“Sometimes I wish I could just plunge in and just go big, you know, I see some companies are younger than [mine] and they're making millions. But then at the end of the day, I always say I like to baby-step it. I need to digest every moment. So then it doesn't get out of control.”
Andréanne Dandeneau is the founder and CEO of Anne Mulaire. Her company designs, makes, and sews award-winning, eco-conscious fashion wear, inspired by her Métis heritage. That all happens right here in Winnipeg – and then these award-winning collections sell to customers across Canada and beyond.
Just over two years ago, Andréanne embarked on a big rebrand and expansion. What does it take to scale up with a set of values rooted in slow fashion, products made in small batches, in-house with natural and organic fabric. And how do you run a business where you are manufacturing and selling products on one hand, and you are encouraging people to buy less on the other?
What’s the secret to her success? “For any entrepreneur out there that is wanting to do something, you really have to think first, at what moment would you be happy, and you're good -- you know, because like success can be very greedy, it can mean so many different things. But at the end, it really has to align with your values.”
Find out how Andréanne is breaking the mold of fast fashion – and doing it in style!
Here's How It's Done is brought to you by Women's Enterprise Centre of Manitoba. It's hosted and produced by Cate Friesen, The Story Source.
Breaking the mold of fast fashion one baby step at a time: How Métis designer Andréanne Dandeneau sews success
Andréanne Dandeneau (ANNE): Sometimes I wish I could just plunge in and just go big, you know? I see some companies that are younger than me and they're making millions. But then at the end of the day, I always say, I like to baby step it. I need to digest every moment soo then it doesn't get out of control. For any entrepreneur out there that is wanting to do something, you really have to think first -- at what moment would you be happy, and you're good, you know, because like success can be very greedy. It can mean so many different things. But at the end, it really has to align with your values.
Cate Friesen: Welcome to Here’s How It’s Done, brought to you by the Women’s Enterprise Centre of Manitoba, the go-to place for women looking to start or expand their businesses. I’m your host, Cate Friesen.
I’m an entrepreneur too. I know first-hand that there’s no one sure-fire recipe for success, no magic formula for that decision to plunge in and go really big…or to take baby steps. But, if it sometimes feels like uncharted territory, the good news is that I know that I am not alone -- and neither are you! There are others finding their way, defining their own success, making their own map. And that’s what this podcast is all about.
Real life stories from enterprising women. Women who dream big and get there in baby steps. Who trade the possibility of millions for success on their own terms. Women who don’t lose sight of their values – and that clear-sighted vision takes their businesses to amazing places. Women who make a path for other women to shine. Like my guest today.
ANNE: My name is Andréanne Dandeneau and I am the founder and CEO of Anne Mulaire.
CATE: Andréanne goes by Anne for short. Anne’s company designs, makes, and sews award-winning, eco-conscious fashion wear, inspired by her Métis heritage. That all happens right here in Winnipeg – and these award-winning collections sell to customers across Canada and beyond.
I’ve wanted to have Anne on the show for a while now because she did a pretty big rebrand and expansion just over 2 years ago. And I’ve been really curious about what it takes to scale up with a set of values rooted in slow fashion, made in small batches, in-house with natural and organic fabric -- basically breaking the mold of fast fashion and doing it in grand style!
I mean, this is a business that encourages you not to consume too much—hey how do you run a business where you are manufacturing and selling products, and you are encouraging people to buy less?
For Anne, the answer to that begins with how she was raised.
03:08: The values Anne learned to live and how they show up in her business
CATE: What is something that you learned to value or new learned to do? When you were a kid that you still use all the time in your business now
ANNE: It's definitely the sustainable part. Because I was brought up, you know, just using what you need, never overconsumption, always creating from what we have. So I think what they [parents] have taught me is to be creative with what you have. It’s very minimalistic approach. And I still use that, if you think about it, right now in my business. But I guess you can link that to my culture, to the Métis, where we were brought up very humble about the planet and very conscious about what we put on this planet. We did a lot of outdoors activities, camping and you know, sharing meals, music. It was just this whole culture of creation but yet respect so I think those teachings I definitely brought to my company and also share with my employees. That's how we hire. We try to find the same values in the employees so then we can grow as a team.
