Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency
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Going Hollywood

A Michique handbag
For twin sisters Monique Delisle and Michelle Newcombe, turning their leftover fabrics into handbags for sale at local craft fairs was an enjoyable part of their custom drapery and interior decorating business in Sydney, Nova Scotia back in 2005.

Little did they know this fun and creative diversion would soon turn into a full-time fine apparel business – leading them straight to success across Canada and Hollywood.

Today, this line of eye-popping handbags and accessories are beginning to enjoy a high profile: perused by the likes of Kelly Ripa, Jennifer Love Hewitt and the wives of Francesco Quinn and Dennis Quaid, they’ve been a must-see item in celebrity gifting (or ‘swag’) suites at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Golden Globes. Michique also contributed to a Nova Scotia collection honouring the fashionable first ladies of the 2010 G8 summit held near Toronto, and showcased products at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival.

Michique merchandise is sold in nearly 30 retail outlets across the Atlantic region, Ontario and Saskatchewan, but they’re looking at expanding into the U.S. and other foreign markets within the next three years.

Heady stuff for a six-year-old family company from Cape Breton.

“I look after the administrative part of the business,” says Ron Newcombe, administrative manager (and Michelle’s husband), “Monique’s husband James created the hard inner structures, as well as the outer protective layers, leaving our wives to concentrate on designing, creating, and marketing the product.”

Three employees assemble the colourful products by hand, utilizing local materials whenever possible. But in the next two years, Michique hopes to hire additional staff and expand to accommodate sales that have more than doubled in the last three years.

According to Ron, support from ACOA, delivered through Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation (ECBC) has played a key role in their success.

“We’re at a critical point right now,” says Ron, “and the funding we are receiving through ACOA’s Business Development Program for new advertising and web site development is helping us with exporting and hiring. Without that, we wouldn’t be able to take the next step.”

Ron says they’ve also benefitted indirectly from ACOA’s support to the Cape Breton Centre for Craft and Design, through which they’ve received help with advertising activities, funding, press releases, advice and information, as well as the use of gallery retail space.

As for Hollywood, the sisters still have their sights set on a wider audience, which includes a display at the Cannes Film Festival. Michique’s product has been placed in Palace Magazine (France) distributed to high-end resorts and hotels as one of THE places to shop.

For these designing women, an artful combination of creative passion and savvy marketing is definitely putting success in the bag. 

Published November 25, 2011