January 31, 2011

Isabella Bird

I am completely mesmerized by a Victorian adventurer called Isabella Bird. I can eerily relate to this woman who lived over 100 years ago. Isabella was a true traveller/explorer who defied the Victorian expectations of how a woman was to live her life. At her home in England she found herself constantly ill but as soon as she embarked on a trip she miraculously healed, her spirit free to soar and experience adventure. "Travelers are privileged to do the most improper things with perfect propriety" she said in Hawaii. "I still vote civilization a nuisance, society a humbug, and all conventionality a crime" she said in Scotland. I'm not a fan of rules and convention and can only imagine how claustrophobic it must have felt for women in other times. Isabella travelled through Persia China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, Hawaii, The Rocky Mountains and when she was seventy rode through Morocco on the Sultan's black horse. This is just the beginning; something about this woman has captured my heart and I will be delving into her story as I embark on writing a book inspired by her (another "just for fun" project).

January 27, 2011

What's your secret, Laura-Jean?

Laura-Jean is the designer of Fresh Baked Goods (clothing line), owner/founder of Fresh Collective and the Fresh Collective University, based in Toronto.

Laura-Jean drips with creativity, enthusiasm and inspiration. Her love of her business and positive energy radiates from her and lucky for us, it often rubs off on those around her. Her business knowledge is vast and has been gathered over 17 years in the marketplace as a clothing and knitwear designer, retail owner, educator, and mentor. Laura-Jean's designer collective, Fresh Collective on Queen St. in Toronto provides a successful outlet for creative designers  to showcase and sell their wears as well as share the work and expense of the store. She has also channeled her business advice and experience into her own Fresh Collective University where she mentors the designers and helps them grow their businesses. Her fashion line is a medley of gorgeous and feminine dresses, skirts and tops with unique, decorative details and a hint of retro.

What makes up a typical work day for you? What is your favourite part of the day?
Weekday mornings I take my son to Kindergarten and stay to teach art for half an hour (favourite part of the day!)  I come home and start work.  My studio is in the basement of my house but we've outgrown it so we need a change soon!  My staff arrive to my kitchen and come on down.  5 years ago when we bought the house the home studio seemed like a good solution to a work/home balance, but my staff has doubled and there are deliveries and people coming and going all day.

The work I do has changed a lot over the years. I used to make and sell, make and sell, but now I've changed my focus to a lot more business strategy. I create jobs and supervise the people doing them, and I create the vision of the company for the future. Everything is growing and changing all the time so it can be a crazy juggling act, but building a business and all that it means, has turned out to be the most creative thing I've ever done.

My day is spent usually on the computer - emailing people, creating charts and plans, or preparing the material for the University or meeting people. I'm opening a new store in April, so I've been meeting daily with new designers looking to join us.  That part is always a lot of fun.  I'm really inspired by meeting new people and hearing about their business.

How do you approach designing a new collection?
I work with a team of 2 designers now.  We talk about ideas, colours and inspirations, what worked last time and what didn't and then we look at fabrics.  We're a good match because Jessie and I like to just do whatever and dream up crazy ideas, but Jane brings it all together with the tough questions: "Who's going to wear it?  What would they wear it with?" and so on.  Those questions are so important!  You have to be focused on your customer, not just all your crazy ideas and what you like.

At what point do you decide that it makes more sense to hire people to help you than to try to do it all yourself?
There's a real limit to what you can do on your own, not only in terms of the volume of work you can do, but in your range of skills.  Someone who tries to do everything herself may be awesome at design and terrible at selling.  Finding the right salesperson and hiring them could be the key! The designer can spend her time doing what she loves and is good at, and someone else is happy to have a job!

What qualities does a successful designer have?
The designers I work with are designers and entrepreneurs, so I'll answer based on that.  The people who I see succeed are ready to learn and grow. They keep an open mind and a positive attitude and understand that building a business is a huge undertaking that YOU have to direct. You can't let your results lead your actions- the actions create your results. 

Successful designers aren't afraid to innovate.  They try something, and try something else, always watching what works and what doesn't. They are tuned into their customers needs.  A business usually starts out with a very "me" focus- "I make this, I like making it, I think it's cute".  As the business matures, the owner understands exactly who their client is and what they want.

Can you tell us a bit about your University? Do you envision the University expanding beyond Fresh Collective?
For now FCU is a members-only benefit.  We meet monthly and discuss one topic which I prepare. We offer special workshops and one on one meetings-really it's all about offering solutions to our designers, getting them focused on one path and moving forward as a group.

If you had to choose just one piece of business advice to share, what would it be?
I have to do two: The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.
Read The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It.  By Michael Gerber

What would your dream vacation be?
Maybe 3 days at a spa would be perfect right now.  Just some time alone being pampered but short enough that I don't get bored, and can get back to work!

Are you spontaneous or a planner?
Weirdly a bit of both. I LOVE to plan (and I have charts, lists, diagrams, calendars, everything!), but I also get swept away in an idea and have to act. A year and a half ago I was seized by the idea I could help the owner of my son's daycare run it. I thought about it for a couple hours, proposed it to her, and boom, I was in the daycare business. Right now I have so much on the go I had to post above my desk "Stop starting new things" to remind myself that just because I get an idea, I don't have to act on it. I've been on a hiring spree for months, madly hiring people for every new project that pops in my head to grow the business.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I think I'm a born entrepreneur. I had various business schemes, including a comic book library with my neighbor in her shed.  We were going to charge late fees, but then no one returned the comics.  We also had carnival games and bake sales. Then in high school I made jewellery and clothing and sold it, even having a jewellery display in a hair shop in Saskatoon (where I grew up).

What is one thing you would like to see yourself doing in five years time?
I hope to have a day off between now and then... just kidding! That's not going to happen! In 5 years,  I want to have a business model that is set up to sustain the growth of more locations of Fresh Collective. I'd like to have a team of people to handle all that growth entails- finding, training and integrating new designers, getting all the store procedures running smoothly in each store.  I'd love to have a Chief Operating Officer to handle all the varied duties that I do leaving me free to do less tactical work and take on even more visionary growth stuff, and possibly even leaving me able to work less hours, although I'm so addicted to it! I'm aiming for 5 locations in 5 years.

And I want to do the same for the daycare. Tighten up our brand and unique experience that we offer there, build in all the special wonderful programming we're dreaming of, and business procedures that make it run smoothly, and then set it up to grow.

January 25, 2011

Very Good News

This morning I found myself thinking of Mma Ramotswe from the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. In her beautiful Botswana accent everything is either very good news or very bad news. Whenever things get rough and she declares it is a "very bad news" situation, she slows it right down, puts all on hold and makes a cup of bush tea. How brilliant is that - nothing can take precedent over the enjoyment of slowly sipping a soothing cup of tea. It is during this experience that she suddenly has insight into her cases and knows what direction to take. I LOVE this show, the characters are fantastic and very lovable and endearing and the unlikely detective uses her instinct and common sense to solve her cases. Very good news indeed!

January 24, 2011

The night they invented champagne

I've decided that there is nothing more divine than champagne! Not only is it delicious but it comes with celebration. It is impossible to drink a glass of champagne and not feel special and want to toast and celebrate all the love in your life. So, here are the lyrics to one of my favourite songs from the classic movie, Gigi which has a very special place in my heart.

The night they invented champagne,
It's plain as it can be,
They thought of you and me!
The night they invented champagne,
They absolutely knew that all we'd want to do
Is fly to the sky on champagne
And shout to everyone in sight
That since the world began
No woman or a man has ever been as happy as we are