CATE: And your values are really clearly posted on your website too, so you share them with your customers as well. I found that really striking because you've just covered almost all of them in what you just said about how you grew up, your heritage, do it yourself, innovation, planetary health and well-being. And the one you have right at the top is “All people”. Tell me a little bit more about that. “We nurture collective displacement, helping people find their place in the world.”
ANNE: And that's all about inclusivity too, you know. We believe that you can't be inclusive without sustainability. It goes hand in hand. You want it to be open to everybody. And I think that's why we made a point this year to, to create more clothing for all women, not just to create a plus size, but to create a clothing line, and to extend our sizing chart to fit all women, to include everybody that wants to be in this in the sustainable world because seriously, I truly believe that is the future. And there's no way back like we really have to look for every business needs to be responsible for their own actions and look after this planet.
CATE: Absolutely, totally agree with that!
ANNE: Oh, I could go on and on.
CATE: Oh, We'll dig into that in different ways, that's for sure.
05:55: How Anne’s business got started and the importance of naming your business
CATE: Before we dig in any further, let's go back to where the business started. Anne has been designing and sewing clothing since she was 14. So, it wasn't surprising that she went off to one of Canada's top design schools in Montreal. But she came back to Winnipeg to start her very first business in 2005. As a sole proprietor, her first line of clothing was called Hug Me. Anne ran her business out of her parent's basement, and has been growing that enterprise and her team ever since.
When I first met you, you were beginning to think about rebranding your business. But that wasn't the first time. You've gone through quite a few business names. And there's a little bit of a story with each one of those shifts.
ANNE: Yeah, at the beginning, I didn't know what it would be. I saw myself as an artist and creator and, to be honest, I baby stepped it, all of it. And so I'm okay with that, because I was able to digest every part of the journey. But at the beginning it was with me and my sister, she was helping me a lot. So, it was called MJAnne. And then we started getting..
CATE: MJ is your sister, right?
ANNE: Yeah, my twin sister. You know, she's a huge part of my life. She's my soulmate. So, it's just to have her name with mine. And, you know, we had fun just creating things. She would design my posters and helped me out. But then, you know, it's always about stores, they wanted to carry my clothing. So, they had a hard time with the MJAnne. And they would say it differently.
So, I said to my parents, I think I need a different name, but I want something French. And so we did some research and it was so interesting, because at that time, they said, “Why don't you use your name?” “I was like, no, no, no, no. It's too hard to say. Plus, I don't want to be in the spotlight. No. I'm a very humbled designer, I don't like to be in the spotlight. My success is not just because of me. It's because of people surrounding me and my family. Huge help. So we came up with Voilà par Andréanne. That worked out for a little bit, but then, you know, I grew.
I start realizing I have such a hard time connecting with Voilà. I had a hard time designing for Voilà, I think that's the biggest part. I wanted to be a more avant garde designer, I did couture pieces, and I just didn't see it meshing with Voilà, because it couldn't tell my story, the way I wanted it to. At that point, I had to be okay using my name. But it's so interesting. Sometimes it's just a self esteem thing because I was scared. Every time you put out a collection, it's, you know, it's very scary how people will react, how people will like it. If it doesn't sell, it really is hard.
It's almost like I was trying to hide behind my label, because I didn't know if I was a good designer or not. And after a while, I realized no, you have to know that you're great. You're, you're good. And be proud of your name and your heritage, and you are proud of it because you incorporate it in your collection. So why not use the name that tells the story? After actually taking a course from you. It really made me think -- Be proud of your name and tell your story. That's definitely something I would say to new entrepreneur or to people thinking of starting a business. The key is to really look at yourself and where you've come from, and tell your story because it's unique, nobody can steal that from you. And you're the only one that can tell it to the world and be unique, you know, and stand out.
CATE: Like, how important the name of your business becomes then. Because you felt -- Like you just talked about a two way street. When you were growing you were hesitant to really own the name. On the other hand when you called it that name, it cramped your style, like, wow. So picking that name is a big deal!
ANNE: Oh, yeah. Sometimes I think about it -- we have three name changes,, and that's okay. Because I've grown through that, innovated my brand. You know, I felt I couldn't connect with Falah as much as I wanted to. So I said the next name I choose, I really it has to be the end. And that's that's it. I think it was actually our marketing helper that time. His name is Dave Maddock. And he told me, “Anne Mulaire, why don't you use your middle name?” And I said, genius. And I felt comfortable because it's not my full name. But it was part of my name. And I felt like yes, it can be a persona. It could be we can I could relate to her, we can create this character. And yeah,
CATE: So Anne Mulaire is kind of like your avatar?
