- Words by Chloe Sjuberg Photography by Lia Crowe
With her trademark sense of humour and boundless enthusiasm, Irene Barlas-Rimar has forged a path to success in not one but two traditionally male-dominated industries. She is the president of COIT Cleaning and Restoration Services BC, and she and her husband Les Rimar recently became the owners of Rex Cox Men’s Wear in Mission.
Both companies are staples in the Lower Mainland. COIT has been in business for 70 years, 53 of those in BC, and Rex Cox was established 98 years ago. And Irene is proud to continue their legacies of exceptional service.
“We seek to provide that wow-factor, nostalgic type of customer service where you feel like a friend, not just a customer or stranger.”
Irene discovered her entrepreneurial spirit early—“at the ripe age of seven!”—working in her parents’ pizza parlours in the ‘70s and ‘80s.
“It spurred this ambition of mine to always be busy making great things happen, not just for me but for anyone who is willing to work with me and do amazing things together. Because let’s be clear, one can’t do it on one’s own. I am no one-woman show! It takes a village to keep me excited and succeeding.”
This is a key philosophy for Irene, who is quick to credit the support of her parents, husband and daughters, her COIT business partners Brent Pullan and Brian Wener, and her colleagues at both of her workplaces.
Irene started a part-time job as a telemarketer while pursuing a law degree. Her love for business superseded her interest in law, and she started working full-time with what was then the Eaton’s/Woodward’s cleaning company.
“I loved providing customers with an opportunity to freshen up their home or business. I love everything to look and feel clean, so it was easy for me to talk cleaning,” she laughs.
In 1998, she joined COIT Cleaning and Restoration Services as a commercial account manager, taking on challenges in various roles over the years. In 2017 she accepted the opportunity to become a shareholder and partner in the business, and in November 2021, she became COIT’s president.
Around that time, Irene had picked back up a longtime hobby of designing and making clothing. Soon enough, she was wondering how she was going to get out all the orders she was receiving.
“I suggested to my husband that we buy a store where I could sell my stuff. He has been a rock for me and a huge supporter of my goals and aspirations, so he said, ‘Okay, well, if you want a store, go find us a store!’”
With that, the search was on. The high cost of leasing space in the Vancouver area was proving a challenge, until the day Irene noticed a little shop in Mission with a red awning called Rex Cox Men’s Wear.
“Everything I found out about this retro-nouveau little store intrigued me, and I knew we had to go see it. When we met the owners, who were wanting to retire, we hit it off at ‘hello.’ We just knew Rex Cox was everything we wanted our small clothing business to be, with a ton of potential to introduce even more.”
In January 2022, Irene and Les took over the reins at Rex Cox, which specializes in both formal and casual men’s wear. For now, it’s a “work away from work” project for the couple. They mainly spend time in the store on weekends, with the support of a great team that keeps the business running smoothly.
At both COIT and Rex Cox, the foundation of Irene’s work is her dedication to making people happy.
“I love to put smiles on people’s faces, whether it’s through offering fantastic cleaning services, or dressing up the distinguished gentleman or the guy next door. If it makes you happy, my work is done, and a big smile is on my face too!”
Irene also loves to sketch, read, dance, travel and cook (“It’s the Greek in me!”). And it should come as no surprise that she has more big plans in store.
“I’m not done just yet. Who knows what my next endeavour will be? I just might write a book. Stay tuned!”
The 7 Sins
Whose shoes would you like to walk in?
Coco Chanel or Calvin Klein, my favourite designers. Both had/have an eclectic passion for fashion that has always intrigued me. Their stories and journeys are inspirational and exciting, and I love their forward-thinking ways. They have allowed many people to look and feel absolutely amazing, including me!
What is the food you could eat over and over again?
Oh my goodness…there are a few, but I have to say chicken wings. I might have to change up the flavour, but salt and pepper chicken wings all day, all night works for me!
You’re given $1 million that you have to spend selfishly. What would you spend it on?
I would purchase a beautiful villa in Santorini or Lefkada, Greece. We could vacation there any time, especially when we embark upon our retirement years. It would be wonderful for our daughters and grandchildren to enjoy too. I would love to sit by my very own villa bay windows, overlooking the blue-green waters, and be mesmerized by the beauty in front of me.
Well, this is easy for me. I don’t like wrinkled clothes! They make me feel sad and not dressed for success. Procrastinators are another pet peeve of mine. I love making things happen, and I don’t like hearing the words “I don’t have time” or “there’s no time.” There is always time if you put your mind to it and book the time for it. Lastly, anything crooked! No matter where I see it—a picture on the wall, a bunch of paperwork on your desk, books in a library—I will stop what I’m doing, apologize and ask for permission to fix it!
Where would you spend a long time doing nothing?
This might be hard for me! But I could do it somewhere warm, not too hot, near beautiful water, relaxing at my vintage cabin with my sketchbook or a fabulous Harlequin in hand… yes, I’m a hopeless romantic.
What is the one thing you’re secretly proud of?
My zest for life and my entrepreneurial spirit. I have a “dream it, live it,” never-give-up attitude with everything I do.
What makes your heart beat faster?
Next to seeing our girls thriving, it’s the adrenaline I feel when a goal is achieved, the impossible becoming possible, and seeing and making people happy. When cool, big things happen I just love it. Such a rush