As a new brand, it can be very hard to go up against the big dogs. Finding a hole in the market and filling that space with a unique offering is key and Ostrya Equipment, a technical wear brand from Montreal, Canada is doing just that. Having observed many of the Canadian outer and activewear brands like Arc'teryx and Lululemon, which are designed in Canada but not actually made there, Ostrya founders Francois and Simon are putting Canada back on the map with hand made, top quality technical garments designed and produced here in Canada. With a team of less than ten but a passion as large as hundreds, Ostrya is showing that the best things can be achieved locally and has attracted a very large network of tech heads and fashion lovers alike. Taking things day by day but with visions of the future, Ostrya is focused on its mission and making big waves one stitch at a time.
Hey guys! Thanks for taking the time to chat. Over the last year and a half, GorpCore - outdoors technical fashion - has become a mainstream style choice for many. While Ostrya is technical first, how important is the consideration around fashion for the brand?
It’s great that technical wear has been adopted so heavily into mainstream fashion. We’re always thinking about this but we try not to let it influence the designs too much. Our main focus is creating products that can outperform any other. It’s cool to see that the fashion clientele are starting to look more at technical wear and made in Canada products and we’re happy they like our pieces but it’s always function first for us.
We also know that price point may be a factor that can impact who is consuming our products. We sell expensive products because they’re the best and made by hand here in Canada. There’s no fashion or hype tax here. We’re breaking our backs to make the best product. If people are down to support that, then that’s great, no matter how they’re consuming it.
Would there ever be an expansion into more fashion first products do you think?
We’ll definitely make some product that is less technical down the line but not necessarily as a way to please the fashion clientele. Our goal is to continue to show that we can make more great products in Canada so that will always be the core meaning behind our product lines. I don’t think we’d ever just make a fashion line though.
While fashion may not be the core focus, you’ve definitely caught the eye of some top tier fashion retailers. How does it feel to be a technical first brand selling in stores like SSENSE and Better Gift Shop?
It’s definitely a pretty cool thing [laughs]! SSENSE was actually the first retailer to place a wholesale order with us which was awesome. They can buy from the biggest brands all over the world so to see them support us as the smaller local brand was an incredible feeling. It’s wild thinking about how they carry our chalk bags and people buy them. It’s funny because we don’t really know what people are buying them for though. Maybe people are buying the chalk bags to put a wine bottle in and that’s fine with us. It’s a really nice and well made bag so maybe that’s enough for them to buy and if it then inspires them to try climbing one day because they have the bag, that would be the best possible thing to happen.
Love that attitude! The both of you come from technical design and production backgrounds so the foundation for creating the garments has always been there. What was it like coming at Ostrya from an entrepreneurial angle where you were now also responsible for things like brand development, finances and building a team?
Oh man, it’s really intense. It’s a lot of work but it’s super fun. We both really complete each other. We have the same vision and that is super important to run a business. We’re learning every day. It’s like a never ending puzzle. There’s constantly new problems that you need to solve and things can take a long time and it can take a while to see the money. We have some nice days and some tough days but overall when I think about it, having Ostrya is great.
When we were shipping things to retailers a while back, I just looked at it and thought “this is crazy'', seeing those boxes that used to be just rolls of fabric and now we’re packing garments. It’s crazy to step back and see it all happening now and having those moments where the team can chill and have a beer and just be happy about all the progress we’ve made makes all the hard times worth it.
Do you have any tips for new entrepreneurs just starting out?
It’s funny because we get asked this every now and then but we’re still super young and learning every day. I guess there must be some things we’re doing right though [laughs].
The main thing I’d say is that there’s no right time to start or launch your project. It’s easy to work and wait to launch forever but you’ll never be totally ready. You just need to start and then learn as you go. Once you’re going, don’t be afraid to seek out for help and advice and get another opinion. There are a lot of people around you that know things better than you and will be willing to give their time if you ask for it.
Those are great tips. What would you say is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
Hmm, that’s a tough one. It’s not necessarily a mistake but sometimes we laugh about how it would have been so much easier not to establish ourselves as a made in Canada brand. That’s what we are and our passion is in quality made in Canada goods so we’ll never change that but we know it would be so much easier if we just made it overseas. That’s our differentiator though so we know we have to stick with it.
Lastly, while we bundle up for a brisk winter, what can we expect to see from Ostrya over the next few months?
For Spring 2022, we’re making trail running and climbing gear as well as some more casual gear like hemp shirts and shorts. That will be more of a line or full collection than this past Fall/Winter line was and we’re super excited to have a bigger offering.
While we’re growing so much though, we want to keep things small and close to home. We don’t want to grow too quickly to a point where we lose control. We want to ensure things are always enjoyable for everyone here on the team.
Interesting. Have you thought about that growth more long term, like where you might want to be in 5 or 10 years?
We’re taking everything one day at a time but we’re also trying to think about things more long term now. It’s hard for a young business to think like this because there’s a lot of uncertainty but, at the moment, we’re thinking about 5 years down the line a bit. We want the vibe of the company to be really great and focus on the culture for all of the people that work here. That’s key no matter what the growth looks like long term. If we can have a great culture and keep putting out the best possible product, that’s the win.
Love that! Any final thoughts?
Come to your showroom! It’s so good to be able to feel these clothes in person and try them on. Every time people come by and try on the jackets, they absolutely love them and it’s always a good time chilling here.
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