NAIT student entrepreneur fills gap in women’s winter wear market

by | Dec 15, 2023 | Arts & Life

For many women, finding winter apparel that fits properly is a struggle. Mikayla Balfour, a NAIT student entrepreneur, is determined to solve this issue with her outerwear and apparel company, Nexarina. Her goal is to empower women by creating products that allow them to experience the thrills of winter sports without being inconvenienced by clothing that doesn’t fit. 

“[Women] can do whatever they want to do, and they’re not going to be limited by their clothing,” said Balfour. 

Despite Nexarina’s official launch on November 25, Balfour didn’t realize she would be launching her own business when she started at NAIT. Still, she said she’s always had entrepreneurial qualities. “Even when I was younger out at my lake, I would bring out my pedicure stuff and give everyone pedicures and manicures, like even before I could work I was working,” she explained. But while looking through marketing co-op positions in her third year of her Bachelor of Business Administration, nothing caught her interest. “That’s what really pushed me. Like, no, I want to start my own thing.” 

Her inspiration for Nexarina started by identifying a gap in the women’s clothing market. Balfour thought of activities she was passionate about and how the clothing designs currently available don’t measure up. What came to mind?

“Immediately, that was snowboarding,” she explained. “I’m five feet tall, so everything is way too short for me. And it was very frustrating having to constantly stop snowboarding to tuck my pants [in]. It was so difficult to find stuff. So yeah, the idea kind of just came right to me. And from there it just continued.” 

She spent months researching, going to different conferences, figuring out what was in the market and determining what the future of winter clothing looked to become. Balfour explained that she knew nothing about designing clothing, “especially outwear.” 

“They’re very technical items. There’s so much about zippers, insulation, lining, different breathability,” Balfour said. “So it definitely took a lot of time to understand how to design it and all the components it would require.”

Through her business courses, Balfour created opportunities and made connections to build a strong foundation for her company.

“I want [Nexarina] to be an all female sports apparel brand,” she said.

“[Women] can do whatever they want to do, and they’re not going to be limited by their clothing,” said Balfour. 

Nexarina prioritizes outstanding quality products for women with diverse shapes and sizes. Balfour said her clothes have the typical quality found in men’s outerwear, but are more adjustable and available in short, regular and long lengths. Last year, Balfour started prototyping for herself, but now Nexarina is designing products for different customers. 

“We’re creating sizing that doesn’t exist in the market,” she said. 

Originally known as GRIT Snow, standing for growth, resilience, inclusion and technology, Balfour wants women to feel comfortable pursuing their love of sports. These are the fundamentals missing in the outerwear market. However, Balfour is grateful she pivoted to a new company name. 

Photo supplied

“I eventually want to go into golf and dirt biking gear, and [GRIT Snow] would just limit me,” Balfour explained. “It’s Nexarina, next adventure. I like the sound a bit more and I’m happy I changed it.”

The care and intent behind Balfour’s innovative designs help women. Each item is specially designed to move with the individual; Nexarina even carries sweatsuits to accommodate busy lifestyles away from the slopes.

“My snow pants and my snow jackets are my favourite [creations], but I do also love my sweatsuit. I’m a huge sweatsuit girlie,” Balfour shared. “I love wearing them to work or school … I’ve had them for a year now. I wear them honestly once a week and they still feel the same as when I got them.” 

Balfour lives a busy lifestyle herself. Nexarina employs two interns hired this semester and volunteers invested in helping her business succeed. While attending business school and working part-time, Balfour writes her schedule out at the beginning of every week. 

“It’s not always easy … from the first thing when I wake up to the minute I go to bed, everything is time-blocked to make sure that I can manage everything and make adjustments as needed,” she explained. 

Nexarina encourages women to focus on developing their skills and taking on challenges. Being an entrepreneur comes with its own challenges, but Balfour appreciates the freedom of being an entrepreneur. 

“I definitely would say that I would not be where I am today without NAIT, even just their co-op. That was the thing that really pushed me to figure out what it was I wanted to do. And from there, I’ve just had so much support with the Mawji Centre,” Balfour expressed. “Almost everything that I’ve done to date, I’ve been exposed to that because of NAIT, so I’m super grateful.”

Students are encouraged to check out the release of Nexarina’s lifestyle line if they’re interested in quality apparel that will last and compliment every appearance. NAIT students who want to know more can subscribe to Nexarina’s email newsletter and follow Nexarina on social media. Balfour is happy to share her story and excited for what the future promises. After the success of her business, she offered this advice for aspiring NAIT business students:

“We really need to start with understanding the market first and build a product around that. But once you’ve done that and you know that it’s a problem that you’re solving, you know that these people are underserved. There’s a gap … don’t hold back once you know that it’s a problem, just go for it.”

Latest Issue