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Mathilde Einhorn, left, and Nicole Lefebvre designed the Holdur bag. (Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail)
Mathilde Einhorn, left, and Nicole Lefebvre designed the Holdur bag. (Christinne Muschi For The Globe and Mail)

THE CHALLENGE

Fashion-conscious moms reinvent the much-maligned fanny pack Add to ...

Each week, we seek expert advice to help a small or medium-sized business overcome a key issue.

After her large purse was stolen while playing with the kids in a Montreal park, Toronto transplant Nicole Lefebvre looked for a high-end fanny pack she could wear without losing her dignity.

She was unsuccessful.

Ms. Lefebvre, a marketing strategist for consumer-goods companies, shared her dilemma with fellow mom Mathilde Einhorn, who, it turns out, had also searched in vain for a “hip bag both functional and fashionable” that suited her crisp but elegant businesslike style.

“The fanny pack has always been the ugly stepsister of the accessories world, but it really is such a necessary fashion staple when travelling or going around town,” says Ms. Einhorn, who was a communications specialist for a bank when Ms. Lefebvre approached her in the spring of 2013.

A fanny pack from Holdur. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

The women joined forces and came to the conclusion that a seemingly oxymoronic deluxe fanny pack represented an unexplored segment of the $12-billion luxury handbag market. “We both experienced a ‘now’s the time’ epiphany moment, and that’s all it took for us to pivot away from our corporate careers,” Ms. Lefebvre says.

They had no experience in the fashion world, however, so they flew to France to attend the Cuir à Paris, an important industry show. “It was a crash course in learning all we needed to know to put together a luxury bag,” Ms. Lefebvre says.

The show also provided connections to artisans in Montreal who had worked for Louis Vuitton, Hermès and Céline, which helped the partners to meet their goal of creating a quality, made-in-Canada brand that could compete internationally.

A worker sews at Holdur in Montreal. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

The partners came up with a patterned leather body-hugging bag with a versatile strap system held in place by an abstract silver buckle. They called it the Holdur. The bags began selling in retail stores in 2015 in the price range of $548 to $645. They’re manufactured in Montreal.

These are not the fanny packs consumers might be familiar with, however. Holdur, which is also the name of the duo’s company, has trained sales representatives to address any negative connotations buyers might have. “Once a woman tries a Holdur on she understands how this fanny pack can actually make her feel and look good,” Ms. Einhorn says.

Now the founders are ready to expand, but progress has been slow. “Luxury online is growing fast, so how do we make sure we are visible and active on that front? How do we scale up in terms of production and marketing?” Ms. Lefebvre asks.

Nicole Lefebvre, left, and Mathilde Einhorn with some of their bags. (Christinne Muschi for The Globe and Mail)

They also realize they need to deal with predetermined conceptions of what a fanny pack is.

“How do we convince the woman who appreciates quality and style that a Holdur bag ought to be a staple in her wardrobe?” Ms. Einhorn asks.

The Challenge: How can Holdur reinvent the fanny pack and market itself successfully?

THE EXPERTS WEIGH IN

Jeffrey Spivock, vice-president of strategy and consumer public relations, Weber Shandwick, Tokyo

The single most important advice I can give these women is to banish the term “fanny pack” forever. The term sounds so cheap, like it should be made of reflective Nylon and worn over a 1980s hypercolour shirt. Even if the product is the most beautifully crafted leather item in the world, the term drags it down. “Hip bag,” “body satchel” and “waist hold-all” evoke something more stylish. And if you are asking someone to spend a monthly car payment on your bag, it needs to feel special. This product is straddling the line, and the last thing you want is for it to feel like something you would find in a SkyMall catalogue.

On that note, while the name Holdur is nice, the website and the logo do not feel premium. The founders should spend a small amount of money for some high-end photographs that look like they belong in a fashion magazine. If they don’t have money to hire a big-time photographer they might go to one of the fashion schools and create a contest for fashion merchandisers and photographers to shoot your product in different ways. Who knows, you may even create some new fans. Giving your site a more luxe look could be a project for a summer intern.