ANNE: Yeah, I guess you can say that. That's cool. Yeah, I guess in this new age of technology.
CATE: There's someone else who's linked with the name, though, isn't there?
ANNE: Yeah, my ancestor. So, her name was Katherine Mulaire. You know, the whole collection is based on my heritage and mostly her spirit. So, I just felt like, oh, it just made sense. And it's definitely something we can grow into and express our values to.
11:08 Learning to tell the brand story
CATE: So tell me how your business has changed, not just with the name, but how you grown into that name.
ANNE: “We rebranded just before COVID. Great timing!We didn't know that. But we didn't have enough time to kind of travel the province and the country to tell the people about our name change. Because we used to do a lot of trade shows, you know, we did as much as we could, online. And actually it was after having the course with you, Cate, about telling your story. I knew I had to tell my story, I just didn't know how, because I'm such a behind-the-scene kind of girl. I had to learn how to do that. And also, I had to understand the importance of telling people what we're all about and what we do. So that was a big part of the 2019 rebranding and ongoing today, too. And then have my partner Jody, and she's just content guru and so she sees what I do, and she sees our story. And so she's able to put that in writing. And I love our duel, because I'm the creator, I have all the visions, and I do things with my hands and my creativity, and she can put it out in the world.
So over the years, we were able to baby step telling our story a bit more and more and more. And we started creating a community, which I'd never had before. And I think that's super important too because then you have people following you, people respecting you, and also saying, “Hey, I have the same values too. And I love what you do.” And they want to be a part of the bus. And so I feel like I love the ride. We're always trying to be better, do better. And so anybody that wants to be on the bus, then please get on the ride.
13:25 – Values in action: The behind-the-scenes story
CATE: I want to hear about the back of the bus right now, the behind-the-scenes because right now we're sitting in an office looking out onto the Red River, right? How beautiful is that? Off of Osborne. But behind me and behind this little wall, there's a lot of activity. What's in between us here in the office and that shop in the front is super significant. (ANNE: Yeah, yeah). Can you talk a little bit about what's there and how things are run and how that weaves in with the values that we've just been talking about?
ANNE: So we're sitting beside the manufacturing, which is so cool, because it's actually woman-led. I'm super proud of that. It feels good to be able to come to work and know that everything you've created and put into people’s hand is made by these wonderful women, that put heart and soul and sewing all these pieces, all the way to getting our fabric knitted in Canada, too. It was always a dream of mine to keep production in Winnipeg because I'm like, why not? And I've always wanted to keep jobs here, create jobs.
CATE: And I follow you on social media. And there was a post about a particular role that was really significant that you had a woman in -- and I believe it was the cutter?
ANNE: Our cutter is a woman and usually cutting fabric -- It's men. I've never met a woman, cutter until we met Sarah. And she said Yeah, I used to do that in Colombia. And so I said really? Okay, well, and she said, “Well, I haven't done it for so long because she came here and started working and did not get a cutting job, she got a sewing job. So it's a no, no, you're going to come in and start cutting with us. The smile on her face, the fact that I trusted her doing what she used to do -- I love that.
And I love the fact that we can be independent, and we can support each other. And I love the fact that we can also, as individual women, we can actually inspire ourselves or each other and say, this can be my career, and I'm super proud. And the fact that the whole team knows that we're women led, they're like “power to the woman!” you know, and I just feel it's just empowering, especially because manufacturing fashion -- there's so many careers out there that is men-lead. And so, it's hard for women to speak up or to be viewed high. I know I've always had trouble sometimes negotiating because I'm a woman or running my company, because I'm a woman, I'll always have men that will come talk me down and things like that. And we all have to build a stronger backbone. And it's sad to think of that, but you know, we are resilient.
16:15 Zero Waste, Just In Time and practicing ‘circular fashion’
CATE: And it's amazing to walk through there and actually see the clothes being made, as opposed to going to the mall and picking up a shirt for five bucks. Tell me about the challenges of expanding in this particular way, in a way that I guess is called slow fashion. Yeah. And the thread that runs through it, are those values that you mentioned. So what are the challenges business-wise in doing that?
