Myriam Maguire, co-owner and co-founder of Maguire Boutique poses at her store in Montreal, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. When Myriam Maguire sits down to design footwear for her fashion boutiques in Montreal and Toronto, glamour and special occasions are often on her mind. But in the COVID-19 era, no one’s looking for high heels to adorn the perfect gala look or a formal, statement shoe to wear to a wedding or an important day at the office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

Myriam Maguire, co-owner and co-founder of Maguire Boutique poses at her store in Montreal, Saturday, Sept. 5, 2020. When Myriam Maguire sits down to design footwear for her fashion boutiques in Montreal and Toronto, glamour and special occasions are often on her mind. But in the COVID-19 era, no one’s looking for high heels to adorn the perfect gala look or a formal, statement shoe to wear to a wedding or an important day at the office. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes

‘Everything comfy’: Fashion brands drop heels, officewear to COVID-proof collections

Gone are the days when retailers would advertise formal wear, suits or gowns

When Myriam Maguire sits down to design footwear for her fashion boutiques in Montreal and Toronto, glamour and special occasions are often on her mind.

But in the COVID-19 era, no one’s looking for gala-ready high heels or statement shoe to wear to a wedding or an important day at the office.

“Everything that we have that is more dressy is not working, so what we’re doing is just keeping the shoes for next year,” said the Montreal designer, who runs Maguire Boutique with her sister Romy.

“We had to change our designs. I’m not doing any heels for fall. I’m doing everything flat, everything comfy.”

The shift at Maguire Boutique is being mirrored at retailers across Canada as the country adapts to a pandemic lifestyle, where function often trumps fashion.

Gone are the days when retailers would advertise formal wear, suits or gowns. Instead, comfy knits, sweatpants, pyjamas, athletic wear, face masks and shoes are in demand as many Canadians continue to work from home and avoid venturing out.

The shift meant yoga pants maker Lululemon Athletica Inc. experienced one of its largest quarterly gains in market share in recent years. Uniqlo Canada saw a 200 per cent increase in sales for comfortable clothing.

Online sales jumped by the same amount in the second quarter at Roots Corp., where executives reported a scramble for everything sweat — pants, shorts and dresses made of comfortable materials.

Clothing and accessory sales saw gains of 142 per cent month-over-month sales figures as more stores opened to the public, Statistics Canada reported. Even so, the total dollar amount was 21 per cent below the same month in 2019.

The initial drop in March, at the height of pandemic-related lockdowns and store closures, was a whopping 51 per cent. Even with the surge in June, apparel sales are still below where they were in February.

That first rapid decrease was rapid and scary, said Nina Kharey, the founder of Nonie, a Calgary-based luxury brand famous for its sleeveless, blush trench coat worn by Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex. The uncertainty ahead is the real source of anxiety, however.

“When I started to get worried was when I started seeing that this is more long term,” she said.

“There are not that many people shopping for luxury clothing because they are feeling the need to cut back on spending and a lot of people lost their jobs.”

It got Kharey thinking about her values. She didn’t want to create a massive collection fit for offices with her typical price tags, so she pared the size and cost back.

She decided not to show the collection a year out, instead allowing consumers to get their hands on it right away.

“It’ll be very small, because that’s what we can afford and that’s just the safest thing to do when there’s so much uncertainty in the industry,” she said.

“We’re going to design it so that you can wear it and be cosy and comfortable at home, and wear it while you’re on a Zoom call, but also be able to wear it when you’re physically at work.”

She also started selling the season’s hottest accessory: masks.

Facial coverings have been added over at Hilary MacMillan, a contemporary womenswear brand based in Toronto.

The masks, said MacMillan, are made of fabrics left over from past seasons and jazzed up with embellishments to give them character.

When COVID-19 struck, she was plotting a U.K. expansion, but with mask-making and reimagining apparel taking up so much time, those plans have been put aside.

She’s focusing more heavily on e-commerce than wholesale these days, is dropping new products slowly over time to keep consumers coming back and is reassessing her fall collection, which was designed well before COVID-19.

“We’ve taken a second look at it and reduced certain styles and gotten rid of certain things that maybe weren’t going to be seasonally correct,” she said.

That includes high fashion pieces like an oversized, “cocoon-style” coat made of cord and several styles of pants.

Making such switches takes plenty of time and money. Collections are often planned months or even a year in advance.

