It was when Jess Fuga was pregnant with her second child that she really noticed the dearth of maternity clothing options for Winnipeg women.
For her first pregnancy, she had a wardrobe stocked with on-loan and second-hand clothing from family and girlfriends, which is often how moms-to-be get through their pregnancies without spending thousands of dollars on bump-accommodating clothing. There are many sisterhoods of the travelling maternity pants out there.
But for her second child, Fuga had to supplement with new clothing and couldn’t believe both the cost and the lack of options. "It’s even more expensive when you’re looking for office attire," says the 36-year-old, who is mom to a 4-year-old boy and a 19-month-old girl. "There’s barely anywhere for people to shop, and your options are so limited."
So, Fuga has been hard at work on a new kind of baby. In June 2019, she launched Ever After Maternity, an online maternity consignment boutique.
Ever After came to an underserved market at a critical time. Last October, the major American chain Destination Maternity filed for bankruptcy protection, sparking a host of closures of its Destination Maternity, Motherhood Maternity and A Pea in the Pod locations across North America, including two in Winnipeg. Making matters worse, maternity clothing has moved online at many regular chain stores, such as the Gap or Old Navy.
As well, the rise of the slow-fashion movement and the heightened awareness about the waste generated by the fashion industry is changing the way people, pregnant or not, are buying clothing.
"It’s the way of the world right now," Fuga says. "Look at the stores that are closing down: Forever 21, huge retailers. People are looking at investment pieces, like one pair of jeans instead of five. A lot of people are moving toward vintage, consignment, thrifting."
Maternity clothing, with its short and highly specific window of use, seemed like a no-brainer for consignment, and is often in excellent condition for resale chiefly because it’s not worn for long. Fuga realized she had a business idea on her hands and could help fill a gap — especially since she noticed that a lot of moms were turning to Facebook Marketplace and Kijiji to both find and offload maternity clothing anyway. Ever After takes that labour off new parents.
'It actually makes me angry. It makes me feel taken advantage of because I have no choice but to get these things, at this price, or else I'm going to be uncomfortable' - Eco Mama founder Jade Troost
"They’re at home with a newborn, or baby number two or three, they don’t have time to put 20 individual items on Facebook Marketplace, barter for a dollar here and there," Fuga says. "This way, it’s given to me, it’s taken care of."
Ever After is online — everaftermaternity.ca — but Fuga is looking at addressing another complaint many moms-to-be have, which is not being able to try things on now that more clothing has migrated online.
"I know people want to try stuff on," she says. "I get it. I’m a try-er on-er myself, so I have been doing pop ups, which is a good way for me to get the product out there, and people can come try stuff on and see it in real life. Especially people in their first pregnancies, who are a bit more unsure."
The next Ever After pop up will be at the Nest Family Centre on Feb. 22 from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. Fuga also has plans to rent some studio space in the spring to see if a permanent location would work.
Theresa Kuzina, who is eight months pregnant with her second child, has become a big fan of the Ever After pop-up shops.
"I got most of my clothing from there this year," she says. "I’m more of an in-person shopper. I like being able to try stuff on and feel the material."
Kuzina has had her fair share of maternity clothing-related frustrations. While she was pregnant with her first child, she required a maternity wedding dress. "I had to order it from the U.K.," she says.
But even finding every-day clothing could be an odyssey. "I work in an organization where I need to dress professionally, and I’ve found that challenging, too — to find professional wear that’s comfortable and looks good and is appropriate for my workplace. Especially pants." There’s also the sticker shock; think $75 for a pair of maternity nylons.
Nadine Leszkovics, mom of two, struggled to find maternity clothes that matched her personal style. "Everything has buttons or flowers or silly sayings like ‘Bun in the Oven,’ " she says. "Can I not just find a plain black T-shirt?"
"Yeah, I didn’t ‘eat the pumpkin seed,’ " Kuzina says, deadpan. "This is a child and I’m at my professional workplace."
"I didn’t ‘eat the pumpkin seed’. This is a child and I’m at my professional workplace.” - Theresa Kuzina,
The personal style piece is an significant one, especially since moms-to-be are already going through so many changes. They still want to look, and feel, like themselves as much as they possibly can.
"Why should your style be thrown out the door for five months because you can’t find appropriate maternity wear?" Fuga says. "I want people to have beautiful clothes they feel good in that don’t break the bank."
Leszkovics ended up wearing the clothes she could find until they had holes. Anything still wearable was given to expectant girlfriends.
‘I wish there was a consignment store when I was pregnant," she says. "I would have loved to sell some of the wearable items to a shop for other mamas."
That’s precisely the feedback Fuga keeps hearing. "A lot of people said to me, ‘Where were you 10 years ago when I was pregnant?’ and it’s like, ‘Hey, I wish I was around when I was pregnant,’" she says with a laugh.
Luckily for Winnipeg moms, the city’s maternity consignment scene is growing. Jade Troost has also just launched an online maternity consignment boutique called Eco Mama (shop.ecomama.ca).
Troost, 37, is mom to a two-year-old boy and she, like the other moms in this story, had a hard time finding clothes that fit her style and budget. "You can easily spend thousands of dollars for something you’re only going to wear for a few months," she says.
This eco mama is also mindful about fashion waste, and found that the selection of maternity clothing either tiny or non-existent in thrift stores. And so, like Fuga, she decided to start her own consignment business.
In effort to mitigate how many items of clothing end up in the landfill, she will also donate on someone’s behalf. "I give moms the option, if there are things that are still useful but I don’t know if I can move in the store, I can donate it somewhere where someone can still use it. Then it’s not going somewhere it’s going to end up in the garbage or sit on a shelf forever."
Troost has a studio space in her home where people can try on clothing. She also offers in-home consults for people looking to buy multiple items.
The lack of affordability and accessibility of maternity clothing doesn’t just frustrate Troost.
"It actually makes me angry. It makes me feel taken advantage of because I have no choice but to get these things, at this price, or else I’m going to be uncomfortable," she says, adding that moms-to-be at all income levels should be able to find nice, comfortable maternity clothing. "You shouldn’t have to get whatever scraps you can find."
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.