Interview with fashion designer : Mariouche Gagné

Interview with fashion designer : Mariouche Gagné

Spend five minutes with Mariouche Gagné and we think you’ll see why she’s become one of Québec’s most dynamic fashion entrepreneurs - every minute of her time is poured into driving the recycled fur of Harricana, as well as the other labels under Les Collections Mariouche, to the top. In a brief interlude from conducting a flurry of business on her cell phone, Mariouche spoke to Minimidimaxi on the occasion of launching her inaugural flagship boutique.The boutique, in a re-furbished, historic building situated near Montreal’s Atwater market, is a blue-tinged winter oasis that reflects the sublime minimalism of the far north. The revolutionary concept by interior designer Paule Bourbonnais, which includes giant suspended icicles, is a candidate for the Commerce Design Montreal award.

“Inuit art and culture is a major inspiration for my collections,” says Mariouche. “In the Nordic region the idea is protection first and decoration after. Likewise, my industrial design is first practical and then beautiful.” The building also houses administrative offices and workshop. “I’m not used to working so far from my employees,” laughs Mariouche.

A glance at the early days of Les Collections Mariouche reveals that cultivating the market for recycled fur was but one daunting task the company faced. At the time, recycled fur was unheard of.

“Initially, furriers were peeved that I was calling recycled fur a noble item,” recalls Mariouche.

These furriers will have difficulty scoffing at the impressive numbers Harricana is now churning out. Harricana is available in more than 130 sales outlets in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, notably France and Switzerland. The label has developed a devout local following, with 65% of the company’s business income generated in Quebec. Recycling 6000 fur coats a year has demanded an increase in production capacity, and business income continues to grow by 50% a year since 1999. An innovative product demands innovative ways of marketing it, and that is explains why Harricana items can be found at ski resorts and even Québec City’s famous ice hotel.

Les Collections Mariouche comprises a number of specialty labels, evidence of the company’s talent for isolating their markets perfectly. Harricana Sport, Harricana Maison, Harrimini, and Histoire de peaux, a custom-remodelling service, each have a little something unique to offer. Though men’s wear accounts for only 20% of the company’s business, Harricana moves 12,000 of the men’s aviator hats per year.

On & On ecolo chic is a new venture by Mariouche and three major partners, a label that offers chic styling in a variety of recycled fabrics.

“People need options on products with good environmental impact. It gives me design options as well, because I get a chance to use recycled materials other than fur. On & On ecolo chic has some business integration with Harricana, to take advantage of Harricana’s distribution structure.”

Mariouche Gagné’s profound respect for the relationship between company and consumer can be seen at all levels of her business structure, and no doubt accounts for her success in the marketplace.

“Most of my collection ideas come from customer suggestions. And our best advertising is women wearing our clothes.”

Daniel Cox
Fashion Editor
Marek Wlazlo