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Beloved Squamish slow fashion brand Bewildher shuts down

Owner says she is focused on ending things best she can; supporter launches Go Fund Me to help suppliers.

Sometimes love isn't enough in relationships — or in business. 

Local fashion designer Nadine Manson's Bewildher Slow Fashion Activewear is undoubtedly beloved in Squamish and beyond. 

Ask an active local woman and she will likely tell you that the Bewildher pieces are comfy, fashionable and long-lasting. 

They have also been popular with environment-conscious folks who valued that they were ethically sourced and designed and made locally.

The popularity of the product was reflected in Manson being named the Young Entrepreneur of the Year at the Squamish Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards in December of 2022. 

"She founded her brand on a mission to make activewear as ethical and sustainable as possible. Upon the near failure of her start-up, she remodelled her business into being pre-order based, then preserved through the pandemic in support of her supply chain of local female-owner manufacturers," reads the chamber announcement about her win. 

And yet, despite the fans and the accolades, Manson recently announced the end of Bewildher, and acknowledged she is declaring personal bankruptcy. 

What happened?

Asked about the final straw, Manson pointed to many folks not being able to buy her products as they could before, given the current economy, which has been hit hard by inflation. 

"The biggest challenge is that, especially in the recent months, my revenue really went down," Manson said.

"Month-over-month losses, and you know, I was already struggling,” she said. “Losing that revenue, you just start to realize, OK, the hope of recovery is going from being two to five years to just not possible."

She said not seeing an end to the current economic climate left her no choice but to shut the business.

Manson noted that she is currently working on unwinding her business by filling remaining orders and offering refunds to customers. 

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Chris Fehr, executive director of the Squamish Chamber of Commerce told The Squamish Chief that businesses in Squamish are facing added financial strain as the Bank of Canada intends to hold current interest rates. 

“There will be a need to figure out how to make your business sustainable in this economic environment,” he said in an emailed statement. 

“There are a variety of factors that continue to add to the pressure of interest rates, from increased property tax, which often results in increased lease rates, to addressing business staffing shortages through increased pay rates and staff housing expenses — if they can find housing. These challenges are going to continue to build as our community grows.”

Closing ethically

Manson’s biggest concern is ending her business as ethically and fairly as she can, she said. 

She said she has been personally burned in the past by people in similar situations who put themselves first, ignoring those who also get hurt when a business shuts.

Manson said she is doing her best to show there is another way.

"I've been working closely with a trustee to find out what I'm allowed to do," she said. "And they said nobody's going to fault me for refunding customers. So, that's been my priority — to use what inventory I have left to raise funds through a sale, so that I can be able to refund all those pre-order customers, and do my best there." 

Legally, she isn't allowed to prioritize paying suppliers, but a Canadian Certified Public Accountant (CPA) who knew of her situation has started a Go Fund Me campaign for them called "Supporting Canadian Female Manufacturers.”

"The beneficiaries are my suppliers," Manson said, stressing she personally won't receive any of the online funds raised.

The experience of Manson raises the question if running a slow fashion, ethical, sustainable brand is currently possible. 

"There were definitely moments where it seemed like it was doable, but just in the current economy it's really hard. Enough people can't afford it. Everybody says ... they love the product. They want to do the right thing. It is just not in the budget." 

Advice for others

Manson said if she could go back and give advice to herself when she launched Bewildher it would be to not get behind in the first place.

“If I were to go back and add up everything that I paid and penalties and fees and interest because of that, it would be the debt that put me under,” she said. 

“Don't get behind — the second that you do, you know, stop right there because you've lost. With the low margins, there's just no catching up.”

Secondly, she says her advice to other small businesses is to “stay as lean as you can as long as you can.”

Though it is an emotional time — she said she cries each time she gets a supportive email or message — Manson said she knows she will be OK. 

"I have family, I have supports," she said. 

Her parting message, beyond a call to support the Go Fund Me and Bewildher closing sale, is to take shopping locally seriously because buying from Squamish businesses is supporting local people and keeps the money in town. 

"The more you go online [outside of town], the more shops you're going to see close up, and then instead of having vibrant streets with shops, you have boarded up windows, and that's really sad," she said. 

Fehr concurred. 

“It’s crucial that our community supports our local businesses. Shopping local and staying local for services, groceries and daily needs can have a significant impact on our local economy. Let’s maintain our status as the most resilient economy in B.C.,” he said.  

“Shop local, support local.”

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