Title: Stylish, but tough
Sub-title: Judy Richardson, co-founder of Teenflo Canada, is one of the country’s top fashionistas. But her job isn’t all just glamour.
When Judy Richardson was just 17 years old, she took a summer job in a uniform company. It was one of those fateful decisions that set the course of rest of her life. From that job, Richardson, co-founder of high end ladies-wear retailer Teenflo Canada, moved on to a series of positions, all in the fashion industry. Today, Richardson, who is widely considered to be one of the country’s top fashionistas, admits that she has what many women would consider a dream job.
“I am very passionate about the work I do. But don’t be fooled by the glamorous magazines and television shows, this is a very tough industry,” says Richardson. “Customers today are extremely value and style conscious. They also have an innate sense of what is going on in other key global markets. If you are not passionate about this industry, you’d never be able to keep up.”
Teenflo Canada, which she runs with her husband Charles La Pierres, has six stores, spread out between Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and New York, that stock a full line of women’s suiting, dresses, tops, jackets and skirts. The company manufactures its own products which are also sold through retailers like Holt Renfew in Canada, and Bloomingdales in New York.
Richardson co-founded the company with La Pierres in 1990 by acquiring the North American licensing rights to Paris based Teenflo’s creations. The name Teenflo, is somewhat of a misnomer Rcihardson says, because the company’s garments target afar broader clientele than just teenagers. Most customers are between 25 and 55 years old, and are either career-women, or are fashion conscious and willing to invest a little in their look.
Running the business
Several things about Richardson and Teenflo stand out. For one, unlike much of the fashion industry, which outsources manufacturing to cheaper locales like China, Richardson prefers to keep production here in Canada. “The quality is a major part of the value we add,” says Richardson. “And although Chinese made products can be quite good, the long delivery turnarounds mean that the pressure on importers to accept substandard merchandize can be high. But for me if a cut on a particular garment is off by a half inch we reject it.”
That said, not all of Teenflo fashion content is Canadian. “We use imported fabrics, mostly from Italy.” admits Richardson. “The Italians are really the leaders there and I just love their product. Their designs are so beautiful, as are the textures.”
That said, things are evolving on the design front, says Richardson. In recent years as much as two thirds of the company’s new creations are now being thought up in Canada. “The major retailers insist on being supplied a full product line. So we decided to add on our own creations to complement the designs that we licence from Teenflo.
Balancing work and family life
Richardson also was able to provide helpful tips on how to balance work and family life in situations in which both partners in a couple work in the same business. “Charles (whose title is company president) and I are lucky in the sense that that we have very complementary temperaments and skills,” says Richardson. “He is much more of a go-getter and a risk taker and I like to proceed slowly and cautiously. So when we agree on a particularly strategy, we know we have a winner. We also define our areas of responsibility quite clearly, so we don’t step on each others toes.”
The fact that Richardson and La Pierres work well is good news, because there are indications that there may one day be more “family” in their family business. Richardson has two daughters, one of whom has an eye on medical school. However her second daughter is studying at a fashion and design school in New York.
“She has a good eye. Who knows, maybe she’ll join us one day,” says Richardson of her youngest child, with a shrug and a smile. “She has worked here on her spare time in the past. So hopefully she has a good idea of what she’d be getting into.”
Peter Diekmeyer is a Montreal-based business and finance writer.
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