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How Kristi Soomer created a Versatile and Sustainable fashion brand-L Ep 73
Episode 737th June 2022 • Fascinating Entrepreneurs • Natasha Miller
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Encircled is a slow fashion brand that does it all. Founded by Kristi Soomer, Encircled is one of the few apparel brands that is a Certified B. Corp, which puts the planet and people before profits. To give you some perspective, there are only 9 apparel brands in Canada that are Certified. B Corps, and only 4 of these are female-founded/majority female owned B.Corps.

Encircled’s factories are located in Toronto, and they are OEKO-TEX(R) 100 Certified, meaning that no harmful substances are used to make their clothing, just sustainably sourced, ultra-soft fabrics and a whole lot of love. They are also super transparent about each of their fabrics, which are posted online here.

Encircled strongly encourages us to minimize our carbon footprint, so the brand offers versatile multi-way clothing that provides endless wardrobe options. For instance, their popular Revolve Dress is a beautiful garment that can be worn 6 different ways!

Where to Find Kristi Soomer

Website: https://www.encircled.ca

SPONSOR

This episode is sponsored by Entire Productions- Creating events (both in-person and virtual) that don't suck! and Entire Productions Marketing- carefully curated premium gifting and branded promo items. 

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Transcripts

Kristi Soomer:

Because there's a lot of luxury brands out there.

Kristi Soomer:

And nobody talks about this that have slave labor in their supply

Kristi Soomer:

chains, just because the product is really, really expensive.

Kristi Soomer:

Doesn't mean it's ethically made.

Natasha Miller:

Welcome to FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS.

Natasha Miller:

How do people end up becoming an entrepreneur?

Natasha Miller:

How do they scale and grow their businesses?

Natasha Miller:

How do they plan for profit?

Natasha Miller:

Are they in it for life?

Natasha Miller:

Are they building to exit these and a myriad of other topics will be discussed

Natasha Miller:

to pull back the veil on the wizardry of successful and FASCINATING ENTREPRENEURS?

Natasha Miller:

My book RELENTLESS is now available everywhere books can be bought online,

Natasha Miller:

including Amazon and barnesandnoble.com.

Natasha Miller:

Try your local indie bookstore too.

Natasha Miller:

And if they don't have it, they can order it.

Natasha Miller:

The reviews are streaming in, and I'm so thankful for the positive feedback,

Natasha Miller:

as well as hearing from people that my memoir has impacted them positively.

Natasha Miller:

It is not enough to be resilient.

Natasha Miller:

You have to be RELENTLESS.

Natasha Miller:

You can go to therelentlessbook.com for more information.

Natasha Miller:

Thank you so much.

Natasha Miller:

In this episode we hear from Kristi Soomer the Founder, CEO of Encircled.

Natasha Miller:

It is one of the few slow apparel brands that is a Certified B Corp, which puts

Natasha Miller:

the planet and people before profits.

Natasha Miller:

We talk about what sustainable fashion really means, profit margin

Natasha Miller:

and how she's funding her company.

Natasha Miller:

Now let's get right into it.

Kristi Soomer:

So originally, I was actually in a completely different career.

Kristi Soomer:

I started my career and sort of packaged goods.

Kristi Soomer:

I worked in brand management and then I ended up in management consulting

Kristi Soomer:

because I'd had a dream as an undergrad in University, wanting to go into

Kristi Soomer:

management consulting finally made my way there after finishing my MBA.

Kristi Soomer:

And just started to realize that I wasn't sending super connected to my work.

Kristi Soomer:

You know, I was working in retail, which I love, but I was helping really

Kristi Soomer:

big brands and I didn't always feel like I was doing impactful work.

Kristi Soomer:

And it was really this like fateful moment that I've told this story.

Kristi Soomer:

I feel like a thousand times, so I'll keep it short, but I

Kristi Soomer:

was packing for a yoga retreat.

Kristi Soomer:

I'd never been on before.

Kristi Soomer:

It was just like 2012, maybe not as popular as they are now.

Kristi Soomer:

And I was like, that's a yoga retreat.

Kristi Soomer:

So I was like trying to pack and are shoving everything into my suitcase

Kristi Soomer:

way overpacking because I'd never been on one and my suitcase ripped.

Kristi Soomer:

So it was like a super last minute trip.

Kristi Soomer:

I was a last cancellation spot, fell into the trip.

Kristi Soomer:

So I'm packing my before suitcase rips, zipper rips have to shove everything

Kristi Soomer:

into a small bag, last minute.

Kristi Soomer:

It's like three in the morning.

Kristi Soomer:

And my flight's at like 7:00 AM or something.

Kristi Soomer:

I have to be at the airport.

Kristi Soomer:

So you trying to figure it out.

