Audrey Morissette, entrepreneur for several years and previously owner of an art de vivre boutique in Montreal, founded the brand Essentiels Co in the spring of 2019. Finding at this time that there was a lack of choice in the offer of Quebec clothing with a trendy look and at an affordable price, she worked for several months and developed a first collection aimed at modern women of all ages who wanted to invest in a timeless and elegant wardrobe, 100% designed and made in Quebec.
Meet the founder of Essentiels Co: Audrey Morissette
Can you tell us about your professional background?
I started my career as a French teacher. I taught high school students for 2 years before starting my entrepreneurial journey. I loved teaching, but I didn't really see myself making it my career at this point in my life. I felt that I was missing a little something, that I was not completely fulfilling myself.
I have always had a very strong interest in fashion and decoration and every time I walked into small shops, I had this strong feeling that this is what I wanted to do, I dreamed of having my own shop. One evening, I decided I was going for it and signed up for the Starting a Business program, which I completed in the evening while teaching by day. I knew absolutely nothing about entrepreneurship or retail, but I was very determined to carry out my project and therefore, I spent a lot of hours browsing the web, reading lots of articles on entrepreneurship, I visited for trade shows and stores, I spoke with their owners, I asked them my questions. I worked on my business plan and 8 months later, I was ready to open my shop, I was looking for a space. After several weeks of searching for the perfect location, I came across a charming white brick walled art gallery for rent in Montreal's Mile End. I was in love with the place and the neighborhood! I didn't hesitate, I followed my instincts and signed a 5-year lease. I was very excited, because it was finally the start of the adventure for me, the project I had been working on for almost a year, I was opening my lifestyle store: Vestibule! When I do a retrospective today, I realize how I had NO idea of everything to come, both the good and the bad. It was with great naivety and a lot of will that I entered this very difficult and often cruel world of entrepreneurship.
Photo Credit: Go Daddy
Things took off quickly for Vestibule, I worked hard, day and night when I had the freedom, to build this business and build a name and image that lived up to my expectations. I was then in the store 6 days a week, I built a good reputation at my store, we gained our customers’ loyalty and I have established partnerships of which I am very proud with several personalities such as Sarah-Jeanne Labrosse, Marilou, Magalie Lépine-Blondeau, Mariloup Wolfe, Bianca Gervais and Christine Beaulieu, among others. I have worked with dozens of Quebec designers, I have organized launches, events, I have worked on marketing campaigns and I have learned to be a boss, all at the same time and not without challenges! Vestibule has grown, a second boutique, Vestibule Mini (the version for toddlers) has emerged.
Photo Credit: LALOR PhotographieSome of the ambassadors of the #MonVestibule campaign. Photo credit: Marï Photographe.
However, with my new life as a mom and the fact that I didn’t live in Montreal, the time and energy to take good care of Vestibule and continue to develop it quickly became scarce. With less time, less energy, it was also the motivation and the flame of the beginning that were eroded. After 5 years and having overcome challenges and facing obstacles every day, I was making the heartbreaking but thoughtful decision to close my stores. My shops no longer made me happy and had become a burden on me.
How did you come to found Essentiels Co?
It was during my last year with the boutiques that I founded Essentiels Co. So I am very grateful and I don’t regret my experience with Vestibule since it’s what led me to found my clothing line. This is also one of the reasons I decided to close my stores: I wanted to have more time to devote myself to what really excited me and to develop my line.
In founding my brand, I set myself the challenge of offering my clients local fashion, respectful of the working conditions of Quebec workers, while remaining as affordable as possible. In just 2 years, Essentiels Co made itself a place of choice in the hearts and shopping habits of consumers who are aware, informed and sensitive to the damage caused by the fast fashion industry and who have a real desire to change things.
What values are important for you with Essentiels Co?
With Essentiels Co, from the start, I wanted to do things well and that necessarily takes time. It was important for me that my brand be part of the slow fashion movement and therefore everything is done in Quebec, from the design of the clothes to their production. The environmental impact that my brand leaves is also something close to my heart. For this reason, we produce small quantities, trying to meet demand, without being left with too large quantities to liquidate, in order to reduce wastage of clothing. We are reusing part of our fabric scraps to make scrunchies as well as other accessories coming soon. The vast majority of our fabrics are made from natural fibers such as cotton, rayon or linen and many of them are Oeko-Tex certified, free from toxic products for the body and the environment.
These are all things that I am very proud of. That said, I want to continue my efforts to do the best I can to make Essentiels an eco-friendly brand. In this sense, I am currently working to reduce the use of plastic for packaging and shipping orders while remaining affordable in terms of price and to recycle more of our fabric scraps.
All of this presents its share of challenges because it is also very important to me that the clothes remain affordable. I don't want our customers to feel intimidated by our prices, I want to be able to offer them local fashion without emptying their wallets. So we have very small profit margins compared to the big well-known clothing chains, but it is a responsible, ethical and good choice for our planet.
Being a mother of 2 children, how do you manage to reconcile your family life and your work?
It’s a really big challenge for me, possibly the most difficult! Achieving a balance that makes me happy in the 2 spheres of my life is not easy, especially with the growth we have experienced this year and which came at the same time as the birth of our 2nd child, our little girl. To be very honest, I find that I work a lot for a mom who is supposed to be on maternity leave and that sometimes makes me feel tired or anxious. If I could, I would definitely work less for this first year with baby. But I'm really doing the best I can to get through my to-do and be present with my kids and not let my negative emotions get the best of me. I’m fortunate to be able to count on the presence of a very invested dad and exceptional grandparents too, who come every week to help us with the baby at home and thus allow me to be able to work. I also have an assistant (which I adore !!) who works full time with me and helps me with collections management, order picking, customer service and marketing. All of this makes sure that I get there, but there are times when I have to work an hour or two at night after the kids are sleeping or even on weekends when I have a little time left. It's a lot of working hours but I do it because I’m so passionate about my job so I consider myself very lucky for that.
Photo credit: Laurie-Anne Thuot Photographe
What are your future projects for Essentiels Co?
I sincerely hope to continue to grow Essentiels and it is thanks to our customers that this is possible. I am so grateful for their presence and their loyalty, it’s truly thanks to them that Essentiels continues to evolve. We have enjoyed superb growth since the launch of the Spring/Summer 2021 collection, sales have exploded and our customers have multiplied, it's so motivating to see that my efforts over the past few years are paying off and that my customers love what I do! It really motivates me to develop my brand and I have several projects in mind in this regard! Among them, creating larger collections, going out to meet our customers by doing pop-ups and events, making the line available in various points of sale in Canada and I don’t exclude the possibility one day of returning to my first love and to open an Essentiels Co signature boutique, who knows!
Can you tell us what's coming up for Essentiels Co in the near future?
I can't give too much away but we have a wonderful holiday capsule that will be unveiling in the coming weeks! It’s really beautiful and it will be available in limited quantities, I can't wait! We are also working on the Spring/Summer 2022 collection and it will be the biggest collection we have ever done so far! We also have some great surprise projects, but we'll have to wait to find out more!
You can follow Audrey on Instagram right HERE.