ANNE: Well, with COVID, I had to pivot because I had to make a decision, do we continue with this big production? Because when I was doing trade shows across Canada, we had to produce a lot. And then we would go to these trade shows to sell off the rack. But we didn't know what would actually sell, I had an idea. I would come back in December with all these boxes of clothes, and then try to sell that again. And it was exhausting doing these trade shows.
So when COVID hit, it really gave us a break. So we started doing Just In Time because we would get orders and I thought well, we're going to cut it. Okay. Cut, cut. And personally, with the shortage of fabric, because our yarn comes from China, but then gets knitted and dyed in Toronto, or outside of Toronto. So, our knitter was having a hard time getting the yarn in, in order to knit our fabric. So the Just In Time came just in time, because I could only cut what we were selling, we would keep our fabric as long as possible, so I was able to fulfill orders.
CATE: So what does it mean to buy something just in time?
ANNE: 90% of our products are Just In Time, you'll see Zoya, she's cutting. So, she is doing all the orders that has just came in from last week and this weekend. The second is, well, we have some stock in the boutique. And that is often when the store is making an order. So she's making a pair of pants, we're going to cut one more, and we'll call it ‘the showroom’. So then she can cut that one and the one for the showroom. So Lindsay our customer service, she can sell it to whoever's coming into shop. And then the third is our Zero Waste Collection. So during Christmas, we take a break. Right now I have created my designs for Zero Waste, but then we stop producing, and we use all the remnants. And then we produce in January, our zero waste collection will keep our basic available online. But we cut down a lot on everything else just so we can put a nice focus on our Zero Waste production.
CATE: So there's Zero Waste. There's the Just In Time. I'm wondering, do you get that other side of like, but I need this right now?
ANNE: Yeah. Oh, definitely. And that can be challenging, but I think it comes down to those that want it right now, then they can go somewhere else and buy it. You know, for me, first of all, like you pointed out, it reduces waste. We can offer customization, which is slow fashion because you get something fit for you, which means you'll wear it more often, which means you're gonna love it versus just something off the rack. And you're thinking, yeah, I think it fits I'm not sure we'll see. But then you never wear it and then it gets put in a bag.
I do believe like, this is the future. And actually, we have to create a circular economy, a circular fashion economy because it's already almost too late. Like we really have to think of the future and producing less and just producing what people need. You know, I think every company should really look at their own model and see okay, how can I produce less or how Can I find a way to help this planet? You know, if everybody did a little bit, then customers will realize, yeah, we don't need instant gratification. It's like bringing back the old days where you went to your tailor. And then they had this cute little fashion show in front of you. And you said, Well, I think I like this, and then they would measure you, and you would pick your fabric, like, that's what I want to bring back, because that was slow fashion.
20:27 - The challenges of being in the business of Slow Fashion
CATE: I'm going to ask you to take the other side of that coin. And tell us about some of the challenges. This is amazing. And you're working with those values. Think about two or three challenges in doing the work this way. Like, whether that's financial, or finding the right customer who understands what it means to invest, and hiring, whatever it is, take me to a moment when you just went like, ah, what am I going to do now?
ANNE: Well, I thought of that during COVID, you know, when we had to shut down, but then we started doing masks. But to be sustainable, it's often not profitable, because to do my Zero Waste collection, it takes a lot of time. And if I really calculated my time, helping the production oh! But I think we have to offset it with other products and try to think, Ok, well, we just have to really think and be creative.
Give me an example that how have you done that.
ANNE: So creating smaller pieces, like the scrunchies. So, creating a product, that's just a bit lower cost, but people will just buy more of that, versus a lot of my other products are a little bit more higher priced items. I have realized producing more, and putting things more at a bigger discount is worse than just making it just in time, and it might cost me a little bit more to make it. So now we've kind of stopped doing the 50% discount, because we don't need to, and I don't think it's necessary to discount a product that a human being is hand cutting and hand sewing. It takes away the value of it, what we like to do is, is give the 15 to 20% discount sometime because it allows those that just can't afford a full price item to be a part of the sustainable world and actually have a taste of what it feels like to have something made in Canada, made in Winnipeg, to be a part of the circular economy. And they might say, You know what, I'm going to keep my money from Christmas, and I'll buy myself a nice pair of leggings or pants, you know, that's the consumption behavior that we want to try to teach.