Maguire Boutique was able to shift within two months because it works with a lot of small factories that could handle a collection overhaul.

But not all retailers did.

“I used to work for Aldo and then I went to see their windows and they still had really high heels that no one is wearing right now,” she said. “I’m wondering, is it because they already booked them so they have to bring them to store?”

Her company was careful not to sacrifice quality to meet sudden demand because people are increasingly being frugal and want to ensure that the purchases they’ve made will last through COVID-19.

The key, she said, has been paying attention to trends, but also staying calm.

“Instead of freaking out … we are doing something that fits the new normal and the new lifestyle, but we will be ready when events come back.”

Tara Deschamps, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Cherry Hill Elementary. Kevin Mills photo.
Cherry Hill Elementary parents heartbroken, angry over mid-year principal swap

PAC president says she doesn’t understand why it’s happening in the middle of a pandemic

The baby boy born to Gillian and Dave McIntosh of Abbotsford was released from hospital on Wednesday (Nov. 25) while Gillian continues to fight for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
Abbotsford mom with COVID-19 still fighting for life while newborn baby comes home

Son was delivered Nov. 10 while Gillian McIntosh was in an induced coma

This is the fifth school exposure in the district, and the third school. There were three exposures in a row at Hatzic Middle School, followed by this week’s cases. Kevin Mills Photo.
Two more COVID-19 exposures at Mission schools

There have been 5 exposures in 3 schools since Oct. 5

Architectural drawings of the building by JY Architecture. Screenshot from District of Mission council meeting on Nov. 16.
Six-storey, 86-unit development on 2nd Avenue approved by Mission councillors

Project one of the oldest on District of Mission’s books, staff report

Google Maps screenshot taken at 6:07 a.m.
TRAFFIC: Westbound dump-truck crash on Highway 1

Crash occurred around 6:45 a.m., west of 232nd Street in Langley

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry update the COVID-19 situation at the B.C. legislature, Nov. 23, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C. sets another COVID-19 record with 887 new cases

Another 13 deaths, ties the highest three days ago

Arthur Topham has been sentenced to one month of house arrest and three years of probation after breaching the terms of his probation. Topham was convicted of promoting hate against Jewish people in 2015. (Photo submitted)
Quesnel man convicted for anti-Semitic website sentenced to house arrest for probation breach

Arthur Topham was convicted of breaching probation following his 2017 sentence for promoting hatred

Langley School District's board office. (Langley Advance Times files)
‘Sick Out’ aims to pressure B.C. schools over masks, class sizes

Parents from Langley and Surrey are worried about COVID safety in classrooms

B.C. Premier John Horgan, a Star Trek fan, can’t resist a Vulcan salute as he takes the oath of office for a second term in Victoria, Nov. 26, 2020. (B.C. government)
Horgan names 20-member cabinet with same pandemic team

New faces in education, finance, economic recovery

A new ‘soft reporting’ room is opening inside the Ann Davis Transition Society offices on Dec. 1, 2020 which is thought to be the first of its kind in B.C. (Ann Davis Transitional Society/ Facebook)
New ‘trauma-informed’ reporting room opening next week in Chilliwack

It’s a space for reporting domestic violence, sexual assault, or gender-based violence to police

The corporate headquarters of Pfizer Canada are seen in Montreal, Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. The chief medical adviser at Health Canada says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine could be approved in Canada next month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Health Canada expects first COVID-19 vaccine to be approved next month

Canada has a purchase deal to buy at least 20 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine,

The online poster for Joel Goddard, who left his Willoughby home Nov. 10, 2020, has been updated by his family and friends who received word that he’s been found.
Langley man missing since Nov. 10 found alive and safe in Abbotsford

Family of the Willoughby area man had been searching for days. Police find him at Abbotsford Airport

A UBC study recommends an multi-government investment of $381 million to protect 102 species at risk in the Fraser River estuary. (Photo supplied by Yuri Choufour)
102 Fraser River estuary species at risk of extinction, researchers warn

UBC team develops $381-million strategy to combat crisis, boost economy

FILE – A paramedic holds a test tube containing a blood sample during an antibody testing program at the Hollymore Ambulance Hub, in Birmingham, England, on Friday, June 5, 2020. (Simon Dawson/Pool via AP)
Want to know if you’ve had COVID-19? LifeLabs is offering an antibody test

Test costs $75 and is available in B.C. and Ontario

Most Read