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Bold Steps

The sisters behind Montreal-based footwear brand Maguire are rewriting the rules of how to make and sell shoes, one pair at a time.

By Isa Tousignant

Photo by Richmond Lam

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Myriam (left) and Romy Belzile-Maguire at Maguire in Montreal.

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Process images and shoe design mock-ups collaged across a mirror. The Belzile-Maguire sisters make design tweaks based on customer feedback on a regular basis.

Walk along Saint-Laurent Boulevard, through Montreal’s Mile End neighbourhood, and your eyes are sure to be drawn to Maguire’s storefront—and inside. The local brand’s footwear designs are uniquely attractive, mixing a sort of chic, effortless wearability with a standout colour palette in buttery leathers. The price tags sit proudly on view next to every mouth-watering pair. These luxe shoes are arrestingly affordable.

“High end, fair price” has been a tag line in Maguire’s business plan from the brand’s inception, when co-founding sisters Myriam and Romy Belzile-Maguire launched their first product in 2016. It was a sneaker available in black or white. They produced 200 pairs, presented them at a local artisan fair and sold out in a weekend. With this, they knew they were onto something.

Maguire’s approach to business flies in the face of the traditional fashion industry. Though most of the brand’s devotees make their purchases online, sales peaked when Myriam and Romy opened bricks-and-mortar spaces to display their wares. The Montreal space is one of three locations, along with Toronto, launched in 2020, and their New York shop, which opened in June this year. The latter was a dream of Myriam’s, made manifest years before she thought possible, all thanks to Maguire’s dedicated clientele.

Maguire’s shoes are refined and design-forward, combined with a sense of practicality and weather-ready wearability. Flat soles are the norm, with a few moderate heels in the inventory for special occasions. Silhouettes range from sleek soft-leather ballerinas to chunky-soled loafers and Chelsea boots you can walk for miles in. With about 30 models per season, the inventory is split between perennial classics available year-round and limited, now-or-never models. Each season, new pops of colour and textures are revealed. This pre-fall collection’s features include cream shearling-and-cowhide clogs, pastel penny loafers and minimalist slip-ons in a jewel-toned rainbow of emerald green, lapis lazuli blue and carnelian orange.

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Myriam Belzile-Maguire studied footwear design at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion and then worked in the industry before co-founding the eponymously-named brand, which answers the question “Quality or affordability?” with a resounding “Both.”

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Maguire’s goal is durability and a transparent, provable sustainability.

The footwear is made in Portugal, Italy and Spain, and the craftsmanship is flawless—and constantly evolving. The Belzile-Maguire sisters respond to their customers’ feedback with tweaks and improvements.

Myriam specialized in footwear design at Cordwainers at the London College of Fashion (where Jimmy Choo studied) before working in just about every department of the Aldo Group over the course of six years. From product design to sourcing to wholesale, her path was an extraordinary education—partly because it taught her what she wanted to do differently.

“After producing such large quantities with both material and aesthetic limitations, I was yearning for the opposite,” she says. She wanted to work with European factories, with small production runs and top-quality materials like leather and sheepskin. She also wanted to provide a living wage to those working at every stage of production, from factory to showroom floor. “I wanted to create high-end footwear that would bring reasonable profit to the company but at prices that would be fair to both consumers and the factories making them.”

The solution was to adopt a direct-to-consumer model, à la Everlane and Warby Parker, that meant Maguire could avoid the pitfalls of wholesale, including last-minute changes, delivery delays and contract cancellations. But it also meant taking on the full brunt of responsibility for the marketing, sales and consumer experiences.

“We basically spent a whole year [living] in our first store,” laughs Romy, the other half of Maguire’s winning equation, whose previous career was spent in advertising and communications. She fondly remembers the days when they shared a space with an eyewear shop. That year produced some invaluable learnings, to wit: Shoe shopping is full of pain points. There’s the competition between salespeople on commission, the back-and-forth schlep from front- to back-of-house, where sizes are stored, and the pressure both of these put on consumers. So, in typical Maguire fashion, they flipped the script.

“We liked the model of self-service that some big-box stores can offer, where you can easily find your size yourself, but we wanted to create a hybrid model where our employees would still be there to advise,” says Romy. How it works: Customers browse the Maguire website, try different styles and sizes, assisted by the friendly (sans commission) staff, at the store nearest to them and then later purchase online with free shipping. It’s a fully symbiotic relationship between the virtual and real-life shopping experiences.

Typically, a shoe brand produces new collections all the time (and in large quantities) in an attempt to spur excitement and it’s a matter of guessing what will sell. That model creates waste, transience and lowered product standards. Maguire is working to change that cycle. Their goal is durability and a transparent, provable sustainability. According to their no-waste philosophy, all their shoe styles, whether in season or not, stay available until stock runs out. They’ve got a long-term view, and as their consistent organic growth attests, it works.

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