March’s Darou Wellness Approved Business is Fresh Collective. Today we interview Laura-Jean, the founder of Fresh Collective about her stores and her vision. Fresh Collective has three Toronto locations: 692 Queen St W, 274 Augusta Ave. and 401 Roncesvalles Ave.
What is Fresh Collective, and what makes you unique?
Fresh Collective is a small retail company in Toronto with three boutiques, all specializing in Canadian designers who make very wearable yet stylish clothing for work and casual. Our style is just a little off-beat and at the same time very accessible for a wide range of professional women. We have great dresses for work, cute tops and skirts, but we know we really sell confidence and self-expression.
Our customers love us for providing the outfits that they can wear to work and feel like themselves – comfortable, creative, artsy and confident.
How can clothing/accessories affect a woman’s overall feeling of wellness?
I have loved fashion and style from a very young age because it’s a form of art and self-expression that we use to tell the world about us every day. When we understand the language of fashion and can have fun with it, we project confidence in any situation, feel great and get actual results in the world. Our customers come back and tell us the presentation went amazing or they got the job because they felt so great in the outfit!
Can you share one of your favourite designers or pieces?
My closet is mostly full of two designers’ lines, because they just suit me so well. First is Mandala Design which has a touch of a retro flair. Mandala is best known for great dresses that just pull everything you want in a dress all together in one piece- comfort, style and a bit of sex appeal.
Also I personally own lots of Studio Fresh which is a bit of an artsy look with asymmetrical hems and funky top stitching details.
Do you have options for women of all shapes?
Our clothes typically range from size 4 to 14, and the styles do suit a variety of shapes. Our team of Style Coaches are used to working with all kinds of women and finding the outfits that suit their figure and their lifestyle. We have a lot of fun and our philosophy is “try it and see!” We’ll encourage women to take lots into the changeroom and have a great time trying items in and out of their comfort zone.
If they say, “I don’t know…. it’s not bad” we insist we shoot for better than that! We love the surprise moments of discovery when a woman is surprised and delighted with a new style or colour she didn’t think she could get away with.
We love your Style Profiles – how do you select women to profile?
We love our Style Profiles too! It’s such a great way to engage with the community and our customers give awesome feedback that they really like to see the variety of women in the clothing. We select women who are out to promote something in alignment with our business and who represent our customer base. It’s a great way for us to get lots of pictures to show off our clothes, but we also LOVE that we’re showcasing more about the woman than just how she looks because we do an interview and profile on her. What we are really interested in is the lives lived in the clothes and the Style Profiles show that off.
Our Role Models Campaign grew out of the Style Profiles, and in that we are working with six women all year long to showcase outfits and share their lives and businesses to our audience. It’s part-cross promotion, part mastermind group and a very fun way to build our businesses.
You also offer wardrobe makeovers – tell us more!
Ah yes, our Wardrobe Makeover Service is awesome! We work with women one-on-one using pieces from their closet and from our store. It starts with an online questionnaire to identify their goals, lifestyle and any issues they have in terms of fit or comfort, and then we work together in the store during their appointment. The idea is to help them see new ways of mixing and matching to get more value out of their wardrobe and to make smarter choices about what to buy going forward. We educate them about what cuts, styles, fabrics and colours are going to work best for them, and help them gain confidence in being able to have fun with fashion!
Tell us about your Fresh Start Designer Development program? In Fresh Start we work with one emerging designer to mentor her or him, and ask customers for feedback on the designs every step of the way. Having designers succeed by selling through their product is so important to their success and ours, and young designers often don’t understand what makes a garment sell. It can actually be just small tweaks in the design, fit or fabrication that makes a world of difference. In the pilot of this program we worked with designer Alanna Klatt and the results were amazing. She designed a top that we have been selling ever since, and she has reworked into a new version for spring. She’s thrilled with what she learned and her sales, and we are too!
You work with so many wonderful, independent Canadian designers – why is this important to you?
Fresh Collective started as a place for me to sell my own line and I built a community of local designers around me to make the stores sustainable. As the business changed, retail took over designing and I retired that end of the business, but still loved the community aspect. In fact not designing gave me a new chance to focus on marketing their products and building a retail framework that can grow, and I see what’s possible if I offer the support of focusing on that part so they can focus on design and manufacturing their line.
I love being surrounded by fellow creative entrepreneurs and our customers are part of the community too. I could sum it all up by just saying that it’s fun and it works! It creates a great vibe that works for me, my staff, the designers and the customers and I feel that the connectedness that we all feel just makes for better business. We all know each other so well that the decisions are easy to make to keep the customers happy and coming back!
I also see my work as an important contribution to Toronto culture. Small independent thriving businesses are a big part of what makes Toronto awesome to live in, and I love being able to offer this to the city I love so much!
You do a lot of work in the community – can you tell us about some of the initiatives you are currently supporting?
I’m currently active with the Syrian refugee situation in Toronto. I am part of a sponsor group, Room for More, who brought over a family of 6. I just retired from active duty as Founder of The Clothing Drive which was for me a three month whirlwind of a project (it’s still thriving) that started to collect clothing for this one family we sponsored. When clothing kept coming in, it turned into a 100+ volunteer organization that, to date, has provided clothing for about 1500 Syrian newcomers.
I am now working, with Room for More, on raising the funds to bring two more families connected to the first one. We found out the mother had two more grown daughters in addition to the 5 kids she brought, and they have families of their own. So now we’re working to bring those families to Canada as well.
In these winter months, do you have a recommendation for a little boost in spirit?
In fashion – wear colour! Whether it’s a bright pink scarf, red lipstick or blue tights, a little colour goes a long way when the sky is grey, as is so much of our wardrobes!
And in life I would say cozy up and connect with friends and family. Call your sister. Have hot chocolate with your kids. Do a jigsaw puzzle with your honey. Winter is a time to enjoy being close and cuddle up with loved ones. Enjoy it! Spring will come soon!