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

Hays Creek in Prince Rupert requires more than $1.5 million to repair the creek and walls built in the 1950s and 1960s, Prince Rupert City Council heard on Jan. 25. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Prince Rupert City Council briefs:

More than $1.5 million needed to restore Hays Creek in Prince Rupert

Staff at Acropolis Manor, a Prince Rupert long-term health care facility in April 2020 where no cases of COVID-19 were reported until an outbreak on Jan. 19, 2021. As of Jan. 25th, 32 people associated with the residence have tested positive for the virus. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
Staff at Acropolis Manor a Prince Rupert long term health care facility, take pride in their work place that no COVID-19 cases have been reported in the facility during the pandemic.This photo taken, April 20, from outside, looking through a window shows staff adhering to strict protocols and best practices to keep residents happy and healthy. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
COVID-19 numbers increase at Acropolis Manor – 32 infected

Prince Rupert man concerned about temp. staff from out of region working at long-term care facility

Ken Veldman vice president, public affairs and sustainability, at Prince Port Port Authority on Jan. 21 addressed local employers in an online presentation about a new community recruitment program to attract employees to Prince Rupert. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
New recruitment campaign to be launched in Prince Rupert

Web platform will use community collaboration to attract new employees to Prince Rupert

People skate on a lake in a city park in Montreal, Sunday, January 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
The end of hugs: How COVID-19 has changed daily life a year after Canada’s 1st case

Today marks the one year anniversary of COVID-19 landing in Canada

Wet’suwet’en supporters and Coastal GasLink opponents continue to protest outside the B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, February 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
‘We’re still in it’: Wet’suwet’en push forward on rights recognition

The 670-km Coastal GasLink pipeline was approved by B.C. and 20 elected First Nations councils on its path

Dr. Penny Ballem, a former deputy health minister, discusses her role in leading B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccination program, at the B.C. legislature, Jan. 22, 2021. (B.C. government)
B.C. holds steady with 407 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday

14 deaths, no new outbreaks in the health care system

(Kraft Dinner/Twitter)
Kraft Dinner launches candy-flavoured mac and cheese just in time for Valentine’s Day

Sweet and cheesy treat will be here just in time for the cheesiest holiday of the year

SAR crews worked late into the night Tuesday to rescue an injured snowboarder in North Vancouver. (Facebook/North Shore Rescue)
Complicated, dangerous rescue saves man in avalanche near Cypress Mountain

North Shore SAR team braves considerable conditions to reach injured snowboarder

A Cessna 170 airplane similar to the one pictured above is reported to be missing off the waters between Victoria and Washington State. Twitter photo/USCG
UPDATE: No sign of small plane that went down in waters south of Vancouver Island

Searchers out on both sides of border between Victoria and Port Angeles

In this undated image made from a video taken by the Duke of Sussex and posted on @SaveChildrenUK by the Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, shows the Duchess of Sussex reading the book “Duck! Rabbit!” to their son Archie who celebrates his first birthday on Wednesday May 6, 2020. The Canadian Paediatric Society is reminding families that the process of raising a reader starts from birth. (Duke of Sussex/@SaveChildrenUK)
Canadian Paediatric Society says raising a reader starts from birth

CPS says literacy is one of the strongest predictors of lifelong health outcomes

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough responds to a question during a news conference Thursday August 20, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Easing rules for parental benefits created inequities among parents, documents say

Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough’s office says the government will make any necessary changes

People walk along a pedestrianized zone of Sainte-Catherine street in Montreal, Monday, May 18, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. Newly released statistics point to a major drop in police-recorded crime during the first eight months of the COVID-19 pandemic. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Crime down in first 8 months of pandemic, but mental health calls rise: StatCan

The agency says violent crimes such as assault dropped significantly

Cowichan Tribes chief Squtxulenhuw (William Seymour) confirmed the first death in the First Nations community from COVID-19. (File photo)
Cowichan Tribes confirms 1st death amid growing COVID-19 outbreak

Shelter-in-place order has been extended to Feb. 5

(Pixabay)
B.C. teacher gets 1 day suspension after ‘aggressively’ throwing dumbbell at student

Documents show the weight would have hit the student if they didn’t catch it

Most Read