Kristi Soomer:

And then as I'm like going through everything and bringing

Kristi Soomer:

I'm like, why am I bringing this?

Kristi Soomer:

Like, I'm just going to wear this on the plane.

Kristi Soomer:

And then I might wear this with down here.

Kristi Soomer:

And like, I was just starting to question everything and it kind of sparks the

Kristi Soomer:

concept that like why do we need to travel with so much stuff and why don't

Kristi Soomer:

we have more versatile options for travel?

Kristi Soomer:

So really the first product idea that came up with was this innovative eight

Kristi Soomer:

and one tunic dress scarf, cardigan Cape piece called the Chrysalis Cardi.

Kristi Soomer:

We still have it in our collection today.

Kristi Soomer:

And it was kind of based off that idea that there was really popular

Kristi Soomer:

at the time of the infinity scarf.

Kristi Soomer:

They can convert into like a hundred different things.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah, exactly.

Kristi Soomer:

Except those pieces didn't work because usually the fabric was poor quality.

Kristi Soomer:

Typically it wasn't him.

Kristi Soomer:

You had to like tie it to look like a potato sack, which could be cute.

Kristi Soomer:

But I mean, it did not look cute.

Kristi Soomer:

And so I was like, there's gotta be a better way to do this.

Kristi Soomer:

Like, what if we can just make this thing do like maybe four or five, eight

Kristi Soomer:

things max, not 30, we don't need 30.

Kristi Soomer:

And what if I can find a way to like, hold it together so that when you're wearing

Kristi Soomer:

it, it actually looks like what you're wearing, not a scarf tied into something.

Kristi Soomer:

So through that process, I came up with these like strategically

Kristi Soomer:

placed snaps on this garment, ultra soft, sustainable fabric.

Kristi Soomer:

And then I was like, you know what?

Kristi Soomer:

I gotta launch this.

Kristi Soomer:

I gotta create a product.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's kind of originally how the business ideas sparked was just

Kristi Soomer:

from that one product, which kind of kicked off the whole collection.

Natasha Miller:

Is that where you came up with the name Encircled?

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

Okay, great.

Natasha Miller:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

It's interesting how we name our businesses early stages, and then

Natasha Miller:

it develops into something else.

Natasha Miller:

Sometimes relevant to the name we gave the business.

Natasha Miller:

Other times, not at all yours is in there still.

Natasha Miller:

Tell me, like you're explaining for the very first time, what

Natasha Miller:

does sustainable fashion mean?

Kristi Soomer:

So sustainability and fashion is not just the materials

Kristi Soomer:

that we make a product from.

Kristi Soomer:

That's definitely one component because sustainability is a really

Kristi Soomer:

holistic viewpoint to the production of fashion I would say in general.

Kristi Soomer:

So we call ourselves a slow fashion brand.

Kristi Soomer:

Many people be familiar with fast fashion brands, like H and M and Zara and the

Kristi Soomer:

like, and really fast fashion brands.

Kristi Soomer:

Their goal is to pump out as much new product as possible,

Kristi Soomer:

make it as cheap as possible.

Kristi Soomer:

And therefore it's not necessarily built to last.

Kristi Soomer:

Not really using premium materials, really designed to be

Kristi Soomer:

kind of worn a couple of times

Kristi Soomer:

. Natasha Miller: We could

Kristi Soomer:

Why is that?

Kristi Soomer:

They are making a lot?

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

So like the newest kind of fast fashion brand that's exploded onto the scene

Kristi Soomer:

is one called Sheehan out of China.

Kristi Soomer:

And they launch an average of, I think a thousand styles a day is

Kristi Soomer:

what I heard, which is just, to me, mind blowing because it takes us

Kristi Soomer:

like six months to do one style.

Kristi Soomer:

So I'm like, how are they doing that in one day?

Kristi Soomer:

Like what kind of mechanisms behind the scenes that are driving this?

Kristi Soomer:

But yeah, it's all based on, more is more consumption, trends, not longevity.

Kristi Soomer:

These materials are rarely even close to sustainable and if they

Kristi Soomer:

are, they're like, greenwashed.

Kristi Soomer:

So we're pretty much the opposite of that.

Kristi Soomer:

So we tried to slow down the consumption cycle.

Kristi Soomer:

We really do bring a lot of intention into our design.

Kristi Soomer:

So when we design a piece, we take our time, we fit it on real people,

Kristi Soomer:

multiple bodies, to see how it fits.

Kristi Soomer:

We play around with things we wash tested.

Kristi Soomer:

We use sustainable materials in the production.

Kristi Soomer:

We also use local productions.

Kristi Soomer:

We make everything about 50 kilometers from our office.

