CAMPBELL RIVER – Being able to think on her feet has been a key to Leslie Hanes’ success at Discovery Trekking, her fabric and custom product design business.
Hanes has been in business for over 40 years, and is always thinking of new ways to use the unique fabric she carries in her store at 919 Ironwood Road. Innovation has enabled her to roll with the punches, moving from traditional brick and mortar to an ever-growing online business niche.
In 2002 she came up with the idea of creating a lightweight moisture-wicking towel. The Ultra-Fast Dry Sport & Travel Towel pulls the water from skin, and when moisture reaches the outside of the fabric, it spreads out to many times its original surface area, enabling it to evaporate very quickly.
The towel was a hit and earned her a $10,000 Innovation Award from Scotia Bank.
Her daughter Laurie asked her to make a cover for her saddle to keep her dry in the rain while riding.
“I told her to go and buy one, but she soon found they didn’t exist – at least not what she had been looking for,” she recalls. “ So the ‘Saddle Skirt’ was born. The saddle cover keeps riders dry and warm all year long and protects those expensive saddles.”
Discovery Trekking makes and sells moisture-wicking pillowcases, travel robes and pool wraps as well as their biggest seller, Sosecure Swim Briefs.
SOSecure Containment Swim Brief, perhaps Hanes’ most successful product, is also a testament to her desire and commitment to making a difference with those needing special products. Also known as a swim diaper, the brief’s innovative design focuses on comfort, durability and discretion. It is recommended by occupational therapists, physiotherapists and caregivers throughout the world and comes in all sizes.
“The idea for the briefs originated with my previous business partner, but I have changed the design and fabric to make it what it is today,” says Hanes.
Discovery Trekking carries the same highly technical fabric used by LuluLemon, Patagonia, Arc’teryx and others. Some of the fabrics are highly water repellent, breathable, windproof, moisture wicking or all of the above. They also offer natural fabrics like bamboo, modal and Tencel.
Prior to Discovery Trekking, Leslie was a Bodily Injury Adjuster with ICBC for 18 years and was “the mom who always sewed”. With a horse loving family, her focus was equestrian outerwear and costumes.
In 2001, she switched gears and became involved with Discovery Trekking, a business that made custom clothing and specialty products. Hanes purchased the business outright about 10 years ago, incorporated, and has never looked back.
She also began creating other products to utilize excess fabric they were already making custom orders with.
“The custom-fitted outerwear is a local offering only,” says Hanes. “We want to make sure the sizing is all done in person to ensure a perfect fit. That’s why we don’t offer custom jackets online.”
As if that wasn’t enough, in 2003 Hanes purchased a Curves 30 Minute Fitness and in 2014 a Jenny Craig Weight Loss Center franchise, which continues to operate next to her Discovery Trekking business.
Recognizing a need in her own club, Hanes became a vendor to Curves, making protective covers for the exercise equipment at Curves, adding “I was sure other franchises could also make use of the washable covers. So I did some mass marketing and found that there was a lot of interest, primarily from Japan.”
Business took off and production and staff grew.
“We have kept everything local. If we sent production overseas, we would have to commit to mass amounts of merchandise and that is risky,” she says.
Hanes’ choice was prudent as, after a few years, many of the Curves businesses chose to have their covers made in China. Those that saw the quality was not the same have come back. The Japanese market did not.
“In business, we have always tried to forecast our future. But then things just happen, like the machine cover orders drying up. You have to learn to reinvent yourself,” she says.
Flexibility has been key in Hanes’ business career, as she is always thinking about what she can do that no one else has done yet. She shares there are times when she has gone to purchase fabric with one use in mind, only to discover that there were even more niche products that could use the same fabric. “When we have more than one product line that can use the same components, it lessens the risk and reduces our costs. Some of our best improvements have been because we experimented with new technologies and fabrics.”
To Hanes’ surprise the part of the business that is moving forward the fastest is the direct sale of fabrics to the home sewist.
“We are probably the largest supplier of technical performance fabrics in Canada, including Polartec, Goretex, Schoeller, and other sought-after brands.” says Hanes, adding the U.S. dollar differential has helped popularize sales with Americans. This part of the business has grown significantly with the use of instructional videos on their Facebook group and Instastories. There she explains the intricacies of the fabrics, their use, their care and the possibilities.
“This has enabled a personal connection with buyers,” says Hanes. “We had several people this summer who vacationed close by just so they can visit our store.”
Videos have been especially effective, as she can show how the average person, who can sew a straight line with a domestic sewing machine, can make something amazing and functional with the high-tech fabrics they offer.
Their business is still brick and mortar-based, but the bulk of their orders are now online.
“I have partnered with many independent designers who are wanting to promote their patterns, and collaborations have been very helpful,” she says. “When I sew up some leggings in our latest active wear or a jacket in a waterproof breathable shell, it might inspire someone to create something unique for their needs that is superior to what the big brands offer.”