I have vivid memories of shopping as a kid. I loved going into stores because I had this faint hope that clothes that read, “size small,” would fit me. Finally. I couldn’t wait to finally get to wear the same type of clothes the cooler girls in school could wear. Low-rise jeans, tight t-shirts. Obviously, size small clothes did not magically fit me. And it broke my heart. Each time. It hurt even worse when a size large was too snug. I would tell my mom I was just too fat to wear anything. She would talk me down from the ledge, like clockwork.
Knowing that there are so many groups and stores in place today that work to help young girls like the one I was love their bodies and their whole selves, no matter what, gives me so much pleasure. Of course, there is still work to be done, but I take great pride in the opportunity to talk about these dedicated shops and organizations.
Michelle Germain is the founder and “Fashion Fanatic” behind Shopgirls, a Canadian in-store and online retailer that sells locally produced clothing items, while spreading love for different body types, shapes and sizes.
We chatted with her because not only is the concept behind Shopgirls literally so amazing, but the underlying cause is also really close to my heart. Thank you for everything Michelle – your time but also your passion. You’re making important changes.
1. The Shopgirls website describes you as someone who is passionate about fashion, shopping and body positivity – three things that don’t always go hand in hand. When did you first realize that body positivity was important to you?
My office is situated directly across from the change rooms and separated by a half wall where I spent hours upon hours listening to so many beautiful women complaining about their bodies, pointing out all of the little things that bothered them. I became painfully aware that as women we hold such unrealistic expectations of how we should and shouldn’t look. Turns out only two per cent of women live up to this unrealistic standard of “beauty” so why do so many of us feel so inadequate? I figured about 98 per cent of women would understand and agree that body positivity is needed – particularly in fashion. Shopgirls is about embracing the things we do like about our bodies and playing up those attributes. When you do that, then you are happier and when you’re happier you look and feel better.
2. Shopgirls launched in 2007 to showcase Canadian designed women’s clothes and accessories that celebrate and embrace bodies and shapes. How do you think Shopgirls continues to embrace this motto today, 10 years later?
There is nothing I love more than to hear a customer relay our message to others, teaching them to shop their shape not their size. It’s like they’ve inadvertently become Shopgirls brand ambassadors! The brand I’ve worked so hard to build is now growing thanks to like-minded women (and yes even men) who’ve opted for body positivity and embraced what comes with it. Hence why I co-created ninety-eight.ca, a clothing line that provides styles that work for every body shape, made in Canada with pieces that are dry-clean NEVER. Easy.
3. Shopping can be daunting, especially when trending styles are ill fitting and way over the budget. Describe what the Shopgirls shopping experience is like.
We try our best to make the shop a comfortable space where you will get straight up honest opinions from a sales staff that genuinely cares about making you look and feel your best. These experienced Shopgals really know their sh%t – what styles look best for all body shapes and how to make you shine.
4. Your homestore is on Queen W. and you have a pop up location also in that area. How many people are on the Shopgirls team?
We currently have seven talented sales associates, a crazy smart online specialist and a fab new intern.
5. There are so many cute clothes stores on Queen W. How does Shopgirls stand out?
Anyone can sell clothes, but the brand is what sets you apart and our brand is all about body positivity and connecting with those who share in this philosophy. Connection is key to establishing long term customer loyalty.
6. What’s one of the best parts about working in the Toronto (and Canadian) fashion scene?
It’s great when you personally know the designers behind the labels. It’s such a collaborative industry and it feels good to be supporting local first and foremost. We’ve got such an incredible pool of talent in Canada and I feel like it is my job to share it with the world!
The company has also grown to be the largest retailer of C’est Moi and Second Denim’s Yoga Jeans. What about these brands are so great? They both work for every body shape! Here’s more on body shapes from our website! They are both quality Canadian brands that provide the best staples for a woman’s wardrobe.
7. Over the last decade, what is one of the hardest lessons you’ve had to learn as founder of Shopgirls?
Entrepreneurs are always driven by passion and a business model to support it. What we sometimes forget is that following your passion is one thing but listening to your customer is key! When you listen to your customers, the direction of your efforts will become clear. Follow that and you will be on the right path.
8. Based on what I know about Shopgirls, the brand is about confidence and self-love – a concept that’s quite hard for a lot of young women and girls to achieve because of various marketing techniques across the board. What can other brands do to help young women and girls feel comfortable in their bodies and celebrate them by wearing clothes that fit?
We all just want to belong. Sounds pretty simplistic but in essence, it is what feeds our souls. Brands should recognize that we are all different and that’s ok. Let’s create an inclusive environment for women of all shapes and stop sharing unrealistic body images to our girls. It’s plain cruel.
9. Why is supporting Canadian designers and artists so important to you, personally?
I’ve met and worked with so many Canadian designers/artists over the years, even before Shopgirls. And what became apparent was that there just wasn’t enough retailers showing off this amazing local talent. I love being part of this local movement and supporting home grown talent, we’ve got plenty of it to share!
10. When did Shopgirls expand to include the selling of homewares and paper goods? Why did you decide to go down this path, as well?
We’ve pretty much always carried an assortment of homewares and paper goods. Again, we’ve got some talented artisans so why not? And because many of our customers buy gifts from us, offering stationary and other gifty items just made sense.
11. Are there any other products you think Shopgirls might try to explore and sell?
Shoes? Maybe? One day? There isn’t much available though when you only sell Canadian so the hunt continues. We have recently begun selling Matt & Nat footwear and our customers are loving it!
12. The brand also has an online store – how does this help increase ROI?
It’s hard to say. The online shop has exploded over the last few years but sales are not incremental – they have just shifted from brick and mortar to online. However, without an online store, I don’t know how any retailers survive. There is only so much your physical shop can generate. Having an online store isn’t really an option anymore, you have to have a digital presence to grow any business these days.
13. On the theme of the interwebs – what is your favourite social media tool to use to share Shopgirls news with the world?
Our most effective is definitely our newsletters sent to over 5,000 subscribers. Beyond that, we get a lot of traction from Instagram and yes Facebook.
14. Being a business owner also requires having a love for creativity. That said, there are always lulls in finding creative inspiration! Where do you turn when motivation is running low?
I stop and take a breath. It’s the only thing that works. We live such fast paced lives, one’s energy, be it creative or physical, needs to have time to regenerate! Also, my kids, they are great sources of creativity and inspiration!
15. What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with our readers?
Consider investing in your wardrobe. It may feel like big ticket items, but it pays off in the end I promise. You will wear these pieces for years to come. AND… consider this fun fact as well:
“Each dollar you spend at independent businesses returns three times more money to your local economy than one spent at a chain (almost 50 times more than buying from an online mega-retailer) — a benefit we all can bank on.” For more from this source, click here.
16. What’s one piece of clothing you could never live without?
My Veronique Miljkovitch double loop sweatshirt hoodie. I never leave home without it!