Kristi Soomer:

We also knit about half of our fabric and diet locally as well to reduce

Kristi Soomer:

the carbon footprint and then pretty much everything in our supply chain.

Kristi Soomer:

Sustainability.

Kristi Soomer:

So down to the education we're providing to our customer

Kristi Soomer:

on what to do with clothing.

Kristi Soomer:

At the end of life, we have a Encircled community group where

Kristi Soomer:

people can buy, sell and trade.

Kristi Soomer:

If they like outgrow their designs, or maybe they lose

Kristi Soomer:

weight or gain weight or whatever.

Kristi Soomer:

So we try to really embed that spread throughout everything that we do,

Kristi Soomer:

which I would say sum up, if you think of like the fast fashion brand,

Kristi Soomer:

we were just basically the opposite.

Kristi Soomer:

Right, right.

Natasha Miller:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

So what is the big difference in margin for your business

Natasha Miller:

in sustainable clothing versus

Natasha Miller:

none?

Kristi Soomer:

So yes, there's definitely, major difference in terms of cost.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

So the cost of like ethical production, obviously being onshore as well and

Kristi Soomer:

the cost of these premium materials.

Kristi Soomer:

It can be anywhere from 10 to 20 times higher on the labor and fabric side.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's pretty massive.

Kristi Soomer:

However, I would say the internet being what it is has allowed us to

Kristi Soomer:

go direct to consumer, which helps us a lot, because from a wholesale

Kristi Soomer:

model, we would probably have.

Kristi Soomer:

Double our prices.

Kristi Soomer:

So we are on like, they get up in the jazz consumer.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah, absolutely.

Kristi Soomer:

Cause if we were going through like Nordstrom or something like that,

Kristi Soomer:

we would have to probably increase our price like 80, a hundred percent

Kristi Soomer:

even make margin off the back end.

Natasha Miller:

That brings me up a question.

Natasha Miller:

I wear a lot of Eileen Fisher clothes.

Natasha Miller:

Love her,

Natasha Miller:

love her, but a lot of them are made in China and the very expensive,

Natasha Miller:

but they don't last forever.

Natasha Miller:

They do have a give back program, but is that an opportunity for you to stay B Corp

Natasha Miller:

stay sustainable and then go off shore?

Natasha Miller:

Or does that make the sustainability.

Kristi Soomer:

I would say it just depends.

Kristi Soomer:

We're pretty committed to producing and Karen where we're

Kristi Soomer:

based for a number of reasons.

Kristi Soomer:

But I would say obviously the labor and ethics are very important.

Kristi Soomer:

We have a very high minimum wage here, really strong environmental health

Kristi Soomer:

and safety regulations, but also we're really close to our factories.

Kristi Soomer:

So we can literally go pull a t-shirt off the line in like 30

Kristi Soomer:

minutes or go look at the fabric.

Kristi Soomer:

And so their quality is so good because of that, because we can spot mistakes

Kristi Soomer:

very early on versus like, Maybe another brand overseas gets a container

Kristi Soomer:

full of product and they're all like the tag is on backwards and this

Kristi Soomer:

stuff happens all the time in fashion because it's such a handmade business.

Kristi Soomer:

This is the other thing that a lot of people don't know is that there's

Kristi Soomer:

not robots making your clothing.

Kristi Soomer:

These are people holding the fabric, cutting the fabric,

Kristi Soomer:

putting through machines.

Kristi Soomer:

It's like one of the most old school industries.

Kristi Soomer:

Still is out there.

Kristi Soomer:

There have been some advancements like laser cutting, but it's very, very manual.

Kristi Soomer:

So brand like Eileen Fisher, who personally, I just

Kristi Soomer:

think is she's fantastic.

Kristi Soomer:

There are ways to go overseas and find ethical productions for sure.

Kristi Soomer:

But you have to be in a bigger scope and a bigger scope.

Kristi Soomer:

You have to have a lot of people to help you to audit that properly because

Kristi Soomer:

you can't take at face value what the people are saying to you you'd

Kristi Soomer:

have to have people on the ground there, but she probably does to audit

Kristi Soomer:

her factories and stuff like that.

Kristi Soomer:

And the wastewater, everything I know, cause she's a B Corp corporate.

Kristi Soomer:

I know we are too.

Kristi Soomer:

It's so hard to become that.

Kristi Soomer:

So I know she must have these audit trails and stuff like that, but so it is possible

Natasha Miller:

Thank you for leading into this next question then I'm

Natasha Miller:

really interested in what is the process of, and how difficult is

Natasha Miller:

it to become a certified B Corp.

Kristi Soomer:

It's really hard.

Natasha Miller:

I haven't heard detail.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

I would say it's very difficult for a smaller business again, because the

Kristi Soomer:

certification process takes a lot of resources and reporting and information

Kristi Soomer:

that likely you're doing these things, but you're probably not documenting them.

