it’s a shorter flight with less jet lag. We mainly produce in Italy, Spain and Portugal; I speak French, English, and Italian so communication is easy, which is important when you’re not using an agent,” Myriam said. They also found that European factories were more attuned to small-scale production and volume.
However, that could change as the brand continues to grow. Currently, ten percent of sales come from the US and the rest from Canada. Despite being 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 in that region triple,” notes Myriam.