By Payge Woodard
At the age of 19, she says just wasn’t feeling university, so she dropped out to go into the fashion business.
A risky move, but it paid off.
Raised in Halifax, Johanna Galipeau grew up watching Fashion TV with her mom. Her love for fashion and drawing led her to dream of becoming a designer. But working for a large retailer sparked a new interest.
After seeing 60 of each design in the back of the store, Galipeau wanted to start a business where young people could find unique and affordable clothing.
Galipeau says she wanted to start a store with a “mix of mall prices and the high-end feel of a boutique.”
The road to Sweet Pea
Dropping out of school, Galipeau, with the support of her parents took her business plan out and received a bank loan.
“When I look back now, I’m like, ‘My parents were insane,'” says Galipeau, now 26.
After she received the loan, Galipeau found a spot on Victoria Road and searched out the brands she wanted to represent her store.
Sweet Pea boutique was formed.
Sweet Pea’s racks are filled with pastels, lace and florals. Offering mostly dresses, Galipeau thought opening a second boutique with an edgier style was a good idea.
“Everyone really loved the brands but not everyone is a dress wearer,” says Galipeau, “So I opened Twisted because it was the edgier version but same brand, same price point, same type of feel. Just more casual.”
So three years after starting Sweet Pea, Galipeau established her second boutique, sister store, Twisted Muse.
As you step through a side door into Twisted Muse, Sweet Pea’s simplistic and elegant decor is soon swapped with studded boots, chunky jewelry and darker shades.
But owning two boutiques hasn’t been easy. In the beginning Galipeau had to work seven days a week. Now that her stores are more established she is able to take Sundays off, technically.
Although Sunday is supposed to be her day off, Galipeau comes in to open and close the store, and if things are busy, she’ll stay.
Galipeau says she’s always in contact with the store. There’s always something to be done.
“You just are always working so it’s not as glamorous as you may think, but it’s nice to know I’m my own boss and I can make my own hours.”
Finding unique designs can also be pricey. Picking each piece herself, Galipeau pays for buying trips to cities like Montreal and Toronto out of her own pocket.
Galipeau doesn’t mind the hard work though, she’s thankful she doesn’t have to wake up thinking, ‘Oh god, I have to go to work today,’ she says.
Being her own boss at 26, Galipeau feels it’s worth what she’s had to give up.
Growing up quickly
Starting her own business at such a young age didn’t come without sacrifice.
Galipeau says she had to mature faster than her friends. She wasn’t able to travel, for example. But she says she wouldn’t trade it. She’s happy with what she’s accomplished.
Keeping it independent
Two boutiques is enough for Galipeau. She says it’s “nice to have the character of the building and not be this cookie cutter box.”
The boutiques will remain a family-run, down-to-earth and independent business, says Galipeau.
Offering a boyfriend waiting area, allowing pets in the store and allowing people to finish up shopping after closing are all part of what make the boutiques differ from the mall.
“It’s really magical,” says boutique employee Chya Mogerman, regarding working at the boutiques. She says it’s a lot of fun, even though she ends up spending all of her money there.
Galipeau enjoys working with the customers. Her grandfather was owner of a convenience store and her great-grandfather owned a restaurant.
“I think that client service has always been in my blood,” says Galipeau.
As for her personal taste Galipeau says she’s a mix of both Sweet Pea and Twisted Muse fashions. “Somedays I’m super girly and somedays I’m not at all.”
Galipeau feels her versatile style has helped her with business.
“I might not wear everything but I love everything. I love the girly, I love the preppy, I love the grunge. I love and respect all those different kind of outlets for your look. So I think that helps when I’m buying, to not be kind of narrow minded.”
Galipeau says this past year, business has been good but could have been better. With poor weather conditions and construction causing road closures slowing business. Johanna hopes things will pick again up once construction ends.
Plans for doing minor renovations at Sweet Pea are also ahead.
“Sweet Pea could use a little punch,” says Galipeau, “We’re going to do some painting and put some new racks up and stuff. It’s time for a little bit of a facelift.”
Galipeau says she will remain in Halifax as she is content with what she has created here.
“I’m not that type of office person so I’m glad I created something that reflects my personality and what I like to do.”