A career in the maritime sector led Maria Halfyard to start mernini in her basement — now the full-length jackets are selling across Canada
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — It was the type of mauzy Saturday morning all too familiar to those living on the East Coast.
And Maria Halfyard was quite alright with that.
As the founder of mernini, a raincoat brand designed with professional N.L. women like herself in mind, she is well equipped for this weather.
“We’re on the edge of the North Atlantic,” Halfyard said from her home in Quidi Vidi Village. “We have rain, drizzle, fog, winds, storms. It’s so unpredictable. And this will take you through all that.”
For 20 years, Halfyard has worked full-time in the maritime sector. On rainy days, half of her suit would be drenched by the time she got to a meeting.
“I couldn’t find anything suitable for our weather,” she said. “I just thought maybe I’ll make one for myself.”
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As she looked for a designer to help, her friends said they wanted one. Then, her colleagues.
“Maybe this might be a business idea,” she said.
That was seven years ago.
Today, her basement is a make-shift warehouse, filled with full-length raincoats in a variety of colours, ready to be shipped all over Canada.
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“There wasn’t a lot of full-length coats at the time and I wanted to develop features on the coat that were unique,” she said. “I made the front all magnetic because we’re busy women, if you have to button up your coat, it takes a little bit of time. I wanted to make it as convenient as possible. I put these cuffs on the coat so that the wind and the rain weren’t going to get up the coat, so your wrists and your hands were warm. And a large hood, because I like to put my hair up, so you wouldn’t mess up your hair.”
The material is light, polyurethane with a cotton backing.
“If you look inside, it’s almost like an old maritime slicker, you know, the old fisher-person jacket,” she said. “It’s very distinguishable. People always say, ‘I saw a mernini.’”
Halfyard launched mernini, named for a nickname she was given as a kid, in June 2020.
“It really took off,” she said. “Not only in Newfoundland and Labrador, but also the East Coast provinces and Vancouver, where it’s always raining. They really have embraced it as well. … Besides here, Quebec, Ontario and B.C. are my biggest clients.”
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Shortly before noon, the sun was beginning to emerge from behind the clouds and co-owner of Twisted Sisters boutik, Jaclyn Gruchy, was getting ready to open to customers.
As she told the story of the first time seeing a mernini, her sister and the other co-owner, Tennille Ashley, walked into the store sporting a black mernini.
“Prior to mernini being born, her and her mom were in shopping, she had her prototype coat on,” Gruchy said. “She had her caramel mernini on and I (asked), ‘Oh my god, what are you wearing? That coat is so nice.’”
Halfyard mentioned she had been thinking about selling them and Gruchy told her if and when she does, to give them a call.
What attracted Gruchy personally was the length, fabric and minimalist design, she said.
“Customers love them. Oh my goodness. They’re super excited about them,” Gruchy said.
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Some customers are even buying a second colour, Ashley said, or a size larger so they can wear it with a sweater.
“It is super fashionable and it’s extremely functional for our weather,” Gruchy said. “She didn't miss a trick with the wind protection and the sleeve and the big hood, the magnet closure ... the length. Brilliant.”
While mernini raincoats are available across Canada, in N.L. they can be purchased directly from the mernini website, at Twisted Sisters boutik (in-person and online), Studio Boutique in Carbonear, Adora Boutique in Whitbourne and Dildo, Arthur James in St. John’s, Corner Brook and Mount Pearl and online at parkerlennon.ca.
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