April 17, 2012

Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year

It's always cool to see Native people succeeding - and here is a story about a Metis woman who started up a fashion boutique in 2007. It has been a great success, featuring and selling only Canadian-made clothing and accessories by emerging designers - very cool! She's an inspiration for me as I look to launch the Beyond Buckskin Boutique in just a couple weeks! Click below to read her story and check out her site.

Parkdale boutique owner named Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year

Wearing hot pink leggings and matching heart-shaped hoop earrings, it is clear Michelle Germain has a fondness for fashion.

Her ability to parlay her love of fashion and discovering new design talent into a successful gallery-boutique has garnered this mother of two the title of Aboriginal Business Woman of the Year.

The award was bestowed on Germain, who lives in north Parkdale, by Miziwe Biik, an aboriginal employment and training organization at the 10th annual Toronto Aboriginal Business Association Awards held at the Gladstone Hotel March 28.

Germain, a Metis who grew up in Sudbury, has a background in marketing and has previously worked at Holt Renfrew and the Hudson Bay Company.

"It is a very small community when it comes to Canadian designers, so I was exposed to a lot of Canadian designers who were just sort of doing their thing on the side," Germain said.

She said she would meet designers and fall in love with their work, but the opportunity to purchase it was limited.

"I met more and more of these people and started doing what nowadays they call pop-up shops," she said. "I would bring in eight or 10 designers...and we would display them in a really cool way and talk about the products."

The response to those pop-up shops planted the seed for her opening her own store.

Shopgirls Gallery Boutique opened in December 2007. Germain was living in Parkdale at the time and just had her first child. She wanted to be close to home and settled on Queen Street West in the heart of Parkdale.

It was a rough beginning for the store, which opened shortly after the recession hit, but it not only survived, it thrived, she said.

Germain said she has received a great deal of support from Aboriginal Business Canada.

"They have helped me from the very beginning," she said. "I guarantee if it wasn't for them, I would not be in business right now."

Today, Germain works with 50 designers or more, all of them from Canada, nearly half from Montreal.

Germain is French-Canadian with a lot of family in Quebec and said she connects with the European flare Quebec designers often display.

"I like what Quebec designers do. They take a bit more of a risk," Germain said. "I think that is partially because the Quebec government offers a lot of support to their creative folk so there is a lot of funding, which allows them to take risks and trying things that are a little different.

"I wish we had that kind of funding here because I think we would get even more interesting designers," Germain said.

Originally, Germain sourced out designers and merchandise by scouting out the One-Of-Kind shows, craft shows and clothing shows.

"Now, four a half years later, my inbox is always full of designers who want to be a part of Shopgirls," she said. "I haven't given up on scouting because I still like that element of surprise of being able to discover someone who hasn't been discovered."

Germain said she hopes this award leads to more opportunity for her as a business owner and a member of the Parkdale community.

"Whatever tools come my way, I try to learn and expand my portfolio," she said. "Now my business is finally how I envisioned it...so I feel like I could step away a bit and maybe look into other areas."

She said she is interested in mentoring and continuing to take a community-oriented approach to business.

"I think Parkdale is the absolute best location for that camaraderie. You feel it with the businesses around you," Germain said. "We really love the neighbourhood and want to try to do what we can to promote it."

Click here to view the story.