Vancouver dancewear company Ainsliewear takes centre stage.
As a professional ballerina, Ainslie Cyopik was accustomed to making incredible leaps, but the one from ballet dancer to businesswoman was no small feat.
Fortunately for Cyopik, founder and president of high-end dancewear company Ainsliewear Design Ltd., it’s a good time to be in the apparel industry. What’s known as “cut and sew” apparel manufacturing was Canada’s fastest-growing industry from 2007 to 2011, with sales growth of about 12 per cent and net profit margins over 10 per cent, according to research by financial analysis company Sageworks Inc. Cyopik is enjoying the boom: although her business hasn’t hit the million-dollar mark yet, sales are up 30 per cent since 2010, which means hitting that benchmark is within sight.
Cyopik retired from performance in 1997, after 15 years of dancing with the National Ballet of Canada and Ballet B.C. Ainsliewear was born when she began designing bodysuits for friends at Ballet B.C. In 2000, spurred on by demand for her fashion-forward bodysuits, she rented half a studio space in Vancouver and lugged 50-pound rolls of fabric up flights of stairs to the tiny space for four years before establishing her own studio on Homer Street.
An elegant departure from sporty yogawear, Cyopik’s bodysuits are built to last – imperative for a ballerina who suits up 300 days a year. The line’s reputation, however, lies in its feminine design and detailed craftsmanship. “I like to say we cover your ass. The bodysuit patterns are cut a certain way so they don’t ride up,” says Cyopik with a laugh.
The official bodysuit of Toronto’s prestigious National Ballet School for eight years, the line also regularly takes centre stage on National Ballet of Canada superstars Stephanie Hutchison and Greta Hodgkinson, as well as Ballet Nacional de Cuba principal dancer Viengsay Valdés and Olympic ice-dancing champion Tessa Virtue.
Ainsliewear has enjoyed plenty of expansion in recent years, aquiring another new office space and inventory room, off-site storage, a permanent staff of 10 and, just eight months ago, a new business partner. Terri Margo, marketing guru and one-time product director of Robeez (the $28-million infant and children’s footwear company), met Cyopik through the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs in 2010. Margo mentored and worked with the designer for over a year and liked the business so much that she bought into it.
“Terri’s brought tons of great things to Ainsliewear,” says Cyopik, who credits Margo with the company’s surge in growth. “She gets things done, she’s got business experience and great style sense. I’m lucky to have her as a partner.”
Cyopik’s biggest challenge remains cash flow. “We have to buy 3,000 metres of fabric in advance and that fabric doesn’t get released until it’s paid for,” she says. “That means we have to shell out thousands at a time, which won’t be recovered for a while.”
Workspace is another ongoing challenge. Soon Cyopik will require a bigger studio to handle increased production. She also hints at development into the fashion market, but in the meantime, business is brisk. During a recent tour of the American dancewear trade-show circuit, the company nabbed 20 new retailers. Along with its e-commerce store, Ainsliewear is now sold in 96 dancewear locations worldwide: 39 in Canada, 49 in the U.S. and eight in Asia and Europe.
“It’s an exciting time for Ainsliewear,” says Cyopik. “I’ve built the foundation and now it’s blossoming. There aren’t a lot of dancewear companies in Canada, and we have international recognition. I think we’re worthy of it.”