CATE: ….and encourage. So I want you to dig a little further into challenge because there's got to be a moment, at least one that you can think of it you will just want like, I could just walk away from this, not the whole thing, but like walk away from a certain endeavor or feel like I'm stuck. I don't know how I'm gonna move forward. And I know you have gotten unstuck. So if you can go into that stickiness, and then how you got unstuck. Because one of the things that I love about hearing other people's stories is -- I'm never going to be a fashion designer. But I will learn by how somebody in that business, like you, might face a challenge and I can go, okay, so if Anne can do that, what can I do?
ANNE: There's always things where I've been stuck, like production is always delayed, where there's always bottlenecks places. What I find that helps me is I have to stand back. And I have to look at what's happening and then make sense of it. And then, you know, figure it out. I do find when I work so much in the company, I get lost in the problems because I'm just go, go, go, go. It's a duality problem of being a retail company and wanting to be sustainable and promote circular fashion. You know, how are you profitable, but yet you don't want to be promoting consumption. So that's a challenge. But I think there's ways to bring your story and just to bring your values out. And that's how you can tell people to buy better and buy less and still be in the in the retail business.
CATE: How do you get that perspective? Because when you're deep in and every business owner I know -- you have to be deep in. What are the practices that you have that gets you to stand back and see the bigger picture or go, okay!
ANNE: Well, I'm super lucky because I have I have well I call it the leadership team, where we it's mostly my family My brother, my sister-in-law, my parents, my partner. And we meet once a month, and we bring the issues to the table. And these are all people that I admire that have experience in the industry of entrepreneur, or in life. And so for me, I'm very lucky, I get to troubleshoot with them. And they will give me you know, their feedback and their expertise, suggestions. But one thing I always do is I baby step. Sometimes I wish I could just plunge in and just go big, you know? I see some companies that are younger than me, and they're making millions but then at the end of the day, I always say, I like to baby step, I need to digest every moment. So then it doesn't get out of control.
25:51: How Anne ‘babysteps it’ to success
CATE: You know, I hear it so much now… the word scaling up and at first I actually didn't even know what it was. What is that? You’ve got to scale up and you have to have like, a structure to do that. And you should scale up, Cate. And I'm like, yeah, I don't know. And I always say these days, I just want to scale deep. (ANNE: That's good.) So when you think about describing how you've expanded your business, it hasn't been scaling up in the usual way as in terms of more product, a huge amount of staff.
ANNE: Because I was just thinking about one question. Maybe she’ll ask it or not, but, you know, what is success to me? And for me, it's where I see the company running, when I'm at home working on something else, or I see my employees being happy and having a fair wage. You know, that's success for me, that I've created this company, where it's self-sufficient, and it's still profitable and I can see the difference in people's lives, in the planet and what we are offering, maybe we're donating more —that’s success for me. For me. often I've had people asking, so how many units are you making? For them that success, that you want to go in the millions. I'm still at 3,000 a year, you know, it's not huge. I had to kind of sit down with that.
Because I realize, for any entrepreneur out there that is wanting to do something, you really have to think first, what is success for you? What would at what moment, would you be happy, and you're good, you know? Because like success can be very greedy, it can mean so many different things. But at the end, it really has to align with your values. And if I want to be a millionaire with like a big huge mansion, I would have to think, Anne is that really you? Is that really what you want? Or is that what people are telling you should have because that's what success is, you know, in the world.
27:57: “This brand needs to stand for something and we need to open our arms to everybody.”
CATE: So take me to a moment. One of those moments when you wait, yes, I'm doing exactly what I need to do. I'm remembering who I am in this world. And I'm standing in it with both feet.
ANNE: I think the ones that I can remember lately is when I was working with the ladies from the inclusivity line, around COVID time. I needed more from this brand. It needs to stand for something and we need to, you know, open our arms to everybody. And I know I had already started doing a lot of customized clothing for plus ladies. And so I said “no, we have to revise our sizing chart. But to do that, I didn't want to just go into my sizing chart and start making patterns and just expand the patterns.” I said, “No, we need to really understand what is going on. And what can I do better, that they're not finding any other brands.”
