A local entrepreneur has seen her business thrive since moving to prime real estate on Hurontario Street.
Cathy Brown, owner of both Awear Eco Boutique and Metra Fashion House in Collingwood’s downtown, was able to transform her passion for eco-friendly fabrics, style and quality into two fashion-forward businesses and has no plans to slow down.
While Brown grew up in Port Elgin, Ont., she says she came to Collingwood to ski when she was growing up. She decided to make the move to Collingwood 12 years ago when her husband was offered a job opportunity in the area.
“I had taken kinesiology in school. I visited TRACKS Employment to see what kind of jobs were available, and I saw an entrepreneur co-op, government-funded retail program advertised,” she said. “Basically, you would write a pitch of what type of store you’d want to try out. They would pay for a store space in downtown Collingwood where you could try out a concept.”
Brown prepared a pitch on a retail store and yoga-studio concept.
“They said the yoga part wouldn’t work because I had to share the space with other entrepreneurs,” she said. “So I started with yoga clothing. I’m passionate about fashion, so I just couldn’t help myself.”
In 2008, after a year of taking part in the incubator program, Brown was able to move into her own space, calling the store Awear Eco Boutique.
“It was a postage-stamp sized store, like 250 square feet,” said Brown. “I’ve been able to see Collingwood really grow since then. There’s 2.5 million people coming here every year, tourists alone. I think it’s a really unique community. People here have more cultured tastes. They’re used to seeing more boutiques like this that are tapped in to trends.”
Brown says that her initial location was near the Gayety Theatre. She says when she moved locations to Hurontario Street between Second and Third Streets, her sales tripled that year.
“Location here is so key. Even the specific block you’re in... has really changed,” she said. “Because the economy is doing well here, the area does seem to be expanding now. There are some great businesses on either end.”
Brown says Awear Eco Boutique is curated for the relaxed lifestyle that Collingwood has to offer.
“What inspired me initially was the yoga wear and this rising up of eco-friendly clothing, fabrics and more sustainable fashion,” said Brown. “It’s more lifestyle, everyday, casual. It takes you from the trail to going out on the town, to a yoga class. It’s your everyday, Collingwood clothing.”
Adding the eco-friendly element is a pillar of Brown’s philosophy for the store.
“When people shop, they touch everything, and when you’re wearing something everyday, you want to put on something comfortable,” she said. “A lot of the sustainable fabrics are that. There are tissue-flex fabrics. They’re using recycled pop bottles. They’re making silks out of modal and beechwood tree fibres using a lot of wood pulp for fabrics. We’re really fabric-focused over there.”
A few years later, Brown saw more space opening up down the road and opted to open a second location with a different concept, called Metra Fashion House.
“It’s a little more upscale. It’s trend-focused. We have pieces you can wear to work, or an event. It’s more event-driven. If you’re going out to dinner, or lunch...it’s for something you’d be dressing up for,” said Brown.
When making decisions about purchasing for her stores, Brown says there are many factors she takes into consideration in addition to the fabrics, such as whether items are Canadian-made, fit and breathability.
“I think about the specific customers I have that support me regularly. I think about the lifestyle in Collingwood. I also think about the lifestyle of those who are maybe up here part time,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve kind of found that sweet spot price point, where it’s sustainable for me and affordable for them and the quality is there.”
Down the road, Brown says she would like to move Awear into a larger location. She also has been doing consulting work for other boutiques.
“I don’t have a ton of time. I have twin girls that are two years old,” she added, with a laugh.
For more information on Awear Eco Boutique, click here.
For more information on Metra Fashion House, click here.