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It takes a village to raise a child, and in an age when so many connections are forged digitally, Carry Maternity’s Pat Gillespie wants to bring back the personal touch that old adage suggests.
Located amid the bustle of one of Toronto’s most renowned neighbourhoods, Carry’s Yorkville location is a haven for expecting women and new mothers looking to connect with a maternal community – and, of course, top-of-the-line fashions to flatter their changing figures.
And Carry’s customers aren’t the only ones undergoing transformations – the store itself is in the final stage of transitioning from its former identity as Rhonda Maternity to a completely updated store and a host of new products. What hasn’t changed is the attention to detail and individual care that has attracted a loyal clientele for decades.
Here, Pat offers some insight on what customers, new and old, can expect following the redesign, her personal connection to the store, and how dressing during pregnancy can be more uplifting than stressful.
How important is your connection with your customers – both in the store, and when you design?
Pat Gillespie: Community is really important, because when you go into a maternity store, you’re often feeling vulnerable. In our society, we are so weird about women’s bodies – we’re spoon-fed this craziness about having to be a certain size, a certain shape, so when a woman starts to have any changes, even though they’re leading to a positive result, she’ll be freaked out a lot of the time.
In a store like ours, we really have to be trusted, and we have to be credible. Everybody on staff is extremely skilled at looking at somebody’s body type and understanding how to enhance it. So our customers come to know us really well, and we come to know them very well, and it’s a very natural process.
For 19 years, I designed and manufactured clothing and sold to retailers, and even though I’d worked on the maternity floor previously, I was away from the customer. I started to design more in a vacuum, and then you get very trend-focused and less about your customer. So, I think I was a good designer, but coming back to retail and actually being able to interact with the customers I’m selling to or designing for, has made a huge difference in improving me as a designer.
What can customers expect when they walk in the door at Carry Maternity?
We carry literally everything to do with the pregnancy lifestyle, from an undergarment to a pair of jeans. We have a fairly big focus on work, because it’s not an easy thing to locate. We’re pretty full service.
We’re going to embrace more community events, and we’re going to be more concerned about not just dressing someone beautifully and on budget, but also their wellbeing. We try and provide products that people can use with confidence, and not worry about chemicals that they’ve heard could cause problems for themselves or possibly for their baby.
Our store is a space where women know they can pop in and breastfeed if they need to – people tend to return and visit us. I think our instincts are very community-oriented. We want to be supportive of women – we’re women who are looking to help other women.