Originally from Saskatoon, I'll always be a prairie girl at heart!
After high school, I headed to Montreal to study photography at Concordia University. I knew I wanted a creative career and my stint as yearbook editor made me think photography was a practical choice.
When university was done, it was off to Toronto- to seek my fame and fortune! With no clue how to start a real career, I worked a couple part-time jobs as a waitress while making jewellery to sell in local boutiques.
It seems that entrepreneurship was always in my blood.
As a kid, I roped in some friends to help me build a mini “amusement park” with ring toss sets and other games that we charged the neighbourhood nickles and dimes to play.
We even had a comic book library operating out of my neighbour's shed at one point, though that business model failed when kids just didn't return the comics!
By grade 9, I was making my own clothes and jewellery, and throughout high school, made extra money by taking orders from friends and small businesses in town. One of my friends even became my first sales rep and got orders in exchanges for free product!
I always loved the idea of having control of my life through creative money-making ventures. Growing up, it was something that represented freedom and independence for me.
As I looked ahead, I knew that I wanted to always be able to have dogs in my life, and eventually kids, and I wanted control over being able to spend time with them.
Those were probably my biggest motivators to pursue a career that allowed me so much choice. I just couldn't fathom a 9 - 5 job in an office with a boss and a commute. I wanted freedom and the chance to create my own work that excited me.
For the next couple years, I continued making jewellery and selling it in local boutiques. Picking up commissions for local fashion studio Peach Berserk and working part-time there as a silkscreen printer gave me a front row seat on the workings of a small business.
In 1994, I launched my own knitwear line and called it Fresh Baked Goods. I dubbed myself Laura-Jean the Knitting Queen, decided I was a fashion entrepreneur and got serious about learning about business. I read books on the topic and figured things out as I went.
Not surprisingly, most of my most powerful business lessons came through trial and error.
I opened my first sweater shop in Kensington Market in the late 90s, and set up knitting machines in the back. My Knitting Princesses (as we called my employees) and I knit all day in the back of the shop and sold sweaters in the front.
A few years later, the first location of Fresh Collective, my fashion retail company, was opened.
Fresh Collective started out as a shared space concept with local designers. This provided me with a selling space for my product and a vibrant work environment full of creative energy. Designers rented space and each worked in the store one day a week.
This is where I discovered my passion for coaching and mentoring other entrepreneurs. My business model, in those days, relied on the other designers being able to continue paying the rent on their space month after month. I quickly saw that in order for my business to grow, theirs would have to as well.
I built training programs to help designers learn to market and sell their products. Group and one-on-one meetings helped them see new opportunities for their businesses and avoid common pitfalls. I developed programs for emerging designers to understand the power of market research and develop products that will sell.
Along with community partners like Art of Fashion, I created competitions and other programs to support emerging designers.
Fresh Collective grew to 3 locations with an incredible 21 year run in retail. I mentored hundreds of designers over those years, created jobs and built a loyal following of customers.
Over those decades I ran other businesses as well, applying everything I had learned in fashion and retail.
Running multiple businesses in various industries taught me that business is business. It's all about creating something unique and exciting, and providing value to your clients.
In recent years, I shifted my career's focus to coaching. More than anything I love connecting with other women entrepreneurs and supporting their growth by sharing everything I've learned.
Mich and I agreed that one of the hardest parts of entrepreneurship is the loneliness, and we created WGE as a supportive place for ambitious women to connect and do business.
As a lifelong entrepreneur, I know the struggles of the lifestyle inside and out. I've lived them - the paralyzing fears, the sleepless nights, the need to make decisions and take responsibility even in the face of big risks and terrifying gambles.
Through my own journey, I found inner strength I didn't know I had. I grew to see myself as tougher, smarter, more capable, and strategic than I ever dreamed.
I help my client's along the same path - facing their fears, discovering their strengths and creating a life and career of their own design.