Why Doing Good is Good for Small Business

Written by Laura-Jean Bernhardson, CEO and Founder of Fresh Collective

Small business owners are well aware they face a lot of challenges in standing out from the competition.

Everyone is looking to spread awareness of their business and gain new customers.

So how can working a social or humanitarian cause into your business help you do this?

And just how do you do it while helping the bottom line at the same time?

Since fall of 2015, I’ve been involved in the Syrian refugee cause here in Toronto, starting with sponsoring a family and collecting clothing at one of my stores for what was intended to be a small clothing drive to prepare for their arrival.


Check out what happened here!



Since then, I’ve taken on fundraising for a Syrian mother and her family (we reached the goal and are now waiting for paperwork to process) and now another Syrian family by sharing the project with my business audience and my personal network.


This is the family of displaced Syrians we are now fundraising for. They left Syria for Libya after their homes were destroyed. Then war broke out in Libya as well, and their work permits expired. They can’t stay – it’s not safe. They can’t go home – it’s been destroyed.


Several other small businesspeople have jumped on board, and we’ve seen the results.

Beyond helping people in need, which is awesome, it’s created benefits for our businesses.

We’ve started a Facebook group, The Do-Gooders, offering peer support, coaching and networking for any small business people who want to add a cause into their business.


Join that Facebook group here.


You can choose any cause for your business to join the Facebook group and get support in making it work, but if you want to join in this ready-made cause, we’d love to have you join us as a $1000 fundraiser for Nour and her family.

Read more about her story and our structure for fundraising here.

Here are just some of the benefits we’ve seen in taking on a cause in your small business.

Taking on a cause in your business gives you a chance to show your customers, and potential new customers where your heart and your company’s core values are.

These days, many savvy customers want to buy where they feel people care and they’re doing more than just buying *things*. Offering them a chance to support the cause you’ve taken on allows them to feel good about their consumer choices.

Mass media is interested in “something different”.

Oonagh Duncan, a Toronto fitness expert who runs bootcamps and programs for fitness, shared her fundraising campaign on Facebook and it was just picked up by a Toronto Star reporter for an incredible full page article on the front of the Life Section.


Joining a fundraising project (like ours) is an incredible way to increase your professional network.

In the last year, I’ve worked alongside hundreds of amazing new people from various communities that I would never have come in contact with if I had stayed in my normal routine. Those wonderful people have all become part of my personal and professional network.

Some tips on how to do it:

Choose a cause that makes sense for your business.

Chances are if it’s a cause close to your heart and your business is close to your heart, it’s automatically a good fit.

Share from your heart.

Tell people why this is an important cause, and why it moved you to help.

Prepare to take a stand.

If your cause is in any way controversial, you may face some critics. In my case, some people are against refugees coming to Canada. I have to be OK with differing opinions about that. Given the culture of my business, I think that most customers and potential customers will be inspired by fundraising to help people in need, not turned off.

Be prepared to “work it”.

We had to keep on sharing the project from different angles, inviting people to come on board. With the Nour fundraiser, we tried a structure that just didn’t work and we had to come up with a new idea.

Be specific about what you’re asking.

Create a structure that makes it easy for people to say “yes”. For us, we decided to break down the $23,000 we need to raise for Nour by asking 23 people to join us as $1000 fundraisers in their community. We were clear about looking for team members, and this gave people something tangible to say “yes” to.

Use the project to get exposure to new audiences or to launch a new product.

It’s fine if you operate business as usual and donate a portion of sales to the cause, but really that comes out of your bottom line. Don’t miss the opportunity to share this campaign with new audiences and invite them out to support the cause while supporting your business, of course. Donate the proceeds of a new product or service for a limited time. Have a day where all or a portion of profits are donated. There are a million ways to create a win/win, and we can help you come up with those in our Facebook Group, the Do-Gooders.

Don’t be shy, and don’t be discouraged.

