Tell us about yourself – familial/personal story, education, and prior work.
So, I grew up in Vancouver. I was born and raised here. I went to school here. Every play that I did was about “reduce, reuse, recycle,” and so it was ingrained in me at a young age. That the Earth is not at our disposal. That we need to take care of it. I had two very loving parents. I am fortunate to have experienced unconditional love.
At 13, I started sewing, but I thought I was supposed to go and do sciences like my parents. When I was 16, I fell in love. His dad is a shoe designer. I went off and did what I loved doing, which is designing clothes.
I decided to make a career out of it. At 15, I wanted to start my own business, have stores, and figure out what I needed to learn, from who, and where, and what. I decided to go to university of fashion design.
I built my portfolio out of school and went to Ryerson University. In third-year, I went and interned with Vivien Westwood for a semester. She was great. She answered a lot of questions, which I had in my head.
I am not a fashionista. I wasn’t sure if I could survive without selling my soul. She showed me that I could be whoever I am, which was really nice. I knew that I needed to learn business, if I wanted to do any good. There was a crew at the university.
They were working with natural fibres. They were into yoga and ate organic food. They were aware, but I wasn’t totally aware of how detrimental the industry was, yet. It wasn’t a niche thing. “Eco-fashion” was not a word yet, in our vocabulary.
I finished university. I knew I wanted to live in Vancouver. I wasn’t happy in Toronto. I worked in the summers. Lululemon had start. I was doing hemming, when they were just one store.
A friend had a business idea that they wanted me to join in on. I asked if I could come in and pick his brain about it. I wasn’t sure about a few things. He said, “Don’t start one for them, start one for me. I am successful and want to replicate the formula for success.”
I thought, “Great! But I want to start my own company. Why don’t I work for you for a year, get my hands in everything for a year, and then start my own?” He said, “Sure!” I was there for two years. I created Au Coco. It was an eco-fashion line.
It was way ahead of its time. That was in 2004. I graduated in 2003. It was 2006 when I was done there. And then I started my own company. I started in my parents’ basement. I did a program called Entrepreneurship program, or something.
You take 6 months, which is subsidized by the government, and you write a business plan. I got my first loan from the Canadian Business Association for $25,000. I bought the machines and my fabric, in my parents’ basement, and made designs from scratch.
We would go around and have sales in my mom’s basement. The mantra of the company is “I am love,” which I believe is the reason we are here. Our true essence to pure love and we have to figure out how to come to that in our own lives in our own fashion.
It is a three-part thing. It is right for the earth. It is right for people. It is right for people. For the earth, we use all sustainable fabrics. The textile industry is the second biggest contributor to toxic waste on our planet. It is a huge problem. None of us are addressing it.
Yet, we’re all a part of it. For people, I use ethical manufacturing, whether locally or overseas. And then for spirit, we put a label that says, “I am love,” into each piece of clothing to remind the wearer to come from that place.
Whether it is how they speak to themselves with loving kind words, I believe all women should feel beautiful just the way they are, and how they are treating others throughout the day and through the choices they make throughout their lives.
That’s the company. Now, we are in 2008. I got married. Then I had a child, and then I quickly got divorced. My son was 7 months old when I left. His dad was just very toxic for the relationship.
Things continued to happened. I finally sobered up to the reality of what was going on when I had my child and couldn’t have a kid in that situation. My parents invited me to live with them.
So, it was not only our business in the basement, but me and my 7-month old child were living with them. It was incredibly generous, loving people – my parents. My mom would watch him one or two days a week to breastfeed every two hours.
It would keep things going. And then in 2011, my son was about a year and half and I brought in a nanny so I could work fulltime, and I opened my store in Kitsilano. That was 2011. That, for me, was when the business really started.
That’s when we started to make sales. In 2012, the factory I had been working at locally. The owners wanted to retire, So, I bought the factory, not the build but the business, from them. That was $80,000 for 6,000 square feet of machines and 20 something employees.
They all signed on to keep working. They said it was profitable. I very quickly discovered that it wasn’t. We tried different iterations of it for 3 years. I lost a lot of money in the process. Just this last October, I closed the factory.
I just could not make it work and we were drowning. So then, I moved the store to Gastown from Kitsilano a year ago, last Spring. That was fantastic. It double sales right away as well as 50% of the clients that walk in are tourists, which is great.
And the clothing of the factory, that almost bankrupt me. Now, we are climbing out of that that. We have some financing. We are turning it around, which I am really excited about. We are starting to do really well.
The company is profitable, very quickly after closing the factory. It has been mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to lay off 25 people that work paycheque to paycheque.
It is one of the hardest things I’ve had to endure. I think it was harder than my divorce.
It is part of business and growing up. That’s where we are now. Now, we are profitable and doing really well and about what is ahead. I want to start another store next year. The goal of the company is to eventually grow to 20 to 50 stores, globally.
I would like 75% of our sales to be online. The stores act as a community building space, where people can come and connect. I really see that with our clients who are hungry for like-minded connection.
Our product is beautiful and functional and happens to have this value. Our value connections to our client, when you go and it doesn’t seem to push recycling down your throat. I didn’t want that.
I wanted it to be inspiring and beautiful and eventually diversify the product from women’s lifestyle to men’s, baby’s, and ethical products you can rely on for worth in how they’re made, and still beautifully designed.
That’s where we’re at.
My life story in 10 minutes.
Now, your son is 7.
He’s 7 and incredible. If you can imagine, I am a single mom. When we closed the factory, I moved head office into my apartment. I only started paying myself a year-ish ago when I moved into my parents’ home when my son was 6.
I finally felt like we could do it without so much help. Now, I have head office in the apartment, single mom without child care.
I work when he’s at school between 9:30 and 2:30. I am supposed to put exercise in there too. Luckily, he’s 7. We can go biking and running together. It’s intense, but I just keep going. We almost hit bankruptcy a couple of times.
You just keep persevering.