I did my undergrad in management and economics at the University of Toronto, and then I did my MBA at U of T’s Rotman School. My concentrations were in marketing and strategy.
When I was around 14, I wanted to run a comic book store, and when I did my undergraduate work I knew I wanted to do something different. I knew it was going to be fashion-related and that I was going to do something in retail, but I needed a) the work experience and b) the life experience to get to where I am today.
I cannot tell you how valuable having an MBA is. People focus on the letters and the school you go to, but it’s more about the experience, the people you meet and the knowledge you gain in those two years. What you learn in day-to-day class activities... it makes you think in a different way because you’re exposed to all these different people. That is by far the most valuable thing you gain with an MBA.
I run two clothing retail shops. Lost + Found has an in-house coffee bar, and Working Title has an art and photography bookstore; both are definitely think-outside-the-box ideas. If you create a destination shop and you don’t know what the walk-by traffic is, a coffee shop attracts the residents, who start recognizing that there’s clothing, and word of mouth starts. Throw in the fact that you’ve started a new retail experience in Toronto and that gets even more word of mouth out.
MBA school taught me to think like that: have a focus and do something different from what’s normally done in an otherwise stale industry.
Going to MBA school started me down the path of retail and fashion. When I was in first year, I started a clothing line with two schoolmates; that’s something I’d wanted to do since I was 20. We had different experiences and qualifications but the same dream, so it was nice to meet these people who pushed me in the direction of fashion.
People like to rush into things and start stores or labels. I’m telling you right now, you’ve got to gain experience and an understanding of an industry before you start something. You can’t jump into it.
Fashion is so small in Toronto – and Canada – that you’re constantly fighting for brands to sell. You don’t want to step on anybody’s toes, and you want everyone to get along, but it’s competitive. You do make friends and you do make enemies, as sad as it is. School definitely prepares you for that reality. I went to school with some cutthroat people, so I’ll always have that in the back of my mind: we’re in a comfortable position right now, but tomorrow could be totally different.