While Natalie Dusome lives in Penetanguishene, Ontario, her work experience stretches beyond the borders of her home town. She worked for Abercrombie & Fitch at the peak of their heyday (before the headlines took them down) and her biggest corporate gig was as head designer for Aldo. During her five years there, she regularly flew to the Montreal HQ for design meetings and scheduled in plenty of globetrotting to seek inspiration for her fueled-up career.
Like so many moms on our blog, Natalie embraced the work-life change that working motherhood presented to her. She launched Poppies & Peonies, which specializes in handbags and accessories that marries function with a stylish DNA. “When I was sixteen, my goal was to build a multi-million dollar brand,” says Natalie. “While I was on mat leave, I realized there was a niche market for functional fashion. For so long, I always put fashion first; I was one of those girls who wore heels until my feet were covered in blisters. Now as a mom, I want style with more purpose and less sacrifice. I knew that other moms would relate. I feel like my goal is possible now.” Here’s how she’s working for her dream.
“I needed quite a bit of start-up cash flow to purchase inventory, photography and so much more. I used personal savings and had to get a loan. It was weird because I worked my whole career to land a job I loved; I loved Aldo, I loved my team, I loved everything. I received a very generous compensation for my job and I traded it all in for my own business. Not sleeping for 2 years and not being able to pay myself came as a total shock. Being an entrepreneur is way more difficult in the beginning but I’ve learned bigger awards are waiting for you.
I used to ask myself all the time: What the heck have I gotten myself into? I had it so good before, I was able to travel the world for shopping trips. I had a design office in the comfort of my home and would fly to meetings as needed. I literally have not stopped in over three years. I was a designer in all my roles. I had no idea about budget, online business strategies, production, logistics, sales, marketing and advertising. I’ve spent every possible moment educating myself on everything.
Thanks to the internet, I can find an answer to any question. There are master classes, forums, YouTube channels, business courses– there’s so much information. Once I decided on taking a direct sales approach, I talked to as many people as I could in that business. I would go all the parties and speak to the reps. People are so helpful and ready to share what they know. With every new path or skill I explored, I made it a mission to become well-versed in that topic.
I think we can become so crippled by feeling overwhelmed and not knowing how to get started. I’ve learned once you start, you just figure it out. If you are passionate and you love what you are doing, you will make it work. It’s also important for me to show my daughter that she can be anything she wants to be; I know with determination, she can succeed too.
I always trusted my design sense but now I had to figure out how the heck to get them on the market. I realized early that building a brand is not easy. I looked at different online platforms and decided on Shopify because they are Canadian, fast-growing and offer business analytics which helps me determine which products and designs are driving sales. It’s important to tune into what’s your bread and butter quickly so you can grow and move forward.
Then I had to ask: Who is going to sell my products? I basically begged 6 of my friends into working with me. I set up a compensation plan which then begged the question: How do I track these sales? How do I streamline and automate the process? Now I have a sales force with over 50 reps and it’s growing every day. We’re a direct sales company, which allows us to empower female entrepreneurs and help them build a fun and flexible business, selling products they love. We’ve been able to achieve extraordinary things such features on Cityline, The Social and press in Toronto Star, Huffington Post, Hello! and Elle Canada. We’ve grown our Influencer team tremendously with expansion into B.C, Alberta and New Brunswick, and we have a U.S market strategy rolling out in the next 2 years. In 5 to 10 years, I really trust all our hard work is going to pay off.
Part of achieving all these milestones is changing bad habits. I used to believe multi-tasking was efficient. I’ve since learned that time blocking works best for me; anytime I have to jump tasks, it takes 15 minutes to get back into the flow. Now I block out my schedule so I can tackle big tasks and get them done. For example, I still do all the designing myself and lock myself in my office for a week and a half. I don’t answer the phone or emails except in the morning or at night so I get in my creative zone.
When I was feeling totally overwhelmed, I read Girl Wash Your Face, You’re a Badass, and Girl Code: Unlocking the Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Happiness for the Female Entrepreneur. This last book stepped in and showed me how to take back my life. It says to focus on five top priorities and say no to everything else. Today my priorities are: Being my best self, taking my company to the next level, inspiring my team of entrepreneurs and working towards life/work balance. When things get busy, sleep, exercise and healthy eating go out the door. I find myself at the end of a deadline feeling crappy, exhausted and bloated from poor food choices. My goal is to stay on track even when things get tough. I’m constantly trying to balance it all and that’s a work that’s still in progress.”