I completely applaud the made-in-Canada idea. But they need to ask themselves: Does the customer care – particularly those outside Canada? I would focus more on how it’s made – is it hand-stitched? What product used to be made in the mills that the Holdur is being constructed in? Was it saddles, like Hermès? You need to create a full story around made-in-Canada, and not simply hope for patriotism.

But if you stick with made-in-Canada, then I would play it up to the max. As a PR guy, what’s my suggestion for an instant hit of coverage? We have a hip new wife of the Prime Minister who fits your demographic perfectly and is championing Canadian brands globally. It may seem daunting to get it into her hands, but even the most cursory Google search will reveal who her stylist is as well as a number of tiny PR firms who have had success delivering products to her. Create a compelling luxurious package that tells your Canadian story, what you are trying to achieve, and why your locally made product fits her lifestyle. Have it delivered to the stylist with some samples. Worst case scenario is that you give away a few bags. Best case scenario? American Vogue.

Barbara Atkin, business mentor and retired vice-president of fashion direction at Holt Renfrew, Toronto

First, I compliment you for finding an unoccupied area in the accessory arena. Successful products come out of an unserviced lifestyle need. I also applaud you for recognizing the integrity of a “Made in Canada” label.

Your first step should be to achieve visibility online. Start building an audience immediately using social media. You need to start a dialogue among a critical mass of social media followers who will want your product. This means you need to have a razor sharp lens as to who your customers are. They may be mothers like yourselves or they may be travellers who require a hands-free bag that will keep their essentials close to them. By identifying these customers, you can start to link into other sites that speak to this particular customer.

Ask your customers their wants and needs. Make your customers your partners. Get your fanny packs in the hands of well known bloggers, athletes and celebrities. Speak with stylists, magazine and newspaper editors and give them your product so you can get free editorial coverage. Avoid costly mass advertising and concentrate on ways to let your target customer feel like they have discovered your brand. By narrowing your focus you will eventually broaden your reach.

Tanya Heath, Canadian luxury brand entrepreneur and founder of Tanya Heath Paris, Paris

I would research the women whom you admire most and give out 10 to 20 bags. These women can be thought leaders, bloggers, achievers, etc. It’s better if they have some kind of public or online profile. This would create excitement with people you love and start some word-of-mouth.

Think about educating your client. How do you wear a fanny pack on a night out? With a winter coat? Where do you wear it? What fits into it? Do I wear it on the back? The front? The side? Is it just for travel? Show how to wear them by creating photo stories. Help them fit the fanny pack into their lives.

In terms of scaling up, only spend what you have and what a prudent banker will let you borrow. You should be able to negotiate favourable payment terms with suppliers. For example, when Tanya Heath Paris started we paid for our shoes only after we sold them. For scalability we always kept one step ahead of demand by seeking out bigger suppliers as volume increased.

You might tweak the styling. The versions of the bag on the website all seem targeted at the same woman who looks like she might be working for a law firm on Bay Street. If that is indeed her, then fine. But it might be worth branching out stylistically to appeal to more women through varied colour, size, texture, design and styling.

Christal Agostino, luxury marketing strategist, Toronto

Because much of the media buzz for Holdur revolves around your story as founders of the company, the content strategy on your website should also reflect that part of your brand DNA. You could profile female professionals, entrepreneurs and taste-makers, for instance, a day-in-the-life of an executive, traveller, photographer, multitasking mom, fashion stylist, music festival-goer, anyone who would benefit from living/working with the freedom of movement that your product offers.

Or create a new twist on “what’s in her bag” via a series called “In her Holdur.” You can create beautiful photography and stop-motion short videos of taste-makers’ Holdur bags and the items being thrown into them. These make for great Instagram and Facebook posts and fun Pinterest boards. Remember that video generates much more engagement than static images do on social media.

THREE THINGS THE COMPANY COULD DO NOW

Ban the term “fanny pack”

Eliminate this frumpy-sounding moniker from your marketing and vocabulary.

Give them out

Put Holdurs in the hands of fashion mavens and taste-makers.

Show more

Create photographs and videos that will give potential buyers a better idea of how to wear and use the bag.

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Interviews have been edited and condensed.

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