Thursday, April 28

marQ: Melissa Grelo and Shayna Haddon's New Children's Clothing Line

When interviewing Melissa Grelo (cohost of CTV's The Social) a few months ago, she hinted that she would be announcing a new business venture soon...and the time has finally arrived! She and friend Shayna Haddon have just launched a brand new line of stereotype free children's clothing (no candy-toned pinks or blues) which is also kid-friendly (no tags, pesky buttons or harsh fabrics) and made of 100% organic cotton, bamboo and recycled polyester. The items range in sizes from 0-3 months to 4T - so my girls are out of luck for now!

The name of this new clothing line: marQ Designs - named after Melissa's two year old daughter Marquesa. (Their crown logo appears to be a nod to Melissa's penchant for all things royal!)

I had the chance to fire some questions at the two entrepreneurs, and here they share why these products were so important to them, how they decided on a price point, the importance of "Made in Canada", and the pros and cons of starting a business with a friend.




Out of all the possible businesses you could have launched, why was the idea of stereotype-free clothing for children so important to you? 

Melissa: To me, there is a direct link between the messages we consciously or unconsciously send children from the earliest days of their lives to what is happening in the workplace and society at large. If we want to raise empowered children, especially girls who will be leaders as women, we can’t limit them with narrow expectations of what it means to be a “girl”. The same can be said for boys. Clothes are a huge part of that messaging, especially during the most important, formative and impressionable years of a child’s life. When I had Marquesa and quickly discovered how gendered clothing was, I wanted to add more options for parents. It became clear that by creating gender-neutral, stereotype-free clothing options, kids could just be kids without the baggage of gender roles so young in life. 

Shayna: When Melissa approached me with the idea of children’s clothes, and explained to me her frustration in shopping for Marquesa, it made perfect sense immediately. I could see the business right away and could see the present gap in the marketplace. Once I became pregnant myself, I started to think about what I wanted to dress my baby in and it became even clearer. Being a business owner since 2008 with my consulting company Haddon Strategy, I have had many offers over the years to start other businesses with colleagues but I have never accepted, until marQ! It just felt right and a big part of that was doing it with Melissa.



marQ's namesake models one of their looks


We know there's a market out there for "high end" (i.e., ridiculously expensive) designer clothing for kids. Why did you choose to go with this more affordable price point? {Prices range from $19 to 60}

Melissa: What’s so challenging in the fashion/garment industry is balancing affordability and social consciousness in your manufacturing. The more “affordable” something is, there is the increased possibility that someone along the supply chain is not being paid fairly or that quality is being compromised. Conversely, maintaining a high standard of quality and workmanship means higher costs and prices for the consumer. From the outset, my co-founder Shayna Haddon and I laid out our guiding principles as a company and knew that quality was one of our top priorities. Finding a price point that works for parents and maintaining high standards of manufacturing is not always easy, so that’s why designing pieces that will last as long as possible for a fast-growing child also became a top priority. If parents are going to spend money on our clothes, we are confident they will, overall, have to buy fewer garments because ours will last over time. Why are we so confident? Marquesa has been wearing the same marQ Luxembourg harem pants for the last 6 months! That’s unheard of! 

Shayna: We firmly stand behind our “Made in Canada” messaging and quality fabrics. This means, however, we do not create pieces to be disposable clothing, but we also know that parents need a certain amount of affordability. We wanted to meet both those two needs. We offer accessible basics with some very fashion-forward, fun layered pieces that last.




How important was it to you that the products be made in Canada - when of course they could be even cheaper if made elsewhere? 

Melissa: This is one of the central tenets of marQ: Proudly designed and made in Canada. It’s true that clothing can and is made for a fraction of the cost overseas compared to costs in Canada. And yes, this means far cheaper clothing in terms of price tag and quality. But that is not marQ. We strive for quality and ensuring you get the most out of your purchase. We want to support Canadian jobs, the Canadian economy and be able to ensure 100% that standards of work and quality are top notch. We want to meet, talk to and know our manufacturers personally. We want to be able to ensure our clothing is being made to the highest standards. This is only possible when you manufacture at home in a country that has some of the most talented manufacturers in the world working in some of the best facilities in the world. 

Shayna: Extremely important! You will hear us mention it A LOT. We looked into the process of making clothing overseas and we could not guarantee the garments would be made ethically. How can we be in China or Vietnam and oversee the process? We wanted to know firsthand, the people who were making our clothing. It was one of our first key business decisions besides our name. Now, we go see our manufacturers all the time, we connect with them daily and that connection keeps the process transparent, from knitting the wool of our fabrics to cut-and-sew to packaging orders. We vote for the kind of world we want to live in every time we buy and the idea behind ‘Made in Canada’ is that we are voting for a world where the people who are making our items are making a living wage for their contribution. There is a level of transparency I think is important.




I love the business name, and I'm wondering how hard it was to come up with? Were there other contenders? 

Melissa: While I’m not usually one for nicknames, the variation of my daughter Marquesa’s name, marQ, as our business name was a no-brainer. My daughter is the inspiration behind the business. That, coupled with the aspiration all parents have for their children to ‘make their marQ’ in the world, made this one of the easiest decisions we’ve made. 

Shayna: It was so quick! Everything with marQ seemed to fall into place so easily, the name included. Melissa and I both decided to go away and think of a name separately, we came back the next day to talk and we had chosen the same name! It was uncanny, serendipitous and totally perfect. Just like every other decision we’ve made together since. But then, I am biased about how amazing my partner is!




Right now you're using neutral colours. Would you ever consider adding pinks and blues in ways that could be worn by both genders? As a teacher I see a lot of girls who like blue and boys who like pink - and the boys especially have trouble finding clothing to suit their tastes! 

Melissa: We are definitely not against colours. We LOVE colours! And yes, we hear parents of boys often say that there aren’t enough choices for boys who embrace fashion and colour. Stay tuned for new collections coming in the not-so-distant future. 

Shayna: It’s a good question indeed. And one you will have to wait a little longer to find out! But marQ our words, we have some tricks up our sleeves for those colours!





There are pros and cons to starting a business with a friend - can you share a high and a low from the process so far?

Melissa: Shayna is one of the smartest, business-savvy, caring people I know. Before we were friends, we met and worked together at a charity called Artbound. I witnessed firsthand her prowess as a creator and as a business woman. A ‘pro’ is that Shayna gives all of herself, her passion and her expertise in to marQ. Because we share the same goals and values, it’s been a joy and extremely fulfilling to work alongside her and learn so much every day. A con? We both have full-time jobs outside of marQ so being able to physically be in the same place at the same time is challenging.

Shayna: There are so many highs I don’t know which to pick! Melissa brings intelligence, vivaciousness, an amazing eye, a great business sense and so many other qualities to the table. The low is that I don’t get to see her enough in our office and often miss her dearly! That may sound cheesy but it’s true. Even before marQ happened over a year ago, I have always loved and cherished my connection with Mel.

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Thanks so much for opening up, ladies - and best of luck with your new venture!

You can find marQ Designs exclusively online at marQdesigns.com.




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