Cheryl LeBarr walked onto one of Canada’s most pressure-packed stages wearing a brightly-coloured ski jacket and eyeing a deal with the dragons.
PHOTO: MADE co-founders (from left) Dustin Butcher, Cheryl LeBarr, and Capri Philip outside the Dragons' Den studio.
Facing lights, cameras, and five business moguls, LeBarr and her two business partners made their pitch on the CBC TV show Dragons’ Den, asking $300,000 for a 10 per cent stake in MADE, their custom outdoor apparel company. The dragons quizzed the trio on numbers before Arlene Dickinson offered the entrepreneurs a deal, but for a much bigger piece of the pie: 35 per cent.
“Unfortunately, the deal was not a deal we were willing to accept based on the business we are building,” says LeBarr, a Wilson School of Design instructor at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). “Overall the experience was a lot of fun and we get to say, ‘Hey, we did that!’”
LeBarr, who teaches in the Technical Apparel Design program at the Wilson School of Design, is also a KPU grad, earning a Bachelor of Design in Fashion and Technology in 2012.
She founded MADE with Dustin Butcher and fellow KPU alum Capri Philip as a socially-conscious outdoor apparel company, selling custom direct-to-consumer outerwear suitable for the slopes.
Working at a kayak rental shop as a teenager on the Sunshine Coast led to a lifelong obsession with high-quality outdoor gear, says LeBarr, who would later work for the outdoor brand Arc’teryx.
“My grandma was a seamstress and taught me to sew. I loved sewing and figuring out how things are made, but I also really enjoyed all my science classes in high school. When deciding what to do for a career, I was lucky enough to have a mentor speak to my school about her career as a product developer at MEC (Mountain Equipment Company). That's when I realized I could combine my interest in science with my interests in fashion and the outdoors.”
When the trio came together to start their custom outerwear business in 2020 with a novel concept — the customer chooses the design and an AI-based measurement tool ensures the perfect fit — LeBarr was immediately all in.
“I have struggled with fitting my whole life. Even as a teen I was tall but had larger hips. In the fashion program at KPU, I was never quite in the right proportions to be the fit model. I was always close, but off-sized, which actually really impacted me.”
MADE, whose vision is to enable a world where “every body” feels welcome and included in the outdoors, is carving through fresh powder in the technical apparel industry, and offering LeBarr’s students an up-close-and-personal view of product development and the business of fashion.
“As an entrepreneur, I do everything at the company. It’s given me a really great insight into all corners of the industry and how everything we teach ties into different areas,” she says. “I think I can provide students with a very wide lens on how the different things we teach them tie together, especially in how the small details have a large ripple effect.”
Being on Dragons’ Den was exciting and offered the MADE founders business lessons, says LeBarr. Although they ultimately didn’t land a deal, the company is continuing to climb, having since landed a more favourable investment deal.
MADE’s pitch, on Episode 11 of Dragons’ Den, aired Nov. 30 and can be streamed online through CBC Gem.