Homegrown Business: Jackie Charest of Cougar Shoes Inc.

Cougar Shoes is a Canadian brand that designs, manufactures, distributes and retails women’s, men’s and children’s footwear globally. We recently spoke with Jackie Charest about the brand and her history that led to her being interested in working with the company.

Cougar Shoes Jackie Charest

What is your business called and what does it do?

Our business is called Cougar Shoes and we design, manufacture, distribute and retail women’s, men’s and children’s footwear globally. Our product is built for year-round weather and focuses on being stylish, using high quality materials, and delivers on function whether it’s a winter boot that’s waterproof and withstands -30 degree temperatures or a summer sandal that is water repellant and stain-resistant!

What made you want to do this work (marketing or working with shoes)?

I think fashion was always in my blood. My grandmother, who was a big role model for me, was what I consider a fashion “maven”.  She attended shows, had her clothes made, was a model and had a couple of entrepreneurial fashion accessory businesses on the side during her career. She was a trailblazer in her time! I still treasure many of her pieces, including some shoes. Although her foot size was much smaller than mine, I can remember trying to cram my feet into her shoes thinking they would magically fit!

From a very early age I worked in retail, as soon as I could get a part time job I turned to some of my favorite brands and worked in their stores. From there I went to Ryerson for their fashion communications program and knew it felt like the right career path for me. I was an intern at Club Monaco and then worked for Holt Renfrew for several years, which allowed me to work with some of the best brands in the world. 

I have always loved the energy and pace of the business – it’s addictive and I have a passion for shoes and handbags! I have more shoes than I care to count and I’m one of those people who plans my outfit around my shoes (please don’t judge me)! Working now for a footwear brand is a dream come true!

Cougar Shoes

What problem does this solve?

Being a Canadian brand, Cougar knows all about the harshest climates and our shoes really allow you to battle the elements in style. The footwear will hold up to the four seasons – heat, wet, snow, cold – yet you are not sacrificing looking good to do so.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

Cougar is a brand that appeals to people of all ages and we really do have something for everyone, including men, women and kids! Having said that, our “core” customer tends to be the urban woman, who appreciates both fashion and function. 

How does your business make money? How does it work?

We make money by having happy, loyal customers! Meaning, if we provide a great customer experience and a fantastic product, the sales will naturally follow. You can find Cougar Shoes at larger department stores in North America, a mix of strategic independent footwear boutique stores and online at www.cougarshoes.com.

Where in Toronto can we find your profession?

Most companies today, whether you are a brand or retailer, have a “head of marketing” position no matter what industry you are in. It’s important for brands to have a leader at the helm who can steer the brand into the future, lead brand innovation and strategy and push boundaries – essentially create the path and keep things “on brand”.

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services?

What makes Cougar boots so great? AND here is what I would say:

Cougar knows footwear! Our brand sits right at the cross section of function and fashion. It’s a multi-generational family business that started in manufacturing so they know everything there is to making good quality footwear that is built to perform and last without compromising style!

Cougar is known for incredible quality! Here are some of the things we do that sets us apart: 

  • We treat and waterproof all our leather and suede early in the tanning process, right at the tannery before the boot is assembled. This means that you don’t have to add any waterproofing sprays or conditioners to the leather after you purchase. In fact, we recommend you don’t! 
  • Our waterproofing process also protects your boots from stains – you can just wipe the leather down with a clean, damp cloth. 
  • We also pay close attention to the foot bed and soles, providing both comfort inside the shoe and anti-slip on the outside. 
  • And finally, we provide warmth like no other. Our winter boots are all temperature rated, and we use innovative technology to provide outstanding insulation to keep your feet warm and dry! 

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

The worst part is easy – it’s my daily commute! I live in Toronto and our head office is in Burlington. Although it’s tough, a do enjoy the solo time in the car to think up new strategy or reflect on the day.

The best part, I get to be a foot model! Who knew a size 10 wide foot would be in demand but “fit” is VERY important here at Cougar and when I joined the brand the first question the design group asked was “what is your foot size?”! I get to try on production samples and give input to how it feels and fits. Every now and then I also get to give some input on design elements, too! 

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

People in marketing often say, “We are not saving lives!” when times get a little stressful.

PAY IT FORWARD: What is another Toronto business that you love?

TIPS Nail Bar

Leeanne Colley, the owner, is “one of a kind” as is her team and the salon. You will not find a better manicure and pedicure in Toronto. She truly cares about her clients and the service her and her team provides. The FUN part – the salon attracts the most interesting group of “power” women from exec’s to mom’s – when you walk thru the door everyone is on the same playing filed, friendly, willing to share information, help each other and we have the BEST conversations! I always look forward to my appointments and what happens at the salon, stays at the salon! 




About Joel Levy 2519 Articles
Editor-In-Chief at Toronto Guardian. Photographer and Writer for Toronto Guardian and Joel Levy Photography