One year ago, the beloved bag I spent years imagining, perfecting, redesigning, and eventually making, arrived at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. With only 2 hours left before the start of our first pop-up shop at Jackalope, they finally arrived. True to my nature, they made it “just in time”, or dare I say, fashionably late. What have I learnt since then? To make a long story short, a lot. Now here’s the long story…
The truth is, it’s quite difficult to pin point exactly how or why I decided to start a company and design bags. You could go as far back as to being about 10 years old making a purse out of cut up jeans with my godmothers’ very old Singer sewing machine. A few years later, I had hand sewn an art bag for my sketchbook and pencils (which I had to resew every few days, because I had no idea how to make a bag) with colorful fabrics I found at my dad’s studio. Then fast forward to being a student at McGill University (after being turned down from every PhD program in neuropsychology I had applied to) and the day that I found my tuna sandwich spilled over my gym gear and school books in my very torn up gym bag and just thought, there must be a better way to carry all this stuff. Little did I know, that moment changed everything.
The truth is, I never thought I would go into business, but I did. All I did from sewing my first bag to today is follow my intuition. With no formal education in business or design I had no idea what I was doing, technically, but that didn’t matter. I took out my sketch book, wrote a two-page business plan for the McGill Dobson Cup, and to my surprise, actually won a prize. Slowly, my perspective started to change. Being an entrepreneur is not about being right. It’s about knowing that you can deal with the truth when it comes your way. When you jump into the unknown with an open mind, ready to learn, I truly believe that anything is possible. The first step is trusting yourself that you can do it. Trust that you have what it takes to pick yourself up after you fall, that you have the ability to learn and grow from every success and every failure, and that you can handle whatever life throws at you. You might not always do it with a smile on your face, but you can do it.
Fail often. Learn quickly.
You can’t innovate while following the path others have taken. The experimentation process is about finding the subtle weaknesses, testing your assumptions and imagining new solutions. When you push boundaries, you will inevitably fail, or fall flat a few times. But, when you get back up, you (hopefully) learn to do things differently. There are more times than I can count where I thought, what was I thinking? How did that decision turn out so wrong? Accepting imperfections was extremely difficult and frustrating at times, but it is an essential part of growth. You can strive for perfection, while accepting that the path to success will take some unexpected twist and turns along the way. Get out of your comfort zone and take a chance on yourself.
Don’t be afraid of change.
Knowing when to change something in your product, your strategy, or your life isn’t always clear. However, don’t avoid change simply because you are afraid of the unknown. Changing a direction does not mean you were wrong. It means you know how to adapt to new information and take in new opportunities that simply weren’t there before. A defining moment in the first year after launch is when we realized that although there were many great things in the manufacturing and textiles we selected, it wouldn’t work in the long run if we wanted to meet the demands of our market. We had to look at every piece of the puzzle, pull together every resource together and make a change. This was a huge risk. After analyzing all the possibilities, hashing out the pros and cons of every possible move we could make, a decision was made. We invested every resource we had into our long-term growth. Change can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it is essential to our evolution. Keep what’s working and change what’s not.
Do some good
Every day I try to wake up with a focus on making things better. If I was focused on the bottom line, making a quick dollar, I wouldn’t still be here. Being a profitable business is extremely important for obvious reasons. However, building a business with purpose keeps me going, especially during the tough times. When you know you are building a product that is not growing profits at the cost of human and environmental exploitation, it feels good. When I strive to build and maintain honest relationships with the people I work with, it makes me happy. A happy life is built through real human connections and honest relationships, not by maximizing your short-term profits. We do the tough job because it has meaning and we believe in something bigger than ourselves.
Get your hands dirty
There’s no substitute for hard work. Whether you are a young entrepreneur, business veteran, or simply still figuring out this thing called life, hard work always pays off. You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t put in the work, you will not achieve your full potential. Perseverance will get you through the tough times, the sleepless nights, and steer you towards your successes. It’s not always about moving upwards, it’s about getting the job done to the best of your ability. There’s nothing glamourous about long days and no paycheck waiting for you. You do it because you love it and you believe that all this hard work will eventually bring you towards your goal. You learn to enjoy the little successes, the laughs, the cries, and the people that support you every step of the way. The process of “getting your hands dirty” will teach you more about yourself than you ever thought possible.
When we stay true to ourselves, we build that human connection that is honest and authentic. My friends, my family, and so many amazing people I’ve met along the way have become an instrumental part of this story. As I plan the next chapter, I remind myself of what I have learned, what I want to change, and how I can continue to be better every day. Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and don’t let anyone limit your dreams.