Kristi Soomer:

And so that's where the rubber hits the road.

Kristi Soomer:

Right.

Kristi Soomer:

Because you need the documentation to support you can't just say, "Hey,

Kristi Soomer:

B- corporate, we're doing this."

Kristi Soomer:

And they're like, yeah, it's totally like their regular.

Natasha Miller:

I mean is it, is hard to become a B Corp or harder than

Natasha Miller:

to become a I did this and I thought I was going to tear my hair out an

Natasha Miller:

official women owned certified business.

Natasha Miller:

Oh, prob oh, is it really, really, really hard to,

Kristi Soomer:

I'll have to get links from you on that because we're actually

Kristi Soomer:

not an official women owned business, so I'm not familiar with that process,

Kristi Soomer:

but it is a lot, it takes about six months end to end and a lot of document.

Kristi Soomer:

Compilation when we did it, we just recently recertified.

Kristi Soomer:

So we were certified in 2018 re certified recently, and I had to pick

Kristi Soomer:

up the process cause somebody had left the company who was running it.

Kristi Soomer:

And I was like, whoa, this is a lot of information.

Kristi Soomer:

And I ended up giving up points because it basically, or you, because

Kristi Soomer:

I was like, I just can't, I don't have the bandwidth to do this.

Kristi Soomer:

It's just not my sounded to me.

Kristi Soomer:

Why was it important for you to become a certified B Corp?

Kristi Soomer:

Because there's just so much greenwashing out there.

Kristi Soomer:

And I think consumers are looking towards certifications.

Kristi Soomer:

As a matter of

Kristi Soomer:

- Natasha Miller: What is greenwashing mean,

Kristi Soomer:

Greenwashing, greenwashing or ethic washing is really

Kristi Soomer:

the idea that a brand or company or an influencer or somebody is trying

Kristi Soomer:

to purport themselves as sustainable or ethic when actually they're not,

Kristi Soomer:

and they're not necessarily telling you the whole truth about the thing.

Kristi Soomer:

So an example

Kristi Soomer:

- Natasha Miller: Is there an

Kristi Soomer:

I'll give you a great one.

Kristi Soomer:

So yes, I'm not going to name the brand, but there's a fast fashion

Kristi Soomer:

brand that has a conscious collection.

Kristi Soomer:

And somebody did a study on their conscious collection, which is there

Kristi Soomer:

sustainable collection and realize that those actually more synthetic materials

Kristi Soomer:

in the conscious collection than there is in the non-conscious collection.

Natasha Miller:

Can I say the name of the brand out loud as a guest?

Kristi Soomer:

Yes, allegedly.

Kristi Soomer:

Yes, you can.

Natasha Miller:

I think its H&M.

Natasha Miller:

But anyway, wow.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's like an example of greenwashing.

Kristi Soomer:

Cause a consumer would think, yeah, well look, they're being sustainable,

Kristi Soomer:

but when you start talking Ravel, yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

When you start to read the labels, you're like, whoa, this isn't sustainable.

Kristi Soomer:

Or it's like 20% a sustainable material.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's a great example of greenwashing.

Kristi Soomer:

And again, like anybody can make these claims in my career, I

Kristi Soomer:

worked in toothpaste marketing at one point I was on a product

Kristi Soomer:

that was drug regulated in Canada.

Kristi Soomer:

Say anything about it.

Kristi Soomer:

You had to have like factual studies, clinical studies in fashion, you

Kristi Soomer:

can pretty much say anything.

Kristi Soomer:

So B Corp is really that extra measure of consumer protection

Kristi Soomer:

and it says that we're legit.

Kristi Soomer:

It puts us in really great company with other brands.

Kristi Soomer:

And it's something that I think is becoming more popular too.

Natasha Miller:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

So like Athleta is a B Corp, correct?

Natasha Miller:

So are they upholding all the standards that you are, or is there gray area?

Kristi Soomer:

So there's a continuum.

Kristi Soomer:

So if people are interested, they can go into B- Corp's website and look up

Kristi Soomer:

the brands and it'll show you the score.

Kristi Soomer:

So there's a minimum score then you to get to become a certified B Corp, but the

Kristi Soomer:

range of scores will be quite different.

Kristi Soomer:

So our scores quite a bit higher than Athleta.

Natasha Miller:

Do you put your score on tags?

Kristi Soomer:

We do not, but that's a great idea.

Natasha Miller:

Well, you know, I bring up this question because to educate

Natasha Miller:

everyone, if you do see B Corp, everyone that's not terribly knowledgeable is going

Natasha Miller:

to just think, "oh, it's all the same.

Natasha Miller:

It's all good."

Natasha Miller:

But it's variations of good.

