With a mission to offer European quality leather shoes at a fraction of the costs, sisters Romy and Myriam Maguire launched Maguire, a line of Italian-made shoes that considers style and comfort. Based in Montreal, the shoes sell for approximately 50 percent of similar quality shoes. Now the duo is bringing the footwear Stateside with their first store opening in Nolita.
In a silver lining story, the pandemic played a role in their U.S. expansion. Before the world shut down, thanks to Covid-19, Myriam won the chance to participate in a mini-MBA program in January 2020. During this, she met vital New York City players to help them navigate the market. Prior to this, she had spent plenty of time shopping in New York for shoes. “The Nolita neighborhood (particularly Elizabeth Street) was always where I would discover new brands or find something unique that I had never seen before,” the elder Maguire said.
The loss of other retail spaces in New York helped solidify a goal that seemed far off prior to 2020. “Like all retailers, we suffered during the pandemic but reminded ourselves each crisis has potential opportunities,” she continued. As other brands reduced physical footprints focusing on digital, vacancies in key prime locations opened. The sisters drove to New York City when the US-Canada border reopened in search of available retail spaces. “We quickly realized rents were half what they were before the pandemic and knew we had to act fast. By the time we signed the lease in February 2021, we were told we got the last good deal on the street, “Romy noted, adding, “New York City was always a dream for us, but it seemed a long way off. Strangely, it was the pandemic that made it possible for an independent business like us to realize that dream sooner.”
The pair is also proud of the way they have funded their growth. “A lot of our competitors received millions of dollars in venture capital to open in the same neighborhood as our new store. We did it through steady organic growth and small business loans! There’s a culture in startups that emphasizes capital raises and scale before profits. I hope we can draw attention to an alternative, more sustainable way to build a business,” said Myriam.
The Nolita store will feature the brand’s self-service shoe closet, also a feature in their stores. The brand has two stores in Canada; a Montreal store that opened in 2018 and one in Toronto that opened in 2020. Having worked the selling floor in the small shop themselves, they quickly realized the traditional shoe store experience was unpleasant. “There were boxes everywhere, staff constantly running to the storeroom to get another size or another color, new products damaged by prior customers trying them on, etc., and started to attack the problem,” said Romy. Their concept involves having all sizes and colors out on the floor so that they can try many pairs quickly and easily with staff on hand to give advice and information about the product and the brand.
Along with the potential for exclusive colors and styles in the Nolita location, Maguire will sell signature sunglasses and a collection of caps and totes made by Catherine Potvin. Shoe prices are generally in the $180-$300 range, also thanks to their DTC status. Maguire may be most closely aligned with brands such as Loeffler Randall, Ganni, Labucq, or Miista, though they tend to be higher because they wholesale, according to the sisters. “It’s a price point that’s almost impossible to find for products made in high-end European factories,” notes Romy, pointing out other DTC brands such as Intentionally Blank and Alohas as shoes by the clothing brand Reformation.
Prices are also kept reasonable by cutting out the middleman. “We don’t work with other distributors or conventional retailers as it would increase our prices by forty or fifty percent. We see established companies venturing into drop shipping, allowing them to leverage the customer base while offering a viable solution for independent and direct-to-customer brands.”
Myriam had ten years of experience in the shoe industry, most recently at Aldo Group and including time in Italy at Fabrica, United Colors of Benetton’s research center. “I quickly learned that price doesn’t equal quality. The same factory produced shoes for different brands retailing from $200 to $500, or even $800! The customer has no way of knowing if they are paying for a quality product or for branding,” said Myriam. It prompted them to adopt a transparent pricing model revealing production costs. “The customers can see for themselves what they’re paying for directly on the website,” she added. Romy’s background was in marketing, notably film festival marketing, including Cannes.
This also meant transferring production from Asian-based factories to those in Europe. “Initially, we did work with some suppliers in other regions, including Asia and Africa. It quickly became apparent that a European-made offering at our price point was unique, and that’s what excited our customers, so we moved more that way.”
The sisters sourced all of the factories themselves, visiting trade fairs to meet owners and visit their facilities. “We verified the working conditions ourselves and, as a result, found European suppliers easier to work with. For starters, it’s a shorter flight with less jet lag. We produce mainly in Italy, Spain, and Portugal; I speak French, English, and Italian, so communication is straightforward, important when you don’t use an agent,” said Myriam. They also found European factories more accommodating of small-batch production and order volumes.
That could change, though, as the brand continues to grow. Right now, ten percent of the sales are coming from the U.S. and the rest from Canada. Despite being a digital-first brand, physical locations raise visibility and credibility in new markets. “Every time we open a store in a new city, our online sales triple in that region,” Myriam notes.