Creative marketing and a commitment to boosting preteens’ self-esteem helped Linda Maslechko build Triple Flip, her active-wear line aimed at “tween” girls, into a national brand with 12 stores from Vancouver to Toronto.
It’s barely mid-July, but one Calgary entrepreneur can’t wait for “Back to School” shopping to begin. For 10 years, Linda Maslechko has been building Triple Flip, an active-wear line aimed at “tween” girls. She has built a national brand and 12 stores from Vancouver to Toronto through creative marketing and a commitment to boosting preteens’ self-esteem.
But now comes her greatest test. Later this month, Triple Flip makes its U.S. debut in New York City. And Maslechko is hoping Frank Sinatra was right — if she can make it there, she can make it anywhere.
You don’t build national brands overnight, especially when your company has had no outside financing. Maslechko is a former stockbroker who put her career on hold to raise three daughters. She threw herself into everything, getting involved in her daughters’ schools, Brownies, and dancing classes. She even became the go-to dressmaking mom, creating dance costumes for her girls, and 400 others.
But the part she hated was clothes-shopping. “Shopping with the girls was so incapacitating,” Maslechko says. “The clothing stores were not meeting their needs for fit, style or function.”
Frustrated, she compared tweens’ clothing sold in stores to the 400 sets of measurements she had collected from actual girls. “Tweens turned out to be taller, shorter, narrower and wider than what was represented in the stores,” she says. This matters, given the pressure on young girls today to conform to a single idealized body type. “Studies show that 50 per cent of girls six to eight are already concerned about their body image,” Maslechko says.
Maslechko started to build Triple Flip: a line of comfy, stretchable clothes in six sizes (two more than most retailers offer) that let girls with a wide range of body types all dress with style and pizzazz. “Instead of saying ‘you don’t measure up,’ we’re saying, ‘you are great the way you are.’”
Studies show that 50 per cent of girls six to eight are already concerned about their body image
The company lives this promise. Its stores and its website feature photos of real, average customers wearing the brand, not models. The stores hold regular events on topics such as bullying and self-esteem. T-shirt- design workshops encourage customers to create their own slogans, to combat the commercial T-shirts bearing slogans such as “Future Trophy Wife.”
“This is much more than commerce,” Maslechko says. “We think a brand has to stand for something.” She cites an example from her outlet in Oakville, Ont., where a hard-to-fit 12-year-old marveled, “This store makes me feel beautiful.”
Maslechko says Triple Flip enjoyed 40 per cent average annual compound growth in its first decade. Its clothing line has grown to include bodysuits, (modest) tank tops, shorts and “skorts,” hoodies and bubble jackets. And most of its clothes are still made in Calgary.
Word of mouth isn’t its only form of marketing. It holds “pop-up” sales at sports events and dance competitions from Ontario to B.C. — donating part of the proceeds to the event. The aim is to reach active girls too busy to hit the mall — and to encourage customers in cities without a Triple Flip store to buy online. “This year we’ll do 51 pop-up events, and we want to do more,” Maslechko says.
After 10 years, 50 per cent of sales are still in Alberta — a problem when energy prices slip. Still, every oil crisis has a silver lining. Maslechko says downturns provide opportunities to open new stores at lower cost. “During the last recession, we opened five stores in 13 months.”
Maslechko says Triple Flip has just now reached the launching pad. For the first time, it is trying to raise outside capital. With a target of $5 million, Triple Flip is exploring crowdfunding, through U.S-based Circleup.com, which connects consumer-product companies to accredited investors and is reaching out to private investors through Edmonton-based Raintree Financial Solutions.
“This raise will build us wings,” says Maslechko. The money will help expand the company’s retail footprint, upgrade the website for mobile users, and boost working capital. “That’s something I’ve never enjoyed,” she says.
“This store makes me feel beautiful.”
And then there’s the next frontier. Knowing the sad track record of Canadian retail in the U.S., Maslechko has watched for the right opportunity. She thinks she’s found it in a deal with Lester’s, a 68-year-old family-owned clothing chain with five New York-area outlets that loves youthful brands with attitude.
“We’re very selective about who we work with,” says Maslechko. “The brand has to be presented in a certain way. I don’t want my merchandise to be in a circular rack and being discounted.” Lester’s executives share her social mission and obsession with customer service. The first shipment heads to Lester’s later this month, in time to catch local tweens stepping off the bus from summer camp and ready to shop for school.
“We’re very excited at being the first to land Triple Flip in the U.S.,” Lester’s divisional merchandise manager, Jill Oralerich, says. “Their product lines are very exciting from a style point of view, but they’re also very practical, and the quality is terrific. And we’re very aligned on the commitment to building self-esteem.”
Rick Spence is a writer, consultant and speaker specializing in entrepreneurship.