So I decided to just create a post and put it online on Instagram. And we said, “Looking for a woman size 18 to 34 for fit size,” or something like that. And we just started getting so many names and comments and people sending their emails. And so we got over 100 ladies, it was overwhelming because I felt like wow, this is amazing, first of all, and we just started contacting them back. And then we would get them into the boutique. And we would get them to try a bunch of different clothes, we would talk to them. They would give us some really good feedback, a couple designs that actually got inspired by what they were saying. And so we did that for six months and we then we did fit number one and then we would do a full set of fit number two, we would do adjustments and call them back in. And so that was really cool too, because we just created this nice community. I've never done that before and it felt so good because it felt like I actually was able to help. Because at the beginning of starting my company, my mom always told me, she's like, “Whatever you decide, make sure you help you help people.”And so I didn't know what that looked like, but I'm like, Okay, well, I'll make these clothes and do this and do that. But it's probably at that moment when meeting all these ladies that I really felt like, yeah, that I was opening our brand or culture, everything, to more people.
CATE: And what did it mean to them to actually be consulted?
ANNE: They were being heard, you know, they were being heard, they were being valued. It finally felt like they had a place here, which is, you know, like, wow, you should have always had a place and it humbled me. And I still feel so grateful. Because, you know, they were comfortable enough to talk to me about their experiences. And also, just to let me in.
31:02 – What’s next for Anne Mulaire
CATE: Yeah, that's a great process, and super inspiring. I guess my last question for you is looking ahead, what's the next baby step or two.
ANNE: Well, we definitely want to be circular. Our next baby step is to open this Revive program, where people can bring back their Anne Mulaire, and then we either fix them and them, or we repurpose them into a new Zero Waste piece. You know, another part of being sustainable, it really pushes your creativity, because you have to think of different ways to create. And so for me, that's always super exciting. We're looking at biodegradable Lycra. We would love to use a biodegradable fabric where, you know, where we can actually collaborate with different farmers. Yeah, the movement is definitely -- how can you be more sustainable? And at the same time, we have to stay innovative in order to stay profitable. Definitely, some really inspiring circular fashion ideas.
CATE: What's the biggest surprise in the last year or two? Okay, besides COVID? What was what was another kind of big surprise, either, like a whoa, or amazing?
ANNE: You know what? To be honest, it's definitely the support of the community. You know, like before COVID Oh, my goodness, it was hard to be in competition with all the other companies, the box stores, and everything else, you know. And definitely, after COVID, like, it's almost like it gave perspective to the community, to people around us to say, you know, you have your neighbor right here, let’s support them, and to think about your own country’s economy. So that definitely surprised me, because I've always wanted that, you know, for 17 years always say, “Hey, we're here. Hello!” And then finally, they see us and they see everybody else that's local. It feels good. And I hope it continues like that. I hope that people don't forget about us, but we're here for our own local economy. So I hope that people remember you.
CATE: Thank you. Thank you so much for taking time out of like, and I know that we're coming up to Christmas, I'm sure it's crazy busy. But thank you so much.
ANNE: Oh, you're welcome. Thank you, Cate.
CATE: That's Andréanne Dandeneau. And I highly recommend that you check out all the amazing fashion she has to offer at AnneMulaire.ca. That's where you can also find out more about her company's Revive program, a circular model that allows their garments to be resold, recycled, or upcycled into new products. And while you are there, check out the video she's posted about how sustainable fashion creates spaces for everyone, no matter what size you are. I first met Anne when she signed up for a workshop series I teach called Make your story work for you. You can find out more about that at my website, TheStorySource.ca.
That's all for this edition of Here's how it's done, brought to you by the Women's Enterprise Center of Manitoba. And if this podcast got you interested in starting or growing your own business, head over to WECM.ca To find out more about the Women's Enterprise Centre’s business plan course, and a lot of other ways the center can help you succeed in business.
You can subscribe to Here's how it's done through your favorite podcast app. If you are interested in business businesses that are built on the slow movement. I recommend the episode called Dishing on food and family business from season one -- about slow food and Adagio Acres. And from this season, you could check out Saying Yes to Joy. Find out more about the slow flower movement at Masagana Flower Farm and Studio.
The music for this podcast is by Peter McIsaac. Additional music written and recorded by Charlotte Friesen. This episode is mastered by Maddy Roger and produced by me. Until next time, I'm Cate Friesen. Thank you so much for listening.