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Maxine Green – Empowering Black Female Entrepreneurs

Fact checked by Charmaine Gooden

Helmed by three sisters–Maxine, Lorraine and Jackie Green–Maxine’s boutique paved it’s own way in the Toronto fashion industry. For over two decades they offered  well-priced, high-quality garments that served their community of clients who were like family. Any customer who walked into Maxine’s could expect three things: great clothing, great conversation and a great time.

Early Life and Career

The Green sisters grew up in North York, in what Jackie Green, the youngest child, describes as a, “typical middle-class family.” Despite the ten-year difference between her and eldest child Lorraine, as well as an eight-year difference between her and middle child, Maxine, they were incredibly close. Jackie says their relationship  is a “special union” that has evolved over the years.

“My sisters felt more like mother figures to me,” reflects Jackie.  “As we got older, we became more like friends ,” she adds.  “Now that we’re all much older I can sometimes be the bossy one but when push comes to shove, I’ll always be the baby sister.”

She recalls her older sisters always had an interest in fashion. Jackie studied sociology and mass communication at York University, while Lorraine studied fashion buying at The Fashion Institute of Canada and Maxine studied fashion design at the International Academy of Design. Jackie fondly recounts how Maxine’s sewing and design prowess came in handy when she set off on an adventure to Japan for one year after graduating from University.

“I remember arriving in Japan and realizing I didn’t pack properly  and brought too much casual clothes. When I got there, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this place is all about fashion,’” she says. “So I called my sister, she knew my measurements, and literally designed and shipped out some amazing pieces that made me feel really good amongst the stylish Japanese girls,” remembers Jackie. 

Maxine created her own clothing line and started selling her pieces to a high-end chain of French boutiques called La Foret. Although Lorraine and Jackie were working other jobs at the time, they encouraged her to open her own store and promised to be part of it. “It was Maxine’s vision, she led the way,” Jackie says. 

Their first store was called Boutique Queen, located inside the Hudson’s Bay Centre. One year later, they moved into a much bigger space on Avenue Road, north of Lawrence and decided to call it Maxine’s.

Besides a unique selection of garments, MAXINE’s also offered in-house tailoring services. Jackie says that the fit was their trademark and something that set them apart from other stores in the Greater Toronto Area.

 

 

 

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While Jackie focused primarily on the marketing, events and customer development side, Maxine and Lorraine did the buying, looking for well-priced and high-quality garments mainly from Canada, Italy and the U.S. Some of the main labels included Les Copains, Laurèl, Roberto Cavalli Class, Fabiana Filippi, Tombolini, Marchesa Notte, Terri Jon, Ron Leal, Msiamo and Arthur Mendonça.

Jackie describes the style as “timeless with a twist.” At the time, many of those labels weren’t carried in Toronto and Maxine’s boutique helped develop their names in the Toronto fashion scene.

Besides offering a unique selection of garments, Maxine’s also offered in-house tailoring services. Jackie says that the “fit ” of a garment was their trademark and set them apart from other stores in the Greater Toronto Area.

“Customers would bring garments they bought elsewhere, asking us to fit them.” explains Green. “They”d tell us that even their husbands, who never noticed what they were wearing before, had started to compliment them.”  Getting the fit exactly right, Jackie adds,”was especially important and valuable to our orthodox Jewish  clientele, who needed alterations that meet the requirements of their religion.”  

Breaking Barriers

When asked if they experienced racism as Black female business owners, Jackie answers “absolutely” without hesitation.  In those days there were no Black own businesses like Maxine’s.

Even renting the space on Avenue road was difficult. She recalls an instance when they had to relocate after being on Avenue Road for 10 years because the lease was up, and the landlord decided to sell the building.  Successfully finding another ideal spot  just down the road on the same street, they were in shock that, after meeting with the new landlord for the first time, he refused to move forward with leasing them the spot.  

“The landlord basically outright told us, ‘The clients around here are mostly white people, they’re not your culture and I don’t think they’re going to be shopping with you. You’re nice ladies, but I’m concerned you won’t be able to make enough sales to cover the monthly rent.’’  Even though we tried to explain to him that we have a clientele and have been on Avenue Road, just up the street, for ten years, he simply refused to rent the space to us.” says Jackie.

“He just couldn’t wrap his head around the idea of a Black, female owned business, catering to a high-end crowd that consisted of mostly white women. He just didn’t think we were capable no matter what we told him. I won’t say what nationality he was, but he too wasn’t white,” adds Jackie.

The three sisters decided to take the plunge and headed straight downtown to Hazelton Lanes in Yorkville, now called Yorkville Village, where they remained for 11 years. The sad rejection they had to experience, ended up being a blessing in disguise as they tripled their clientele in the first year. 

Ironically, Maxine’s clientele was predominantly white, with very few racialized customers and even fewer were Black. That said, given the prevelance of racism in society in general back then in the early days the three sisters were never on the floor together. One sister would “work the floor,” and the other two would work behind the scenes, either in the back or the basement. Jackie describes racism as “a feeling” that’s difficult to explain sometimes. “You can’t always put your finger on it but you can feel it.”

Despite having experienced racism during their years in business, Jackie didn’t consider being Black a challenge or barrier for them, nor was it hugely present. “If that was the case, we would’ve never opened a boutique,” she adds.

Influence and Legacy

The memories of Maxine’s are still dear to Jackie and her sisters’ hearts. She speaks very fondly of the relationships they built with their clients, which is part of the boutique’s legacy. Despite closing in 2016, Jackie says they still keeps in touch with some of their past clients.

“Our clients were like family,” she says with a smile, sharing their many joys and even pains at times, proving that Maxines’s wasn’t just a business. “It was a fashion hub where a community of women came to get outfitted with honest advice, no pressure and left feeling uplifted and empowered with confidence,” she explains.

They were often referred to as “pioneers” in the industry, a title the sisters were reluctant to take on, until reflecting on their careers. “For us, what matters is we ran Maxine’s with love and integrity,” concludes Jackie. And while the physical entity of Maxine’s is no more, it continues to live on in the  bonds they and the clothes many of them are still wearing today.

The other two sisters would either stay in the back or in the basement before rotating. It was only after the first year or two when the three of them would be on the floor all at once.

About the authors:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

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About the author:

Over the years Prof. Gooden has built a multi-media career as an editor, writer, presenter, public relations consultant and special event manager, spokesperson, host, and educator. She...

Read More

Archive of images at BFC:

With sisters Jackie and Lorraine, she built her namesake boutique, MAXINE'S into a successful business, where clients became family.

She and her sisters built her namesake boutique, where clients became family

BoutiqueMAXINE’SIn BusinessSept 1994 - Dec 2016 (Toronto, Ontario)EntrepreneursMaxine, Lorraine and Jackie GreenBirthplaceMaxine: Montego Bay, JamaicaBirthplaceLorraine: Kingston, JamaicaBirthplaceJackie: London, EnglandEthnic OriginJamaicanOccupationsMaxine: Fashion Designer, BuyerOccupationsLorraine: Fashion buyerOccupationsJackie: Real estate agentShare

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