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My Ol’ Blues celebrates 30 years of keeping people cozy and fashionable

My Ol’ Blues celebrates 30 years of keeping people cozy and fashionable by Tom Sasvari

GORE BAY—Gore Bay businesswoman Kathy Antonio says it is amazing that it has already been 30 years since she started her apparel manufacturing company, My Ol’ Blues.

“Thirty years. Amazing. I never thought starting out that it would get this far,” Ms. Antonio said. “When I started, I didn’t really know where this would lead. I was a full-time figure skating coach and single parent. The recycled hats I was creating were selling by word of mouth and the orders just kept coming in.”

“I had neither design/patternmaking nor sewing skills, just determination to expand the horizon,” said Ms. Antonio. “As demand for my products grew, a firm vision for the business, which was officially registered November 1, 1993, had to be put in place. To this day, I have not wavered from my vision statement, ‘Quality products, designed and manufactured in Northern Ontario by Northern Ontario people.’”

Reflecting on the past 30 years, there has been many uphill struggles, turning points and wonderful memories made, said Ms. Antonio. Due to a growing business with employees, location came in to play twice. My Ol’ Blues began in a basement in Sudbury. As the products became more known, more requests came in to wholesale to stores, the first being Pit’s House of Treasures in Sudbury. A handful of stores followed in the area, putting a strain on space and time.

In 1995, Ms. Antonio relocated to another basement in the town of Espanola where she grew up and was the head coach of the Espanola Skating Club. During this period, she was introduced to Grassi Point Trading Co. from Burlington by Marion Pitkethly of Pit’s House of Treasures. This Canadiana sales agency quickly took My Ol’ Blues across the country, requiring a cohesive collection. Ms. Antonio explained polar fleece was becoming a mainstay of everyone’s wardrobe and it was a natural fit and direction to head with the hats and accessories being produced. Plus, Canada had one of the largest quality producers of polar fleece, Huntington Mills, out of Quebec. It wasn’t long before Ms. Antonio moved into apparel design with emphasis on outerwear. “It was a little hectic creating patterns for ages two to adult, but with a lot of samples to try on and using friends and family, apparel became a reality.”

The first order being the Espanola Skating Club jackets followed by a Canadiana Collection known to this day as “Maple Leaf Mania Wear.”

In 1997, My Ol’ Blues required another expansion of space. Ms. Antonio also made the decision to retire from coaching figure skating and also expand into the retail industry.

Choosing a way of life and still being in Northern Ontario, My Ol’ Blues relocated to Gore Bay October 17, 1993 to the old Turner Funeral Home building. The building included a main floor production area, space for a retail store, upper-level space which now includes three apartments and a separate home on the property for Ms. Antonio’s family. She said the move has become a game changer, solidifying a loyal retail clientele who are now fourth-generation MOB customers, with a central location that has serviced wholesale, corporate and non-profit and private label customers, a well-rounded customer base. “With the help of Canada Post and Manitoulin Transport and various other courier services, our supplies arrive quickly and our finished products get shipped out across the province, Canada and internationally just as quick,” she said.

My Ol’ Blues has remained small with Ms. Antonio overseeing all aspects of the business. Currently she has six employees plus her summer student Bella. Kim Orford started on November 11, 1993, and has worked parttime/full-time over the years and has become known as Kathy’s ‘right arm man’ in the workshop and someone she is proud to call a trusted, good friend. “We are a very closeknit group,” said Ms. Antonio. “Many employees have come and gone over the years, but several are still close to the company and stay in touch regularly. The camaraderie that we share in the workplace has overflowed into our loyal customer base which we regard as our MOB VIP family. Each and every one is important to us, and the majority are on a first name basis.”

My Ol’ Blues was recognized by the PARO Centre for Women’s Enterprise with the Unshakeable Business of the Year Award in 2021. The award goes to a woman owned business, with a successful and notable track record for three years or more, that has taken financial risks, managed the business successfully and given back to the community.

Recently My Ol’ Blues, “was invited to be part of the nation-wide BMO #WraptheGood holiday campaign,” which Ms. Antonio feels is another highlight of this year. “Looking back, who would believe creating a few hats for a part in the play, Jitters, produced by The Espanola Little Theatre, back in March of 1993 would have led to 30 years in the Canadian apparel industry with the past 26 years of production happening on Manitoulin Island.”

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