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Uniforms from Quebec company RaphaëlU must somehow make everyone happy

Husband-and-wife team Tammy Hattem and Patrick Lepage started making uniforms 14 years ago for a secondary school in Saint-Jerome, Que. Today, their company, RaphaëlU, fills orders for more than 50,000 students at nearly 50 schools throughout the province.

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Employee Valerie Carriers moves stock at Raphaël U, which is based in Blainville, Que.

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The company’s big challenge is designing uniforms that stick to the basics of the school uniform while being as appealing as possible.

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Products on display at RaphaëlU’s headquarters. The uniforms must be somewhat stylish to please students, long-lasting to please the parents, and look respectable to school administrators.

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Ms. Hattem and Mr. Lepage have learned to outsource production, mainly to Asia. They also manage a seasonal work force that swells from 30 year-round employees to 175 as each new school year gears up.

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Employee Edith Giroux steams a shirt. The company employs two people with design degrees, and also seeks advice from Eve Gravel, a Montreal-based fashion designer. This has resulted in improvements, such as more fitted clothing, especially for girls, as well as unique detailing.

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The company experimented with cotton-polyester blends, which had more flexibility and made their clothes look and feel better than straight polyester. But the colour did not hold up well through repeated washings. Now the partners are in search of fabrics that will allow them to marry new designs with durability.

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All the items come in 14 sizes and the company can customize outfits for the small percentage of students who can’t find the right fit. The company offers seven colours of polo shirts.

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Ms. Hattem says she knows designs must continue to evolve. The problem is how to make the clothes look good while using sturdy polyester fabrics that can be washed many times without fading.

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While students like to look and feel their best, cost-conscious parents want uniforms that will last as long as possible and retain their colour.

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“It takes a really long time to get out a good product because we have to work with these hard, durable materials,” Ms. Hattem said. “We have to make everybody happy.”

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