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When commerce and design combine
If you were to meet Jenn LeBlanc, you might be surprised to learn that her educational background is in commerce. LeBlanc designs two clothing lines, Rainy Sunday and Twigg & Feather, and has a history of fashion design for labels including BCBG Max Azria. LeBlanc, though, owns as well as designs her clothing lines, and her business savvy started with an undergraduate degree at the Rowe School of Business (then the School of Business Administration).
Born in Dartmouth, LeBlanc began her degree at Dalhousie in 2002, drawn to the co-op component of the Rowe School’s commerce program. LeBlanc majored in marketing and completed co-ops with Bell Aliant and an accounting firm. “I loved the co-op aspect for sure,” she says, “and looking back, I really liked the group work, getting to work with my peers. And I loved my marketing classes, which are related to what I’d doing now.”
What she’s doing now combines her knowledge of business and marketing with a flair for design. After a further stint in marketing at Bell Aliant, LeBlanc headed to L.A. to cultivate her talent for design at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising. “Because I already had an undergrad degree, I did the professional designation program,” she explains. She spent 18 months studying design and the arts and, after graduation, designed sweaters for BCBG Max Azria for two-and-a-half years. While working for a household-name design house is impressive, LeBlanc speaks enthusiastically about making the switch to smaller clothing label Planet Blue, also based in L.A. “The owner had two in-house labels that she wholesaled and sold through her own stores,” says LeBlanc, “and that was really great experience, because the business was much smaller and that I was managing both lines. That experience was similar to what I’m doing now but slightly different, in that now I’m really doing everything.”
In 2012 LeBlanc moved with her new husband, an oil and gas worker, to Alberta, then eventually to Newfoundland. This changed her career path for obvious reasons. “My passion was in design, and moving around so much with Jamie and living in Canada there weren’t as many opportunities to work in a design house,” she says. “So that’s why I decided to start my own line.” In September 2013, LeBlanc began Rainy Sunday, her first independent clothing line. “The name was born from the idea of super cozy wool and cashmere sweaters, what you’d want to wear on a rainy Sunday,” she says.
LeBlanc’s decadent sweaters had appeal, but with the luxurious fabrics she used and the resulting price point, it was a challenge to keep Rainy Sunday as successful as she wanted it to be. “It’s really hard to remain profitable and to get factories to want to produce your orders when volumes are small,” she says. “They want to do runs of 500, 1000, 10,000.” LeBlanc reasoned that if she applied her striking designs and sensibilities to more affordable fabrics, they would have further reach.
She was right. Her new clothing line, Twigg & Feather (www.twiggandfeather.com), has taken off. “It was kind of trial and error,” she says of figuring out the best way to approach her business. “I wanted to appeal to a larger market and have my clothes be more affordable—something that I would buy.” She named her new line after her son was born. “It’s symbolic of a mother bird building a nest and being creative,” she says.
LeBlanc cites her commerce degree as a major asset in running her clothing lines. “Most people that start a fashion line are creative and have that part wrapped up,” she says. “I have the creative part but I also have the business knowledge to back it up. I was able to write my own business plan, and look at my business strategically, in a numbers way as well as from a creative perspective.” She also has marketing know-how from her major: “I’m able to create my own marketing strategy instead of having to hire it out—or having none at all.”
LeBlanc says that her favourite part of running her business is receiving the initial samples for a new collection and doing the photo shoots. “I love bringing my first designs to life,” she says.
She is also proud to be supporting—and exporting—Atlantic Canadian culture. She has sales representation in Toronto this year, but exports mainly to the United States, with showrooms in L.A. and New York. She reflects on the unique combination of qualifications that has brought her to where she is: “There aren’t many business grads and/or women in Canada doing the same thing I’m doing,” she says. “It’s really nice to know that I’m giving exposure to Atlantic Canadian design, that I’m helping to turn the spotlight to Atlantic Canada for fashion design.”
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