Like anything in business, we found that this takes work and teamwork to produce results. Joining a community like ours will help you think of that fresh idea or that new angle that can push your campaign to the goal.





The Business of Craft – with Jennifer Ger of Foxy Originals

Last week, Fresh Collective’s Founder and CEO Laura-Jean Bernhardson had the pleasure of being a guest speaker at Jennifer Ger’s George Brown course The Business of Craft. 


It was an inspiring experience, and Laura-Jean was excited to find out Jennifer had created the course herself. Here’s their conversation about this course and the challenges many crafters, designers and artists have to figure out the business side of things.



Jennifer Ger, (left) co-owner of Foxy Originals and Laura-Jean Bernhardson, Founder and CEO of Fresh Collective.

LJ: This course, The Business of Craft, is so needed! I wish I could have taken it when I was starting out as a designer! And you made up the course yourself, didn’t you? Can you tell me about how you developed the material and why you saw a need for the course?


JG:  I had formal business training at the Richard Ivey School of Business at the University of Western Ontario, and while I knew a ton about business strategy and managerial level decision making when I graduated, I was missing the tactical day-to-day knowledge of how to actually start, grow and build a brand. 


Over the past 18 years of building Foxy Originals jewelry, my business partner and I have gone from selling jewelry in our dorm room to selling our line to large chains like Target, Barnes and Noble, The Bay and Indigo. 


Through the process I’ve learned a ton.  I meet many struggling small business owners who wrestle with the same issues about bringing their product to market as I had in the early days.  After answering  many of the same questions from different ‘makers’  I decided I’d take matters into my own hands and that’s when ‘The Business of Craft’ was created.


I put the course together through a lot of research, speaking with colleagues and fellow business owners and spending time really honing in on the best teaching methods to propel a business forward.

Jennifer and some of her students. This was a really engaged bunch with great questions and a clear passion for making their businesses work!

LJ: Working with so many emerging designers and makers over the years, I see similar themes in business challenges. What are the themes of the biggest obstacles or challenges you see your students facing?


JG:  The course is in its third year and the same themes definitely crop up year over year. These can be surrounding how to price one’s product, general fear about ‘getting out there’ and promoting oneself and also fear of being copied, just to name a few. 


LJ: What is your biggest piece of advice for someone starting a business as a designer? What’s the ONE thing they should definitely do in the first year?


The biggest thing a maker should do is understand the profitability surrounding their product.  This means really knowing the true cost of their product- labour included, people!


Then they must understand what the market is willing to pay for their product in order to determine if they can create a healthy profit.  If they are going to put all this time into building a brand, the first step is to ensure that what they are doing is profitable…because after all the goal is to quit our day job right? 


If you can’t do that what you have is a hobby and not a business.
LJ: What was your biggest mistake when you were starting out? Do you have any particular failures that you overcame?


My biggest mistake was not understanding the needs of a retailer.  We didn’t even have separate price points for retail and wholesale channels if you can believe it.


We were 19 and very green I’m telling you, these students learn from ALL of my mistakes so they’ll never have to make them like Suzie and I did.


LJ: Being with you in the class, I can see that you have a real passion for helping your students succeed and see what’s possible for their business and career. Like you really care about them, which is so awesome. Is there a personal passion or drive behind teaching for you?
I have a fondness for connecting with students and I find teaching fuels me with energy. I had many bad teachers over the years but the good ones were the ones that really explained things in a way that got me excited and their lessons stuck with me for life.  I have so much to give my students and I work hard to connect with them in a meaningful way with useful course content and mixed teaching methods.
I’m fortunate to have turned my passion into a profitable business and I want to help others do the same. Seeing the graduates of this course move closer to fulfilling their business goals with the tools they’ve learned is such a joy!


