What started as a university friendship, a love of fashion and a dream, Régine Paquette and Katie Frappier's Ottawa boutique continues to thrive as they near 14 years in business.
The pair began Victoire Boutique on Wellington West with the idea for a place dedicated to fashion and independent design but more 'approachable' than a traditional boutique they had been used to at the time.
"We felt like a lot of boutiques spoke to a mature, more wealthy status," Paquette said in an interview with OttawaMatters.com, adding most were "very intimidating."
"At the time, the word boutique meant very exclusive and we thought there could be a happy medium where you sell independently made but you don't need to have that exclusive attitude," she said.
"Now we carry $200 dresses but it's always important for us to carry T-shirts and earrings and things that can be kind of an entry-level purchase for buying independently because it shouldn't just be for people with $100,000 a year salaries."
The two entrepreneurial spirits started the business after they met in school, Paquette a University of Ottawa Commerce grad and Frappier a Carleton Human Rights and Women's Studies major.
Working part-time fashion retail gigs through university, the pair were able to save a nest egg to start the business at the age of 24 but for the first two years, maintained their new government jobs and re-invested everything back into the boutique.
Paquette said opening your own business was still somewhat "radical," but felt the 9 to 5 grind stifled creativity and offered less variety, something she knew wasn't for her.
"I wanted to see something from beginning to end," she said, adding all of the parts of the business, from marketing to finances, interested her.
The two self-starters pushed forward and eventually made a go of it full-time after expanding to a larger location and the growth has not stopped.
After moving to the Wellington Street West shop in 2010, the business also added a Toronto store and has expanded to online sales, too.
"It's been a gradual growth but the people who buy independently-made and made in Canada grows every year," Paquette said.
"We've kind of always just gone with opportunities as they present themselves."
In the future, as with most retail shops, Paquette sees the most potential for growth online as opposed to the traditional storefront.
"Brick and mortar has a place...and we love having a retail location, but the most growth we've seen over the last few years has been our e-commerce," Paquette said, noting the limits of a geographical location for a customer base.
"People who are passionate about independent designers have probably heard of Victoire by now and are in our customer base and that's great, but there's people across the country who might be just starting to buy independently made or like our brand or like our approach," she said.
"It's a challenge we find exciting, trying to grow an indie-brand online."
Another priority for the business is to help promote other small businesses where possible, as Paquette said the community was nothing but welcoming when they started out.
"We're not afraid to share what we don't know and ask for help and we had a lot of people offer up advice and help us when we were first getting started," she said, whether it be staffing, financing or other aspects they hadn't considered.
"It's nice to have a network you can go to with that kind of stuff and vice-versa."
Paquette said other nearby business owners meet once a month to see how they can collaborate, help promote each other or draw more tourists and shoppers to the area.
Victoire's products can be found on their website, their Instagram page and on Shopify.