Preloved, the brick and mortar shop, shuttered its beloved doors in February 2014 so the brand and founder, Julia Grieve, could concentrate on its future devoted to e-commerce and exclusive collaborations. We connected with Julia — who started her reworked vintage clothing store in Toronto’s Queen West neighbourhood — to get the dibs on how she managed growing her biz with kids in tow. And trust us, this working mom of three has a lot to say.
On Learning The Biz
“There was a book called The Entrepreneurial Myth — I don’t even know if they make it anymore. I wanted to get out of modelling and start my own business and my mom gave me this book. At the end of the book it says to call in for a free workshop (this was before the internet) — so, you basically got a free business manager! I was SO in. I called (it was a call centre in the U.S.) and told her what my business was and that I currently did sales for my company. She asked if I was the best at sales. I told her, ‘oh yes, I’m so good, I’m the best.’ Then she told me that I’d be out of business by the end of the year. I was crushed. She explained that the problem with entrepreneurs is that you have this massive ego. It’s your ego that gives you that courage to start, but it will be your ego that will kill you. You have to realize that there are people out there that can do what you do, are better than you, and you have to go out and find them, hire them and learn from them. Then one day you’ll wake up and have all these people working on your dream.”
If you’re not busy living, you’re busy dying” — Bob Dylan (and one of Julia’s favourite quotes)
“Over the years we’ve been happily lumped into the zeitgeist of sustainable fashion, but originally it was all about making cool, affordable clothes and keeping a million sweaters out of landfill. I’m an accidental environmentalist but we’ve come so far—we’ve even won awards! The industry itself is very intimidating and very serious. But when you want to talk to people en masse about fashion, most don’t understand what it is. I think we should be more playful and not judgemental when talking about a circular economy and sustainable fashion.”
Saying Bye-Bye to Retail
“We had been in retail for almost 19 years and I started to see this change in the retail landscape. Our online sales were growing, retail was stagnant and our design collaborations—mainly big retailers like Anthropologie, Roots and Holt Renfrew (we sometimes created an entire collection)—were going through the roof. Joel Carmen, who owns the store Over The Rainbow, told me, ‘Retail is detail. If you are not giving it the detail, you better watch out.’ And we weren’t. There were too many things going on.”
Moving To E-Commerce
“The hardest part is that the connection with the customer is so different and what I miss the most. For me retail is total success in the fashion industry. People get so caught up in designing, market week and creating, but at the end of the day there is nothing more rewarding than somebody walking into your store, loving something you’ve made, and leaving with it. While we don’t have that connection with the customer anymore, we can now wake up and see that we just sold a top to a cute girl in Germany.”
“We had to hit the ground running. We shut our doors to our established clients and had to trade that in-person flow to online. A lot of it was customer service. We tried to send a personal note to all of our customers saying what we were doing, that we didn’t forget about them and that they are more than just an email address to us. It was a bumpy road—it wasn’t easy.”
Her Best Biz Advice Received
“I had just opened up my Vancouver store, I was shooting a TV show at the time, and I just had my second kid. I met with Joe Mimran (the brains behind Club Monaco and Joe Fresh) on a Thursday and asked him what he thought about my Vancouver store. He said, ‘there is not enough square footage in that place for you to ever make rent. It’s going to pull you down. Get out.’ I just signed a 10-year lease and he told me to buy myself out of that lease. By Tuesday I was out of Vancouver. I had shut it down, flown everybody back…it cost me a fortune and took me 5 years to pay it off. When you make a mistake, own it. Deal with it and move on. If you can’t identify your mistake it’s a black hole and will suck you down. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake when you don’t own them.”
Her Best Biz Advice To Give
“Just do it. I think sometimes people think too much about it and then don’t do it. I honestly think that if I hadn’t started my business so young I’m not sure I would have done it. Ignorance is bliss, right? I had no idea what could go wrong, what could happen…you don’t think about those things.
If you’re going to set out and find a mentor, then you better listen to what they have to say or you’re wasting everybody’s time. When you as an entrepreneur are making a mistake, there is a part of you that knows you’re making a mistake. There is your ego that thinks it can fix it. You have to make mistakes in order to grow. Joe taught me when you make a mistake, own it. Fix it. Move on. Within a week of closing up the Vancouver shop, we met with Anthropologie and decided to do a collaboration. If I had to fly back and forth, we wouldn’t have been able to do that. It was a very expensive learning lesson but I’m so glad I did it.”
“Back when I opened retail so many years ago it was a very basic: You have X number of sq. feet, you put this much product in, your rent is X, and if you make more, it’s a success. It was very mathematical. Now you don’t need rack space and things can be shipped from a warehouse. I know there is a new bricks and mortar model out there and once I figure out what it is and how it all works 100 percent, I’ll be back.”
Her Working Mom Truth
“It’s tough. I’m glad that you didn’t ask me about finding balance because you can’t. One of my tricks is that I wake up at 4:41am. I need to get my workout in— either I run, do Crossfit, yoga, spin, walk, whatever, 6-7 times a week. I can get so much done before my kids wake up. Being physically active helps me manage my stress. Even my kids can tell if I haven’t worked out. I also have an incredible partner in my husband. We’re a true team. Of course, there are some days when I can’t do it all and just lose it.”
Her Working Mom Advice
“Do something for yourself. In my case it’s fitness. I need to get it in—even over answering emails. My kids are at an age where they need to be chauffeured around. Everything is about getting them where they need to go: Hockey, volleyball, football. And there are some days where I can get resentful and I have to ask: What have I done for myself? So, making 20 minutes or whatever for my exercise is where I clear my head. It’s for me.”
“I try to turn everything off after I pick up the kids from school at 3pm. It’s not easy, but if you set it up as a goal, it makes turning off and not answering emails easier. If I’m yelling at my kids, I don’t need to answer an email or phone and then sound like I’m yelling when I answer because I’m stressed out and not focused.”
“Preloved is local and made in Canada. It’s something we’re extremely proud of and who we are. We moved our offices right into our factory to be more connected with the people that make our clothing. It’s a huge part of what our brand is and what we stand for.”
Her office-studio is a mish-mash of found items that blend together. Most are vintage or snagged from Julia’s family.
Her desk chair was borrowed from Julia’s dad. “He keeps asking me when I’m bringing it back…” On the desk, Eco Fashion by Sass Brown.
Julia’s team sits under a crystal chandelier, nabbed from a friend who wanted to get rid of it when she moved into her new house.
Preloved continues their collaborations with this Bee Loved T-shirt, created with Bee City Canada.
A vintage bag she found at Value Village perfectly aligns with her waste-not ethos.
A sure to be best-seller from their Spring/Summer 2018 collection. “We blend new fabrics with vintage that is especially just for you. For example, the heart will always be blue vintage denim.”
“Creatively, we are inspired by the trends, like everyone else, but also original details like buttons or even pocket placements from used garments.” Here, the brand is featured in Sass Brown’s Eco Fashion book.
“I had staff that worked with me for years and they didn’t want the change—they really liked working on Queen West. I like voting in a team and that was how I ran my company for years, but I had to make a decision that was best for me and for the business.” Sign from Brandy Melville.
Dead stock fabric from the ‘90s (yep, you read right) receives the Preloved treatment.
“I want to create a place where we could show what a sustainable lifestyle is, and that everybody can just do their part. Just waste not, want not. And just look at the difference you can make without even trying or making it a big thing.”
All studio photos: Sheena Glen