Love Letter from Laura-Jean: Getting to know YOU

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At Fresh Collective we are all about YOU!

To us, YOU are the most fascinating creature alive, and we are ready to listen to whatever you have to tell us. You, our customer base, are AMAZING!

We really get that you are the coolest women in Toronto, and we just want to know more! We know you’re individualists. You may or may not be concerned with trends, but you love to look current, polished and cool. You have busy lives (not unlike us who work here and design the products!) and so you need versatile and comfortable clothes and accessories and you also want to look awesome and feel like your outer self reflects your inner self.

We are embarking on a project of growth for Fresh Collective, growing to several locations in Toronto (and then going beyond!) and we’re asking for your support. Our vision is that Fresh Collective revolutionizes the fashion industry in North America and that Toronto is the center of that.

What’s going on now in the fashion industry at large is that a lot of women are left not feeling good about their options or how the fashion industry makes us feel about ourselves. There’s a lot of concern about “fast fashion” – the cheap trendy pieces that go out of style fast – and what it does for the environment. There’s also concern about working conditions in factories. Alongside this, there are well known stats of how often small businesses fail. I believe a lot of people WANT to shop local, and then just find they don’t get what they want so it’s easy to go for a cheaper or more convenient option. This disenchantment is a factor in a lot of these business failures. Customers don’t get what they want and business owners are afraid to really ask, for fear they will hear something they don’t want to hear. The way things are going, local businesses close every day.

If we let things play out as they usually do, many of the smaller independent designers we work with will decide to go out of business. I’ve seen many, many do just that over the ten years we’ve been running Fresh Collective; eventually Fresh Collective would go out of business. I would retire, or get too old to keep going and it would all wind down. That’s just the usual way.

In the face of all this, I see something different for our future. I see Fresh Collective growing to many, many locations, each selling a wonderful mix of independent designers work; each a hub of creativity and beauty in the neighbourhoods. Each store is staffed by committed, passionate and fun store staff who know the customers by name, help them get exactly what they want and help them feel transformed, beautiful and self expressed every day.

We see a future where Fashion Grads can build a career in starting their own line, being creative and fulfilled and getting the the support they need to connect with customers in our shops. We see a future where communities are vibrant and full of character, where Fresh Collective locations can thrive all over Toronto with more and more local designers growing and succeeding with us. We see Fresh Collective providing a model for other small businesses to grow and thrive and maintain their character, and Toronto being a better place for lots of reasons because of what we create together. I see Fresh Collective outliving me, as we are working to build a solid business structure that can live on into the future for ALL the people- staff, designers and customers, who have made it what it is.

We are asking for your involvement to make this happen. We just want to know all about you so we can meet your needs better and you can shop with us more often!

What do you want from us? What do you love about us? What frustrates you about us? What can we do to make you happy? Tell us about your jobs, your kids, your lives and give us the clues to make sure Fresh Collective is exactly what you want!

Know that in taking the time to do this, you’re really part of a fashion revolution, a small business revolution and you’re very much part of shaping the future.

I’m really serious when we say we’re here to listen, and each survey will get a personal answer from me. Thank you very much in advance for your time. We couldn’t do it without you!

xo – Laura-Jean



Love Letter from Laura-Jean: All You Need is Love

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Hello lovers!  Lovers of fashion, lovers of life, lovers of people and the wonder of everything that is great in the world!

If I sound like I’ve gone off the deep end, maybe I have, and it’s pretty awesome here!  I’m working on a project in my business that’s very close to my heart- the construction of an official company culture.

I started this project with individual coffee meetings with each member of the FC staff, and asked them what they want in a company.  I got a lot of great ideas and it fit with most of what I’ve been seeing and feeling is there all along.  Now it’s time to make it all official and iron out some of the kinks.

The biggest theme that’s there is LOVE!  People want to LOVE their job and the people they work with.  They want harmony, creativity and teamwork; innovation, advancement, growth and prosperity.  They want to LOVE the customers (and with our client base, that’s easy!) and they want the customers to LOVE them.

People don’t always put it in exactly those words though.  It can be scary to admit.  If we offer love and are rejected, it hurts and we recoil and protect ourselves next time (and often forever more!).  If we ask for love and it’s not delivered, it hurts, and we learn not to ask again.  Humans just tend to do that.

Another thing I see is that love is not always an easy path.  We have life to deal with.  And what I’m committed is building a company culture with enough love in it that we can weather the tough spots, be straight with each other and support each other in living out our dreams.

One of our store leaders told me about a small retail business she worked for a few years back that recently closed.  She told me the staff saw flaws in the way it was run, and as she listed them I listened, and nodded and felt bad for everyone involved.  Small businesses going bankrupt is a pretty ordinary fact of life.

Two days later I emailed her to say that I was now horrified that in that conversation I acted like it was normal.  What I saw is that we can create a different world- an extraordinary one that doesn’t need to have this happen.  There was some kind of breakdown (one that seem to happen too often when things fall apart) where the staff thought things should be different but didn’t feel powerful enough to talk to the owners of the store, or they tried and the owners didn’t listen – who knows exactly what happened.  The customers also may not have complained, or requested what changes they wanted.

