- TAILORED WITH LOVE
Judith Richardon & Charles Le Pierrès
The story behind power couple, Judith Richardson and Charles Le Pierrès. With over 25 years in the fashion industry, constantly innovating and bringing elegance to another level.
A landmark company in Canadian women's apparel, Judith & Charles has been a significant player in the fashion industry for over a quarter century and counting. This past year in particular has been one for the books, with the brand gaining more international exposure. Witness, for example, the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, modeling the brand’s iconic Digital coatdress at a political affair, or consider the expansion of their brick-and-mortar stores, not only across Canada, but into markets in China as well. They even flexed their philanthropic muscle by co-hosting the Redefined Success gala, which raised $70,000 for charity.
Success at this level, for this length of time, is nothing short of remarkable. Judith & Charles is constantly innovating, finding new ways to stay ahead of the trends and satisfy their customers, all while expanding their reach and influence. We were fortunate enough to get an insider’s account of this Canadian success story in a conversation with the brand’s founders, Judith Richardson and Charles Le Pierrès. Describe the journey that led you to starting your own fashion la label.
Judith Richardson : I started my career in fashion after graduating from high school; I graduated from TMR high, then worked for a domestic manufacturer by the name of Barakett. This led me to a fulfilling career in the industry, providing me with experience in all facets of retail and wholesale. The bulk of my career was spent at Esprit, which was a multinational success, one of the pioneers of creating a lifestyle brand. Esprit had headquarters in SFO, Germany and Hong Kong. I was fortunate to travel extensively to the various headquarters and lived in Hong Kong for a period of time.
What did you learn from working for an international company?
Esprit taught me that no detail is too small, and to strive for excellence. During my travels to France I followed a brand by the name of Teenflo, which was a local French company that produced beautiful tailoring for women with an impeccable fit. I approached them to propose that we strike a deal. Eventually we signed a license agreement for wholesale distribution in Canada. The license provided us with design and fabric and we produced here [in Canada].
We were strictly in the wholesale business at the time. I was partners with my boss at Esprit. This was 1991, I had just given birth to my second child and was working full time, even overtime, at Esprit and I was opening a new business. This is when we approached Charles to head up Teenflo. I continued to work two jobs for several years, until which time the new business could support me. Shortly thereafter, Charles and I bought out my partner.
The addition of the retail shops happened over a period of time as a shift in the Canadian retail landscape took place. There were less multi-brand stores to sell due to the arrival of many large, vertical multinationals.
Many of the multi-brand shops could not compete with prices and the constant arrival of fresh merchandise offered by the competition, so we had to react to the lost opportunity at wholesale.
The first shop was within Ogilvy's, under the Teenflo banner, in Montreal. This was an instant success. Charles continued to roll out a retail expansion plan, winding up with 12 shops across the country. Approximately ten years later, we rebranded the company to Judith and Charles, after the owner of the French Company decided to retire.
How did you meet Charles?
Judith : Pure chance. We met while I was vacationing at Club Med in Guadeloupe. Charles was working at the Club when I happened to be there.
Charles : Judy was having a siesta on a beach and I went over and kissed her. She was definitely surprised by my boldness (we managed to become friends). That same year, I moved to Canada to work for a packaging company as a sale rep.
Charles Le Pierrès was born in La Rochelle, France. He left school at the age of 15 to become a mechanic and work on cars. He then moved on to work at Club Med for seven years.
Charles: A few years later, Judy told me about her project with Teenflo and I got involved. I didn’t know anything about the fashion business; I guess Judy just had enough confidence in me to start this new project. We opened the company in 1991, and licensed Teenflo in Canada.
In an industry that is focusing more and more on online sales, what was the strategy behind opening new retail locations?
The addition of our retail shops allowed us to showcase the brand the way we intended, as opposed to an edited version that one would see at a multi-brand retailer. This was very positive for the brand. Our strength is structured clothing. Innovative fabrics are key to our process of creating garments. There is always lot of R&D going on with Italian fabrics that we take into consideration, such as easy care, traceable fabrics, etc.
What challenges did you face over the years?
Just like any business, especially in the fashion industry, we’ve encountered multiplechallenges over the years. Our greatest difficulties revolve around our being a vertical retail company, which is a company that designs, produces and sells its own products without using wholesalers.
Other major challenges include creating two main seasons with 11 capsules per year, keeping our production in Canada, Canada’s minimum wage, and the takeover of our resources by Canada Goose.
What is the core value behind the brand?
My mission was to create and deliver a product that was consistent with the Teenflo brand at the time. The merits of the brand were the quality, style and fit. I wanted to create a brand that was consistent in its style and did not change direction with every fashion whim – a brand that would stand the test of time. It was also important for me to create an honest relationship with our clients, whereby they would recognize that they were investing in pieces that delivered value and style and gave them a sense of confidence. As a working woman with a very full life, my goal was to simplify our client's shopping experience so that she would have more free time to pursue all her passions in life.
Born out of a collaborative effort from two people of very different backgrounds, Judith & Charles has become the leader in innovative and elevated womenswear. After bringing the well-respected French brand Teenflo to Canada, Judith Richardson and Charles Le Pierrès had one mission: to create a narrative of their own.
By adopting TAILORED WITH LOVE IN CANADA as their guiding principle, these two driven individuals affirmed their personal connection and commitment to deliver impeccable style and comfort to working women who wanted clothes they could count on. At Judith & Charles, they want to override any uncertainty women feel choosing or wearing clothing. The aim is to facilitate the confidence, strength and comfort women strive for. This is a continuous value instilled within the brand.
Today, women across the nation can enjoy the product as well as the experience Judith & Charles offers. By going into one of their elegant boutiques, one can not only feel a sense of comfort, but can be guaranteed impeccable service as well. Each stylist is trained to cater to the client’s needs while demonstrating an understanding of current trends and classic cuts.
What’s coming up next for Judith & Charles ?
There has been an increase of growth within the United States market and we are currently available at Nordstrom stores and online. We are currently looking for new international growth opportunities to expand our Canadian label.
Beginning Fall 2019, our collection will be present in France and will be available at NeimanMarcus.com. While our brand is attracting international attention, we hope to continue to grow while keeping our values at the forefront of everything that we do.