In Praise of Older Women

by Will Novosedlik

February 6, 2018

Armed with a solid niche strategy and well-crafted design, small companies like Ralston Williams can flourish in the marketplace


Photo by Chris Chapman


There is something very satisfying when great design meets a great brand. Especially when that brand is built from the heart.


In the case of fashion label Ralston Williams, the heart belongs to Mary Beth Currie, the lawyer-turned-fashion designer whose label caught the attention of the fashion press almost as soon as it launched.


Named #1 on the list of “notable newcomers” in Canadian Living’s Canada 150 issue last July, Ralston Williams recently collaborated with David Thorne Communications to craft a brand identity and visual language that would convey this brand’s elegance and integrity. The result is a very lively tension between lightness and gravitas.


 Photo by Chris Chapman


Mary Beth Currie, who left a 25-year career in law to pursue a degree in fashion from Parsons, discovered a niche opportunity to design clothing for people with limited mobility due to injury or arthritis. Marketing them with the tagline "effortless style," these garments are not only classically simple in line and form, but also ingeniously equipped with magnetic closures and interior loops to make it easy to put them on and take them off.


Photo by Chris Chapman


This is a classic case of design thinking in action: it begins with a very real human need and sets out to solve it with an innovative solution. As a long time arthritis sufferer myself, I can attest that there are items of clothing that are challenging to wear simply because it literally hurts to take them on and off. At the same time I’m vain enough to want to dress with a modicum of style. Sadly, the dictates of fashion can be ruthless enough to curtail my choices. As a result, the most beautiful shoes I own—a lovely black pair of Dressed Chukkah boots from LodinG—sits on a shoe tree waiting for me to discover a cure for arthritis before I can wear them again.


Mary Beth Currie photo by Chris Chapman


Currie was inspired by her mother’s arthritis and her own injured rotator cuff when she fitted her garments with accessories that would make dressing effortless—and painless. That’s not only why the brand has heart, but it’s also innovation in action. As for the brand, its niche strategy reflects a head for business. It occupies that sweet spot at the intersection of design, business, brand and innovation that very few brands occupy. Michael Porter would be proud. So would Issey Miyake.


I don’t know what Currie’s plans are for growing this label but it occupies a niche that exists in every market. It would be wonderful to see it make an impact south of the border. Currie is doing what Canadians who wish to compete on the global stage need to do: create products and services that fulfill the needs of a very narrow, under-served niche. We are not big enough to compete with the giants, but we can be small and nimble enough to go where the giants can’t go.


Will Novosedlik likes playing in traffic at the intersections of business, brand, design and innovation. He's worked both as a consultant and client on brands such as Telus, TD Bank, Bata International, Williams-Sonoma, Vodafone and Deutsche Telecom in Canada, the US, North Africa and Europe. 


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