And in the end everyone loses; jobs lost, a business bankrupt and a community less vibrant.

Something ordinary played out.  And it will again tomorrow in another small business.  And the next day and the next.

What I’m committed to building into the culture at Fresh Collective is a love and a listening that will allow us all to avoid the fate of most small businesses.  Together we’re building an extraordinary company; one where we love each other enough to voice concerns and listen to them. One where we take action to build a future together that includes growth and prosperity for Fresh Collective and the designers we work with.  And we’ll do that through just being awesome for our customers and being easy for you to love.

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I LOVE my amazing and passionate co-workers who challenge themselves everyday to bring us all excellent work.  I LOVE the brave and creative designer/entreprenuers who choose to work with us to showcase their products and build their businesses with us.

And I LOVE YOU, dear customers.  You have stuck with us through growing pains and changes and loved us enough to continue to shop with us, to request new things as your needs change and to complain when we let you down.

We are a united, ambitious and powerful team, taking a stance to love our careers, love our company, love the designers and love the Canadian fashion industry.  And we’re using that love to fuel our work in bringing YOU joy and inspiration every day.
So tell us, how are we doing so far?
With love and from the bottom of my heart,
Laura-Jean on behalf of the whole Fresh Collective Team
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Love Letter from Laura-Jean

Lately I’ve been getting in touch with the true passion I have for what I do, and I’ve been really emotional about it.  Fresh Collective has become more than a business for me. It’s a calling; a life mission.  And all these years as I’ve been acting that way, pouring my heart and soul into the business, working ridiculously long hours and investing and reinvesting to make it grow, I couldn’t quite tap into the full picture of what drove me.

I know I LOVE working with the designers who join us and helping and watching as they grow their businesses.  Every success they have makes me as happy as they are as they overcome all the hurdles and heartaches of running a small business.

I know I love the personal challenge of business, seeing things not working and needing to be strategic and innovative to turn things around.  There is so much magic in making a business work that I had no idea was there.  I thought business was boring and dry and sewing clothes was creative and fun.  I now see building a business as the most creative thing I’ve ever taken on!

As I got clear on that, and the business started to grow, I saw what it meant to all our new employees joining us.  I see myself in every single one of them, and it brings me to tears (literally- I’m a big crier). Joe, Angela and Jamie are much better store managers than I ever was.  Jane can see how operations should be and make it happen.  And Jenna and Allison pouring all their ideas and passion into social media and marketing is much more and much better than I could ever do- and these are just a few examples of our stellar staff.

What has been moving me lately is seeing them doing the work that I used to do when I was so spread thin and juggling everything, and seeing the work now flourish and be able to be followed through on, the business to thrive and grow, them to feel confident and challenged in their career and that lit a new passion in me- to build a company that like-minded people can work in, communicate openly, contribute ideas, be in harmony, work out conflicts, innovate and have the support of the company.  So defining the company culture of Fresh Collective that allows us the best work environment ever has become a major project for me for 2013.

I also have the support of my team and that’s huge! I don’t have to be such a lone wolf anymore.  After an awesome meeting I broke down crying tears of joy and said to Jane, “I finally see I’m not alone anymore!”  as it made me realize how lonely it had been in the early days when I took on everything myself.  I’d even load up my bike trailer to deliver merchandise to the stores!

And now, the final piece of the puzzle that moves me beyond anything I thought possible is the way relationships with customers are opening up.  We’ve had a loyal following from the beginning but more and more women are really getting what we do and wanting to be a part of it.  And what we do is way more than just selling dresses and tops.

We are in the business of feelings and transformation.  My favourite days in the store are when a woman comes in and she’s down.  She’s frustrated.  She hates shopping and feels bad about herself.  Maybe she gained weight after a baby, maybe she’s tired and hates her job but is too burnt out to see how she could get a new job.  I just think, “Thank goodness she found us today!”

Before and After – From Stacey London’s fabulous book “The Truth About Style”

My job is to help that woman feel beautiful and confident.  I had a customer come back once with all her friends in tow wearing a dress from my line saying, “This is my self-esteem dress.”  I loved that moment!

When I see a woman try on a dress and come out and do a spin with a big smile on her face, that’s why I do what I do.  And I know she’s wearing that dress out on her first date after a divorce, and I’m thinkin’ it’s gonna go pretty well- that’s what it’s all really about.

When I help a woman choose outfits for work when she’s nervous and excited about her new promotion, and I see how the clothes and accessories we pick are going to change the way she can BE in her work life.  She will move with confidence, give a presentation with power, do a pitch and get it.  That’s why this is my calling.

For years I though fashion was just fun and kind of frivolous, but now I get why I care so much- fashion is how we express ourselves every day and changes the way even we perceive ourselves and our possibilities.  And in my own way, I feel Fresh Collective and our people are helping to send women out in the world beautiful, confident and ready to take on making their dreams come true.

xo – LJ