Natasha Miller:

I remember in my event and entertainment production company,

Natasha Miller:

we were hired by Method Soap.

Natasha Miller:

So to help them do a fun stunt to celebrate.

Natasha Miller:

They're B Corp and it wasn't them becoming a B Corp.

Natasha Miller:

I think the celebration was the numbers.

Natasha Miller:

They must have gone up a number and I didn't understand it.

Natasha Miller:

And honestly, at this point I didn't care, but it did make me realize,

Natasha Miller:

oh, there's different levels.

Natasha Miller:

And then how does that affect your revenue and the attention to the brand?

Natasha Miller:

How much does it really help do you think?

Natasha Miller:

Or how can you tell?

Kristi Soomer:

It's hard to measure the impact?

Kristi Soomer:

Really it's a market credibility, but it's also a mark of accountability.

Kristi Soomer:

So for us, we actually have to rewrite our bylaws, our corporate

Kristi Soomer:

bylaws to put into it that we will use business as a force for good.

Kristi Soomer:

So it's actually a legally binding commitment that we've made.

Kristi Soomer:

Eileen Fisher has made.

Kristi Soomer:

Athleta has made that if they do something that is against that practice,

Kristi Soomer:

they'll lose their certification.

Kristi Soomer:

Not only permanently, but probably be publicly shamed for it.

Kristi Soomer:

So one of the benefits of it is that that I'm a very accountable person,

Kristi Soomer:

but what if I sell this company to somebody else, what are they going to do?

Kristi Soomer:

So it is that kind of like deep rooted, sustainability and ethics

Kristi Soomer:

in the business to measure.

Kristi Soomer:

It would be hard to say.

Kristi Soomer:

I do think it is.

Kristi Soomer:

Something that now consumers are starting to look at and understand

Kristi Soomer:

more, which is good because we want those little things to help these

Kristi Soomer:

brands separate from other brands.

Kristi Soomer:

Cause like when you're just picking on price, you're leaving a lot.

Kristi Soomer:

Cause there's a lot of luxury brands out there and nobody talks about

Kristi Soomer:

this that have slave labor in their supply chains just because the

Kristi Soomer:

product is really, really expensive.

Kristi Soomer:

Doesn't mean it's ethically made.

Kristi Soomer:

So there's so much,

Kristi Soomer:

They are just making so much more

Natasha Miller:

money on it.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

Their margins are amazing.

Kristi Soomer:

But it's very ethically dubious.

Kristi Soomer:

So, you know, the more education in this space there just needs to

Kristi Soomer:

be more in general because I think it's a very shrouded industry.

Kristi Soomer:

There's a lot of secrecy, still some more transparency with errors.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

I have a friend or I probably have a couple of friends, but

Natasha Miller:

one particular where she would, she always boasting isn't the right word,

Natasha Miller:

but she's very proud of the choice that she makes and sustainable, not just

Natasha Miller:

clothing, but toothpaste and deodorant.

Natasha Miller:

And she's always giving me.

Natasha Miller:

I was like giving me some deodorant, like, is that a message?

Natasha Miller:

It is very important to her.

Natasha Miller:

And there is a subsection of people that it is important to more than

Natasha Miller:

like, for me, I don't shop that exclusively because of what it means.

Natasha Miller:

But under conversation like this, I probably would.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

I think it's becoming the awareness in the last couple years.

Kristi Soomer:

Exponentially grown just because of everything that

Kristi Soomer:

happened with the pandemic.

Kristi Soomer:

I think supply chains overseas got very disrupted.

Kristi Soomer:

So there's this huge focus on supporting local.

Kristi Soomer:

And a lot of local businesses are very mindful about their sourcing, even when

Kristi Soomer:

it comes to like food and stuff like that.

Kristi Soomer:

Outside of coping.

Kristi Soomer:

So I think it's brought a lot more awareness to space, which is great.

Kristi Soomer:

Now we kind of need it to branch out more because it's still so niche, right?

Kristi Soomer:

It's still like 99% of fashion brands or something are not paying living wages.

Kristi Soomer:

So, you know, we're still like the 1% and not in a good way.

Kristi Soomer:

So we still need that awareness to grow.

Kristi Soomer:

It's just very hard because they dominate the media and they have so much money.

Kristi Soomer:

So it's a slow, we're making progress, but it's definitely not like.

Kristi Soomer:

Exponentially, I would say, but we are making progress in our

Kristi Soomer:

direction as a society, I think.

Natasha Miller:

Well, let's hope so.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

Let's talk about how you're funding your company from the

Natasha Miller:

start where you like I'm going to bootstrap not taking outside money.

Kristi Soomer:

Yes.

Kristi Soomer:

I started it with my own savings of about $20,000.