The real impacts of negative self messages in our lives – by Ross Gordon

When we send ourselves negative messages about ourselves, we can do so forgetting two things:
  • They came from us, they’re subjective, and 
  • If we say them, we can un-say them.
Negating thoughts may have started from something said by another, or a broadcast message propelled by someone’s desire for us to buy their product or service, but it is what we do with them that gives them their dangerous clout.
We attach a special significance to these judgments. They slide easily from being one view coming from one person at one time in one place, to being “facts”. We collect these facts believing they are about us in some meaningful way: they are “facts about us”. We feel they touch some truth about us, or about the world, and once we give them that status they can easily become thoughts and views that may never be questioned.


 Spaces are limited! Sign up today!



In effect, we build a jail cell, incarcerate ourselves, and throw away the key. That it is a containment of our own construction eludes us — and we are no less prisoners for it.
This process occurs not just in regard to the bodies we inhabit. We collect evidence against ourselves, and tote it around with us wherever we go. Funny trait, that. Not funny ha ha. These kinds of judgments cost us in a number of ways.
They get in the way of us experiencing ourselves as great. They exist like asterisks should we get too fond of ourselves, reining in our joy and self love. They deprive us of aliveness, of joy, of spontaneity. They take us from the world and from ourselves. They take up valuable and finite emotional real estate. They draw energy away from other things.
role models group

The Fresh Collective Role Models program is all about showing our outfits on a range of bodies and shapes. Seven lovely real women from Toronto model and promote fashion for real, grown up women with real busy lives. This is one of the ways Fresh Collective is showing a commitment to celebrating a range of beauty for women. For more about the Role Models program, click the picture.

When we sit in our mental cells, grimly contemplating our limitations, we miss opportunities to enjoy the greatness that resides in others, and in ourselves. When we scribe our shortcomings on a papyrus scroll and tuck it under our arm, we remove ourselves from the world.
These complaints about ourselves might also seem to be a laundry list of things to fix, however, they tend not to get fixed or reversed, and their most onerous price tag is that they become permanent blocks to unconditional self love. They are costly.
They cost us, and they don’t have to.
If we are willing to cast these things aside (and there are ways to do this) we open ourselves up to a new world, literally. Flowers smell sweeter, colours are more vivid. Our lives get more meaning and purpose and we can live lives from that context.
It is that big.
When you find yourself critiquing yourself and your body, such views might seem like mere observation of fact. They could be, but they could also be the very things that have you struggle to see yourself as a beautiful gift to the world.
And what would life be like if you saw yourself as a beautiful gift to the world, every day?


What would that make possible?



Join us June 6, from 7 pm to 9 pm, for a conversation about creating a real mindset shift around the negative messages we send ourselves. If you, like so many of us, look in the mirror and see a list of things to fix, or think you’ll be happier or dress better when you “lose the weight”, stop waiting for life to start. Learning to love yourself and your body unconditionally can be a life changing experience. 

  Spaces are limited! Sign up today!



Earn money! Share your love of style! Host a VIP fashion party at Fresh Collective!

Who hosts a VIP party at Fresh Collective?

All kinds of women who want to share their love of fashion with their friends or client base!

Whether you’re an independent Image Consultant, another kind of style professional with a client base, or you’re simply a fashion and FC lover who would like to bring friends, we can help you set up a great VIP party!

Read on for more details!



Parties are usually booked from 7 pm – 9 pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. We supply staff and refreshments; you supply the guests!

Many of our VIP Party Hosts also prepare something “extra” for their guests. Examples include a presentation on the seasons’ trends or individual colour analysis.

We can help you come up with an idea that suits your talents and your audience and we have a projector, screen and chairs for presentations.

** Click here for more information and to sign up for the next steps! **

We also offer a special selection of discounted merchandise only for your guests and only for the night of the party.


Getting paid is simple. Within 7 days of the party, our Fresh Collective office team will send you a cheque for 15% of the sales at the party. Or you can choose to earn 25% in store credit (or a combination of both).

Your guests go home happy after a fun night of VIP shopping! You earn money or fashion! Pretty awesome, eh?

