Home is where the art is: Graphic Design grad launches clothing line celebrating provincial pride

Kyle Doucette, Friendly Manitoba clothingThinking local isn’t just Kyle Doucette’s passion — it’s his job.

As the founder of Friendly Manitoba clothing, Doucette pays homage to the prairie lifestyle by designing and selling T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with staples like the province’s prairie crocus, as well as his company’s namesake phrase.

Customers from Manitoba and beyond have responded well to the quirky streetwear line since it launched last spring — and Doucette couldn’t be happier about keeping his growing business right where it started.

“I like the idea of keeping things small,” says Doucette, a 2011 graduate of Red River College’s Graphic Design program. “I don’t have any hopes of grandeur. I don’t want to go into big box stores or anything like that.”

In fact, Doucette didn’t see himself having a storefront at all, until he was given an opportunity he couldn’t refuse. In the summer, another local business owner approached him with his first big break: A rent-free space on the second floor of The Forks Market for three months, as part of the Downtown BIZ’s Launch It initiative. Doucette leapt at the chance to build his clientele and network with other local retailers, while enjoying program perks like free Wi-Fi, signage and workshops.

“There’s a constant place where I can interact with customers,” he says of the storefront, which he’ll occupy until November. “It’s a lot more convenient than just doing things online.”

Of course there are the typical challenges that come with running a new business, especially one that’s a “one-man show”, as Doucette calls it. But he credits the training he received at RRC for giving him the tools he needed to have confidence in himself and his line.

“I’m grateful for the education I received there,” says Doucette, who admits to applying to the program with very little knowledge of graphic design. “At the time I don’t think I understood what I was learning but everything I was taught there applies to what I do now.”

Doucette spent many childhood hours drawing and tracing cartoons, and found Graphic Design to be an ideal way to channel his artistic inclinations into a more stable career. He says a lot of the information he acquired through the program is timeless.

“Layout, use of negative space, basic art principles, and even web design; they’re all lessons I’m still drawing from today,” he says. “It’s really crucial in the success of this business.”

Kyle Doucette, Friendly Manitoba clothingShortly after Doucette graduated, he launched Mine Clothing, a label where he expressed his artistic freedom. But he says he really started putting his RRC-bred business skills to work with the launch of Friendly Manitoba, which has sharper branding and a name that’s recognizable — if not unforgettable. His signature piece — a golden-hued pullover hoodie — is pretty hard to miss.

“I just found there’s a real niche for locally geared stuff, as I’m sure you’ve noticed in the past couple of years,” Doucette says. “A lot of people are focusing on Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada. Everyone wants to support local. It seems to be a popular, nice trend that’s gaining some traction — which I can get behind.”

Prior to opening the store at The Forks, Doucette mainly sold his products on the web and at various local markets. He will continue to do so after his shop closes next month, but the experience of having his own store has him thinking a little bigger, and he might even look into a permanent Friendly Manitoba store in the New Year.

“Something you put your heart into, as far as design goes, tends to be personal and you tend to doubt yourself once in a while. But when you see people hyped about something you’ve created or you see a stranger wearing it on the street, that really keeps the fires burning.”

— Profile by Lindsey Ward (Creative Communications, 2004)