Kristi Soomer:

I sold my car and I pretty much bootstrapped it from there on

Kristi Soomer:

end until about 2015, I took on a small angel investment.

Kristi Soomer:

I went on a show called Dragon's Den, which is similar to shark tank.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

And actually the episode never aired.

Kristi Soomer:

We filmed for like two hours, never aired and I got two deals,

Kristi Soomer:

took one deal, deal fell through.

Kristi Soomer:

So I lost the deal and I lost the TV.

Natasha Miller:

Why didn't it air?

Kristi Soomer:

They don't air everything.

Kristi Soomer:

They didn't tell you.

Natasha Miller:

Were you not crazy enough.

Kristi Soomer:

I was not crazy enough.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

It was probably too boring for them.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

It was really good for me because number one, it was a validation of my valuation

Kristi Soomer:

because they gave me really good feedback.

Kristi Soomer:

They pumped my tires as an entrepreneur.

Kristi Soomer:

Like it was very helpful that actually ironically, the one person who didn't

Kristi Soomer:

like it on the panel was a fashion guy, but he's from the fast fashion space.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's why I like it, but he didn't like my margins, but yeah,

Kristi Soomer:

so it was very interesting for me.

Kristi Soomer:

But after that episode, I ended up taking on a small angel investment from

Kristi Soomer:

a purpose-driven investor in Toronto, and that's been our only investment sense.

Kristi Soomer:

And that was a very small raise.

Kristi Soomer:

So we've largely just bootstrapped through positive cashflow has been difficult

Kristi Soomer:

for sure at times, because an inventory driven business is quite tricky with

Kristi Soomer:

cashflow, but finance is my background.

Kristi Soomer:

So it's something I'm really.

Kristi Soomer:

I wouldn't say passionate about, but I watched the numbers a lot for sure.

Natasha Miller:

Are you against any other kinds of investments

Natasha Miller:

because of your background?

Kristi Soomer:

No.

Kristi Soomer:

I mean, I think it's individuals.

Kristi Soomer:

What, so, you know, people want to go out and raise a lot of money.

Kristi Soomer:

They should raise a lot of money for me.

Natasha Miller:

For you, are you avoiding that because you really want hands-on and

Natasha Miller:

to really continue to own your product.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

We've had offers for people to invest and some want to take closer

Kristi Soomer:

to a majority share, and I don't want to work for somebody else.

Kristi Soomer:

That's not why I started this.

Kristi Soomer:

So for me, my intent is to really scale up the business and ideally move myself to

Kristi Soomer:

the board someday and sell the business.

Kristi Soomer:

And it's not that I want to take the lion's share of what

Kristi Soomer:

I'm getting from selling the.

Kristi Soomer:

But I just don't want that creative control or restriction.

Kristi Soomer:

We're very blessed to have an investor who's just totally collaborative.

Kristi Soomer:

Like they're there, if we need them, they're not, if we're not some of the

Kristi Soomer:

caveats of taking more capital, I'm sure.

Kristi Soomer:

As you know, is that the more investors you have-

Natasha Miller:

The more opinions, the more accountability.

Kristi Soomer:

The bigger your board, the more they're calling

Kristi Soomer:

you at three in the morning.

Kristi Soomer:

Cause they don't like the P and L from last month.

Kristi Soomer:

And like, personally, I just didn't want that stress, but there's

Kristi Soomer:

other ways to run the business.

Kristi Soomer:

You just have to be a little bit more creative and maybe a little

Kristi Soomer:

bit more thrifty, but we've gotten into some periods where we were

Kristi Soomer:

growing really quickly and we really invested and cashflow in

Kristi Soomer:

any business is just the lifeblood.

Kristi Soomer:

So you have to be so, so careful on, I think Eileen Fisher recently downsized her

Kristi Soomer:

team as well, just because the pandemic has caused so many shifts and things.

Kristi Soomer:

So, so yeah, so it is possible.

Kristi Soomer:

I think to scale a business, we have to be very intentional

Kristi Soomer:

about what you're doing and why.

Natasha Miller:

How do you figure out how many pieces to make of one style?

Natasha Miller:

And I'm asking, because I'm thinking about Eileen Fisher and at Macy's, at

Natasha Miller:

least there's like 70 pieces of one thing.

Natasha Miller:

And I know they're not all going to be sold.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

Why?

Kristi Soomer:

So part of slow fashion is really like minimizing your production

Kristi Soomer:

and doing small batch production.

Kristi Soomer:

So that may seem like a lot, and I don't know what her volumes are, but

Kristi Soomer:

when you think about like somebody like H and M, who's probably doing

Kristi Soomer:

run sizes of like a hundred thousand pieces, she's probably not doing that.

