Local business owner focussing on Canadian-made wins national female entrepreneur grant

Perseverance is no foreign concept to Britany Powell, owner of Huntsville clothing store Wolfe Co. In fact, it is one she embodies each and every day. 

It is this perseverance, dedication, and years of hard work that has earned Powell the Visa She’s Next Grant, a national award given to ten female entrepreneurs across Canada. This award includes a $10,000 grant and a one-year mentorship program in partnership with York University. 

Powell first came across the Visa She’s Next Grant through Instagram in the spring of 2023 and it immediately piqued her interest. She felt the mentorship program would be a great opportunity to learn more about the clothing retail industry and to help grow her young business. 

After the screening and interview process, Powell was one of ten recipients out of 3500 applicants awarded with the grant. She believes she was chosen due to the ethics of the business itself, and due to her openness and eagerness to learn. 

“Ultimately what we’re trying to do is inject money into the local economy, reduce our carbon footprint by keeping things close to home, choose sustainable fabrics to reduce the amount of waste, etc. All of these core concepts I think point to values that a lot of people try to get behind. So from a business perspective, I think that was appealing to the panel who was selecting,” Powell explains. “Also, I am very upfront about the fact that I don’t have experience in fashion and I’m transparent in the sense that I want to learn and ask a lot of questions.” 

Powell started Wolfe Co. in 2016, inspired by a conversation she had with a group of friends around a bonfire one night. 

“We were talking about how nothing’s made in Canada and it is quite unfortunate and someone said ‘let’s start a clothing company’ and everyone kind of laughed and that was the extent of the conversation. But the idea always stuck with me,” she says. “I started doing some research and looking into the actual feasibility of manufacturing in Canada, and I realized there was actually some potential to this idea.” 

Powell studied History in university and never intended to get involved in the clothing business, so her experience in the industry was limited. Due to this, getting started proved to be a challenge for her, but with the help of four friends and advice and support from her mother – who also owns a clothing store – she launched her business in her 1997 retrofitted Airstream as the mobile storefront. 

In the early years of the business, Powell and her friends travelled around in the Airstream and attended festivals and markets in order to gain a sense of their target market and to establish the most ideal location for the physical store. She found herself drawn to the Muskoka area from a business and livability standpoint and ultimately, chose Huntsville as the place to put down roots for Wolfe Co., opening the store in June 2021. 

“I’ve always loved the area…so in addition to my own personal biases, the time we spent in the Airstream really showed us that Huntsville was a great place to be,” she says. “Huntsville has the biggest full-time population and I think that the future plans for the town point even more so in that direction. So it made sense to be in the town that had the most growth on the horizon.” 

Powell’s main ideology for Wolfe Co. is to provide Canadian-made clothing to Canadians, without the use of offshore manufacturing. Powell attributes this to a great deal of the business’s success, as she feels this is a mindset that resonates with so many people. The business has also started to do wholesale in a few other locations and has garnered interest in companies all across North America. 

“The whole point of the brand is to make clothing in Canada,” Powell says. “The inspiration came from a gap that I saw in the market for domestic clothing manufacturing. Canada used to have a really big Canadian clothing manufacturing industry but over the years, with globalization and the way of the economy, everything’s produced offshore now. So the whole brand is formed around the idea of keeping production and talent as local as possible.” 

All of Wolfe Co.’s clothing is produced in factories in Toronto and Vancouver. Through her travels, Powell met many small businesses, whose items she also sells in her store. For example, the store sells candles hand-poured by a small business in Whistler, and the blankets are woven by a family in New Brunswick. 

“Little things like that have more personalization to them, and we’re supporting real people that way,” Powell says. 

Powell is eager to begin the mentorship program and has much she would like to learn, particularly how to navigate manufacturing and how to grow a business efficiently on a tight budget. 

“To have someone in business who is able to actually help me put a strategy together and give me some advice is really what I’m hoping for,” she says. 

Powell hopes this learning experience will help her grow Wolfe Co to new and meaningful heights. She has future goals of opening other locations of the store, particularly in Western Canada, as the business’s second largest customer base after Ontario is Vancouver and Calgary.

For more information on Wolfe Co., visit wolfecoapparel.com

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