** Click here for more information and to sign up for the next steps! **


Showcase Event for the #MustHave16 competition

 You’re invited! 
Showcase Flyer_Poster

 Click on the poster above for event info and to buy tickets online.

Meet the 5 finalists and see their dresses! Many applied but these 5 stood out with creative sketches and bold ideas.


The next step was to meet with industry experts in fashion, retail, social media and marketing at the Mentor Day.


 Here’s a great video overview of the Mentor Day produced by the folks at Retail Assembly.


Armed with the feedback from the experts, the designers constructed their samples. The sample dresses were on display for three days in April in “Innovation Stations” at Fresh Collective locations on Queen West and Roncesvalles Village.
On the left, we have Bulgun Puteeva’s dress, and on the right is Denise David’s.
 Here we have Vinita Srivastava’s dress on the left and Annie Qu’s on the right.
Customers were invited to try on the dresses, fill out surveys and offer their feedback as well as vote whether they would buy that style or not.
The goals of the competition are to support emerging designers in understanding what it really takes to appeal to customers and SELL their designs.
As well, Fresh Collective is always looking to nurture and support that next generation of designers. In fact, a participant from a previous competition, Alanna Klatt, participated in Fresh Collective’s Fresh Start program and has now joined the ranks (and racks!) at Fresh Collective.
Presenting the finalists in the #Musthave16 competition!
From left: Annie Qu, Denise David, Bulgun Puteeva, Krysta Whissell and Vinita Srivastava.




Mentorship Day – for creative professionals in fashion and other industries – April 9


You may have been hearing about the exciting #MustHave16 Summer Dress competition and we have an exciting new part of it to tell you about.  Fresh Collective has proudly partnered with Art of Fashion and Retail Assembly to support emerging designers through the competition, and our goal is to find that next designer to join our ranks and our racks in our stores!

Along the way in the competition, we have opportunities for education, exposure and connections PLUS all of the above in one big Mentorship Day on April 9.

********   BUY TICKETS HERE ************


On April 9. in addition to one-on-one mentoring from the industry experts for the competitors, each expert will be giving a 20 minute presentation on their various specialities for the ticket buying audience.  Check our all the great people you can meet and learn from, including Fresh Collective’s own CEO and founder Laura-Jean!

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Are you a designer interested in the competition?  You have until March 1 to apply!  Don’t miss it – this could be your big break!

Now more about the Mentorship Day!  Just look at these awesome experts!


This day will have lots of information for entrepreneurs and creative professionals from a lot of fields.  After all, building a brand is the same process whether it’s coats or notebooks!


********   BUY TICKETS HERE ************


********   BUY TICKETS HERE ************


Designer Call – The #MustHave16 Summer Dress Competition

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As part of our commitment to support and develop emerging Canadian designers, Fresh Collective has once again partnered with Art of Fashion for a design competition.  Here the founder of Art of Fashion, the fabulously passionate about Canadian fashion Michelle Planche describes the opportunity for emerging designers.

This competition is designed to walk emerging designers through several of the key steps to business success.  Both Art of Fashion and Fresh Collective are passionate about empowering designers about the business of fashion.

Pretty but unwearable designs on a runway is not what we’re about.  We’re about understanding the customer, the marketplace, the utility AND style of fashion that sells!

In our competitions, we engage the designers in soliciting customer feedback to make those tweaks that will have the dress actually SELL!  As part of the competition, they are also required to market the designs through social media – a key part of success that many emerging designers miss either because they don’t know how or they don’t find the time.

Participating in the competition is a win in itself!  The real world exposure, education, mentoring and connections are invaluable.  However the winning design will be sold on the racks of Fresh Collective!  Our goal is finding the next best-selling designer that we can work with forever!

Alanna Klatt, a participant in a past competition went on to participate in #FreshStart and is now a current designer selling at Fresh Collective!  She is thrilled with the support, knowledge and business success she got through working with us.  Will you be next?