Kristi Soomer:

We're very on the smaller, for sure.

Natasha Miller:

How many of, one of your bestselling pieces do you make at a time?

Kristi Soomer:

Maybe a couple thousand.

Kristi Soomer:

It's not going to be that big number one because the capacity

Kristi Soomer:

here locally, they can't even do run sizes as much bigger than that.

Natasha Miller:

Will you warehouse them?

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah, we warehouse them.

Kristi Soomer:

And then the costs, you don't want to keep too much inventory on hand.

Kristi Soomer:

This is the balance, right?

Kristi Soomer:

Like you want like enough that you have to sell, but then you don't want too much.

Kristi Soomer:

You don't want like six months, you want maybe like two or three months.

Kristi Soomer:

And it's always a dance right, with inventories.

Kristi Soomer:

So that for me has worked really well.

Kristi Soomer:

I'm passionate about starting small.

Kristi Soomer:

So like that's the advice I always give to new entrepreneurs in the space.

Kristi Soomer:

It's like tested design, even us.

Kristi Soomer:

Like when we launch a new design, we rarely run more than 100 to

Kristi Soomer:

200 pieces because we want to see what people think of it.

Kristi Soomer:

Like, do they like it?

Kristi Soomer:

Or they really like resonating with it.

Kristi Soomer:

Is there anything we want to change from a fit perspective?

Kristi Soomer:

And it's a lot easier to do that.

Kristi Soomer:

If you haven't run 2000 pieces.

Kristi Soomer:

And then have to mark down the inventory or carry it or hold it.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's always been, our process is kind of slow and then scale.

Natasha Miller:

How do people find you and your brand for the most part?

Kristi Soomer:

It's a mixed, I would say we do a lot of influencer marketing, so

Kristi Soomer:

a lot of gifting and seating and paid collaborations, lots of paid advertising.

Kristi Soomer:

So we still are pretty heavy into Facebook ads and Instagram ads

Kristi Soomer:

and then organic social as well.

Kristi Soomer:

So we do a lot on Instagram, Facebook and a little bit on

Kristi Soomer:

Tiktok and we really focused on education on our social channels.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's something we're really passionate about as well as

Kristi Soomer:

collaborating with other amazing brands.

Kristi Soomer:

So we do a lot of that with like other B quirks.

Kristi Soomer:

We'll do some marketing campaigns and stuff like that to build awareness.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Natasha Miller:

So what is the biggest challenge that you're

Natasha Miller:

facing in your company today?

Natasha Miller:

When we get off this call and you're, and if you choose to

Natasha Miller:

face this challenge, what is it?

Kristi Soomer:

I think it's finding focus.

Kristi Soomer:

I'm a workaholic.

Kristi Soomer:

So I come from a very high-performing athletic background.

Kristi Soomer:

So I've had to really scale back my hours in the last few years, especially

Kristi Soomer:

the last year, because I've had some health problems and it's been hard for

Kristi Soomer:

me to figure out how to do that in the business without like taking on more.

Kristi Soomer:

So like that schedule.

Kristi Soomer:

When I say to myself, I want to work five hours a day, cause that's all I can do.

Kristi Soomer:

And I look at my schedule and like, actually that looks like nine hours.

Kristi Soomer:

So that is my biggest challenge is not taking on too much.

Kristi Soomer:

I would say as a business owner.

Kristi Soomer:

And then right now we're just starting to try to hire some people as well.

Kristi Soomer:

So finding the right structure, I think for the team is a big challenge too.

Natasha Miller:

That is always an ongoing challenge for small business.

Natasha Miller:

And I think any business, but you're the founder CEO.

Natasha Miller:

And I would guess that you are still working in the business day to day.

Kristi Soomer:

Oh yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah.

Kristi Soomer:

I'm very heavily involved.

Natasha Miller:

Right, and ultimately one day you will probably come to realize.

Natasha Miller:

Even though you love it.

Natasha Miller:

And you're workaholic that it's better for you to be more of a visionary

Natasha Miller:

and strategists rather than the day-to-day person, but everybody has

Natasha Miller:

their own path on their own journey.

Natasha Miller:

So what is your brand's biggest strategy for growth this year?

Kristi Soomer:

I would say focusing on making really amazing products.

Kristi Soomer:

So we've really slowed down our product development cycle a lot.

Kristi Soomer:

We got very excited last year because we had a lot of growth and we're

Kristi Soomer:

like, let's make all this products mostly, but like, we didn't do it

Kristi Soomer:

the way we'd done it all along.

Kristi Soomer:

And I think that impacted us.

Kristi Soomer:

So we've really slowed down product development and tune

Kristi Soomer:

back into our customers.

Kristi Soomer:

Like what do they actually need?

Kristi Soomer:

And really slowed that down.

