When I realized that 2019 marked my 25th year as a fashion entrepreneur here in Toronto, I pulled out all my old photos and articles and took a trip down memory lane. Looking back, I can't believe all the things I've done and all the ups and downs my business has taken me through over the years!
As an entrepreneur, one thing you can definitely count on is constant change. Staying adaptable and doing what I love seems to have been - and continues to be - the key to making it all work. Not bad for a girl from Saskatoon who loved sewing her old clothes in high school and never even dared dream of a career in fashion!
If you're curious to read about my journey and get inspired in your own business, here it is!
1992: I graduated from Fine Arts at Concordia University in Montreal. I packed up and moved to Toronto, ready to launch a creative career, but with no idea how.
I didn't feel like I could get a "real job." I had no solid professional experience and no sense that I possessed any real skills that would apply in a corporate setting. I also dreaded the possibility that I would shrivel up and die in an office 9 to 5 kind of job.
Meanwhile, I worked part-time in restaurants, hung out with artists and other creatives, and tried to figure out a career path for myself.
Taking a silk-screen course hosted by the amazing Kingi Carpenter of Peach Berserk rekindled a high-school fantasy of owning a boutique and becoming a fashion designer for a living. Seeing her do it made me think that maybe entrepreneurship could be a viable path.
I started working part-time at Peach Berserk and making a line of shrinky-dink jewellery based on Kingi's designs to sell at her shop. And I soaked up everything there was to learn about business.
1994: Still waitressing part-time, I dabbled around in various courses, from jewellery-making to film production and others, looking for that thing I could really call my own.
I signed up for a machine-knitting course in the basement of Romni Wools, and that was it. Within 6 weeks, I'd launched my knitwear business, Fresh Baked Goods, and dubbed myself "Laura-Jean the Knitting Queen." I was on my way!
I started out selling my knits on consignment at Peach Berserk on Queen Street West, along with a handful of other local stores. Over the next two years, I expanded sales to local vendor events and eventually a big wholesale show in New York, The International Fashion Boutique Show.
1996: Along with Kingi, I co-hosted a TV show about entrepreneurship on TVO, called $tarting Up. On the show, we interviewed various business owners about how they run their operations, and it was an amazing experience!
I managed to get quite a bit of press in the early years by sending out regular press releases. I was featured on CityLine, Breakfast Television, CTV News, Toronto Sun, Flare Magazine, Toronto Star and more!
1998: I opened my first retail store, Fresh Baked Goods, on 274 Augusta Avenue in Kensington Market. The store was rebranded to Fresh Collective around 2011 and continues to operate as a fashion boutique!
In the back of the store was a knitting studio, complete with noisy knitting machines and shelf after shelf of yarn balls. People could come in and buy sweaters off the rack or place custom orders, which my "Knitting Princesses" and I would knit it up especially for them!
These personalized "Laverne Sweaters" were a hit for years! Also, barely visible in the left corner is a very old black and white TV that we had on all day at the back of the store.
Jaclyn was my full-time Knitting Princess for several years. She remains a great friend to this day.
1999: My second retail store in Yorkville was called Peachy Fresh. It started out as a partnership with Kingi.
By then, Kingi and I had been doing a lot of things together: the One of a Kind Show, traveling trunk shows in Ottawa, and all sorts of other adventures! We had tons of fun, and our businesses aligned perfectly with each other - my sweaters went well with her kooky printed dresses and skirts.