Wooden bow ties—that was the business idea Nicolas Gouin came up with as a university student in 2015. Today, the urban style aficionado heads up Ürbwa, a serious business offering wooden fashion accessories for men.
While organizing a running event to benefit sick children in 2012 in Sherbrooke, Nicolas Gouin decided he wanted to become an entrepreneur. “Watching everyone running really gave me a sense of satisfaction, of having accomplished something,” explains Gouin, who at that time was a commercial management student. “Starting from scratch and building something brick by brick that would end up benefitting kids really appealed to me.”
The elegance of exotic wood
After meeting with a few entrepreneurs during a Laval University trade mission to Brazil, he left the province in order to study marketing in Hong Kong on a university exchange program. During a trip to Thailand, he saw a business card holder made of wood, and that’s the moment he landed on his big idea. When he got back to Hong Kong, he cruised around a shopping mall and thought about what products he could make out of wood. That’s when he came up with the bow tie idea. “People have always worked with wood, but today we can make accessories that until now have usually been made out of fabric,” he explains. “Wood is a durable material that is perfect for making men’s accessories with a classy, retro feel.”
Once he arrived back in Quebec with a business plan in his pocket, despite having no experience working with wood, Gouin started by consulting with a cabinetmaker in order to evaluate the feasibility of his project. He also worked with a fashion design firm in order to develop his first prototypes.
In the spring of 2016, Ürbwa was born. Bracelets, phone cases and lapel pins in the shape of flowers are on offer in addition to the range of bow ties. All products are made in Sherbrooke from exotic woods like wenge, mahogany and even padauk. The accessories are sold online and through 10 boutiques in Quebec.
Making a difference
By making his artisanal bow ties, the young entrepreneur aims to not just offer quality accessories to his customers, but to inspire them both personally and professionally. “My objective is to help them stand out from the crowd and become their best version of themselves,” he explains.
Through Ürbwa, Gouin also continues to support charitable causes such as the fight against prostate cancer and cardiovascular disease.
“Ürbwa is a for-profit company, but as a business we have social responsibilities. Creating a company is great, but why not take it further by trying to have a positive impact on society and on people’s lives? For me it’s just obvious!”
– Nicolas Gouin
The desire to do better
Last year, Gouin took part in the Académie de la relève entrepreneuriale-CDPQ at Laval University. During the course of the year he benefitted from around 10 different workshops and coaching sessions in order to develop his expertise, especially in strategy and governance. “I learned how to take a step back,” he states. “As an entrepreneur, you’re deeply involved with your company and you lose your objectivity. At the Academy, it was an advantage to get an outside look at other entrepreneurs.”
Because Gouin works alone with the assistance of two interns, participating in the program also helped him to break out of his sense of isolation. “We were able to share the tools we use and our practices on social media, as well as information on any subsidies available.”
For Gouin, Ürbwa’s future will unfold after this year’s launch of four new products: bow ties for children, pocket squares, cufflinks and lapel pins in abstract shapes. He also has his heart set on entering the American market. To achieve this, he is currently looking for an investor with a complementary skill set who shares his vision of entrepreneurship. Together they can form a partnership as solid as... wood!
Ürbwa in Numbers
- 10: Number of points of sale for Ürbwa products
- 3,000: Number of units that can be manufactured each week
- 2: Number of times by which sales revenue should increase this year
Want to learn more?
Visit Ürbwa’s website