This could be the big break you’re looking for!  To apply go here:

application button





CEO Report- Business Behind the Scenes from Laura-Jean


2015 has been quite an exciting year at Fresh Collective so far, and we’ve got almost 5 months to go still! We’ve been working hard to prepare our business to grow.

Did you know our goal is 100 stores world wide? We’ve only got 97 to go!!  

Here are just a few of the new initiatives we’ve successfully put in place so far this year:

For our employees, we put in group benefits for full timers (includes massage!) and an advancement training program.  We also created a Profit Sharing Plan. Our goal is to keep our fabulous staff and provide opportunities for growth, challenge and rewards long term as we grow the business together.

For our customers we put in new fun promotions offering better discounts and freebies as well as our new loyalty program with Vicinity.  You may notice that we have more of just what you want on the racks but what you don’t know is that we invested in Retail Mavens, which is a small consulting company that specializes in helping independent businesses thrive and grow.  At the core of their program is a scientific inventory management system that helps us make sure we have the best selection on the racks for YOU!

We’ve introduced new clothing and accessory lines from Toronto, elsewhere in Ontario, Montreal, BC and internationally. We launched the #FCfreshstart program to help support emerging designers enter the marketplace and succeed.  This year we also partnered with Plan Canada to create the Do Better Program to raise funds for women entrepreneurs in developing countries!

We continue to showcase women from the community on our Style Profile blog, and give them a platform to share what they’re up to.  We also recently started creating videos of some of the designers we work with in their studios to help connect with the public and promote their work.

And all of these things translate into a better business and better sales for the local independent designers we work with.  We work hard on managing the sales and marketing process so they can focus on designing and producing their beautiful lines. And we believe this is a contribution to the local economy, to Toronto culture and to women who love the alternative to the mainstream fashion industry.

Thank you for all your support through 2015.  It means the world to all of us and it allows us to get better and better for you!

~~ xoxox  With love from Laura-Jean on behalf of the whole Fresh Collective family!


New Loyalty Program: Vicinity Rewards!


Do you know about Vicinity already?  This is a loyalty program designed for small businesses and we just joined!  Aside from collecting points on every purchase towards future discounts, you can receive special promotions, FREE FRESHBUCKS, birthday gifts and more just by being a member.  

Did I mention it’s FREE to join?  AND, no need for another card for your wallet- we can track your points for you.  We LOVE our customers and are so excited to have this great program for you!

Ms. Haselgrove’s Picks and Tips – Bloomin’ Brilliant Design

Jane' new art

A new label has an infinitely better chance of succeeding when the designer is able to respond to the customers’ needs.  It takes a lot of work and flexibility to make sure your product is succeeding when it hits the marketplace and some designers can get discouraged when sales are slow to begin with.

Rhea Jacinto of Bloomin’ Brilliant Design is a great example of an adaptable entrepreneur.   She works with me every week to bring new styles, replenish what’s sold and switch out what hasn’t.  Through being this involved, I know she is gaining valuable insight to design the pieces that people will love – and buy!

When a designer is new, I’m happy to spend extra time helping them understand what customers are looking for.  Sometimes the design is beautiful, but it might not be practical to wear to work and some tweaks can help make the style more accessible.  Sometimes, with clothing, it can be fit or comfort issues.  To succeed as a designer means getting all the elements right- quality, price point, fit, comfort and style- and that’s not easy to do!

Aside from being a smart and easy-to- work with business person, Rhea is a very creative and talented designer.  Of all her pieces, I love her statement necklaces the best.  I chose three of my favourites to feature here.


Necklace: Onora – Bloomin’ Brilliant, $52


Necklace: Mara – Bloomin’ Brilliant, $ 55


Necklace: Lexa – Bloomin’ Brilliant, $ 83


Come on in and check out Rhea Jacinto’s fabulous line of jewellery, Bloomin’ Brilliant at Queen Street and Roncesvalles.




jane's bio