Kristi Soomer:

That's been like really successful, lots more collaboration this year.

Kristi Soomer:

So lots more partnerships with influencers and lots more reaching

Kristi Soomer:

influencers outside of our typical space.

Kristi Soomer:

So usually we would partner with like slow fashion influencers, but now

Kristi Soomer:

we're reaching out to people in like the food green beauty kind of space.

Kristi Soomer:

Organic lifestyle people who'd be adjacent because I think there's a big

Kristi Soomer:

teaching and learning opportunity there.

Kristi Soomer:

And then probably third, just like working smarter, not harder.

Kristi Soomer:

So we're doing a lot of internal efficiency staff.

Kristi Soomer:

We're actually moving our warehouse out.

Kristi Soomer:

Of our studio in about a month.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's like a really big root because we've been software

Kristi Soomer:

house since the beginning.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's a big like efficiency play as well.

Kristi Soomer:

Right.

Natasha Miller:

What is your number one favorite piece on the site that

Natasha Miller:

we can all go and look at and buy?

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah, the dress, these sweat pants are

Kristi Soomer:

one of our top sellers there.

Kristi Soomer:

I live in mine.

Kristi Soomer:

Love them.

Natasha Miller:

Do you have them now?

Natasha Miller:

I won't ask you to show them.

Kristi Soomer:

I do.

Kristi Soomer:

I do.

Kristi Soomer:

I wear them almost daily and they're just classic.

Kristi Soomer:

They were invented by me after a really long plane ride.

Kristi Soomer:

And I was tired of it.

Kristi Soomer:

It was like polyester pants.

Kristi Soomer:

You have to wear for work.

Kristi Soomer:

And I was like, why can't make dress pants looked like sweatpants.

Kristi Soomer:

And I was like, I guess that person's meat.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's been the legacy of that pan and it is one of our most flattering

Kristi Soomer:

pants on many shapes and sizes.

Kristi Soomer:

So that one is a good one.

Natasha Miller:

And what is your size range?

Natasha Miller:

I really see like Athleta, uh, they're going in store and so

Natasha Miller:

many stores are up to three X.

Natasha Miller:

I don't know how far up they go, but-

Kristi Soomer:

Yeah, I think online, I think now they go up to six X.

Kristi Soomer:

We go up to four X on some styles.

Kristi Soomer:

Generally every style has extra, extra large to extra small.

Kristi Soomer:

We've started doing petite lengths.

Kristi Soomer:

We're going to start doing tall.

Kristi Soomer:

That's a bit of a challenge for a smaller brand to do that

Kristi Soomer:

many sizes and every style.

Kristi Soomer:

Cause it, quadruples the inventory usually, and also our factories.

Kristi Soomer:

If you do above a certain number of sizes, usually six, you get up charged again.

Kristi Soomer:

So it becomes more and more expensive.

Kristi Soomer:

So that's one of the costs of producing locally, but we want to do more of that.

Kristi Soomer:

So like really we're focusing on less is more in our collection and we added two

Kristi Soomer:

styles and up to four acts like two best.

Kristi Soomer:

Now we're adding two more, I think, in the fall.

Kristi Soomer:

So kind of as we identify those hero products, we're kind of building them

Kristi Soomer:

out and making sure also too, that we're designing them in a way that's

Kristi Soomer:

intentionally designed for that size versus just grading up the size.

Kristi Soomer:

So we actually refit all of our extended sizes on plus size fit models to make sure

Kristi Soomer:

that they're sitting how they should sit.

Kristi Soomer:

Um, and the faculty-

Natasha Miller:

It's like cooking.

Natasha Miller:

You can't just double or triple a recipe, it doesn't always worked out.

Kristi Soomer:

No, no, it'll look weird because proportions don't necessarily,

Kristi Soomer:

we're not like all of a sudden we all go up by the same inch, like in every area.

Kristi Soomer:

Like it's very, that would be weird.

Kristi Soomer:

Right.

Kristi Soomer:

So, so yeah, something we want to do more of, it's been a little challenging,

Kristi Soomer:

but I think the more we refine our collection and focus on fewer, but better

Kristi Soomer:

pieces, the more we can do that better.

Natasha Miller:

For more information, go to the show notes where

Natasha Miller:

you're listening to this podcast.

Natasha Miller:

Want to know more about me, go to my website, officialnatashamiller.com.

Natasha Miller:

Thank you so much for listening.

Natasha Miller:

I hope you loved the show.

Natasha Miller:

If you did, please subscribe also, if you haven't done so yet, please leave a review

Natasha Miller:

where you're listening to this podcast.

Natasha Miller:

Now I'm Natasha Miller.

Natasha Miller:

And you've been listening to Fascinating Entrepreneurs.

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