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Nettle’s Tale Swimwear, like some other small businesses, was launched to solve a problem.
The Vancouver owner, Julia Church, says she always had a creative side. This was demonstrated when she studied theatre in university, and more recently when she’s performed comedy in the rookie league at Vancouver TheatreSports.
So it was no surprise in 2014 when she applied her creativity to make improvements to a swimsuit that she liked.
“I sewed the bottoms,” Church said. “My roommate at the time, who was kind of a similar body type to me, tried them on, and loved them.”
That led Church to ponder why more companies don’t make swimwear for everyday women. And that’s when she embarked on a mission to design mix-and-match bathing suits that would look good on herself, her friends, and her mom.
She wanted products that could be used in activities ranging from tanning and swimming to kayaking and running after one’s children.
“It doesn’t seem like that novel of a concept, but it was in the swimwear industry,” Church noted. “That’s because the swimwear industry was really taken over kind of by a surf culture. So there were a lot of women—super-regular-size women—who would go swimsuit shopping and couldn’t fit into a large.”
She launched a crowdfunding campaign in 2015 to get Nettle’s Tale Swimwear off the ground. This enabled her to determine if there were enough women willing to buy her products online.
Sure enough, there was astonishing demand for the fitted, albeit not custom-fitted, beachwear. This led her to join a jewellery designer to open a store on Main Street. According to Church, this was her “boot camp” in learning the retail business.
Then she set out to try to launch her own Nettle’s Tale store.
Futurpreneur offered Julia Church what she needed
But first, she needed financing. Fortunately, she connected with Futurpreneur Canada, which has been fuelling the passions of young Canadians since 1996.
It’s the only national nonprofit organization that provides financing, mentoring, and support tools to young aspiring business owners.
According to Church, Futurpreneur provided her with a $15,000 loan, which was then leveraged for an additional $35,000 loan from the Women’s Enterprise Centre.
The B.C. and Yukon director of Futurpreneur, Paulina Cameron, said that the nonprofit organization funds a wide range of business, including those in technology, health, and food. It partnerships not only with the Women’s Enterprise Centre, but also with BDC, Vancity, and other lending institutions to enable entrepreneurs to obtain more financing.
Each year, Futurpreneur provides loans to more than 1,000 young entrepreneurs across Canada. That includes more than 150 in B.C.
Futurpreneur does not take an equity position in the companies it finances, nor does it get involved in the operation of the business.
“If you’re considering starting a business, come and talk to us,” Cameron said. “We’ll ask you the right questions. We’ll point you in the right direction. You’re not in this alone.”
As important as the money was, Church said that the biggest boost she received was the mentorship.
Church calls Gastown store a lifestyle shop
Futurpreneur paired her with business consultant Raymond Shoolman, a former chief operating officer at Army & Navy and a former vice president of Hugo Boss Canada.
Church said that his advice was exactly what she needed at that point in her business career.
“He’s spent hours with me looking at prior seasons’ sales, forecasting production, cash flow, and PR,” she revealed. “He’s also taught me a lot about retail.”
Initially, she sold her Nettle’s Tale swimsuits through her website. But she was keen to provide service directly to our customers. And Shoolman’s retail experience helped her decide how to create a theme that was right for the long term.
Earlier this month, she opened her first Nettle’s Tale store at 330 Cordova Street in Gastown. She calls it a “lifestyle shop” appealing to Canadian women living on the West Coast.
The wood-laden interior provides a rustic appeal, and changerooms were carefully designed to maximize customers’ level of comfort.
“Part of what we’re trying to do is change women’s swimsuit shopping experience,” Church explained.
Not only does the store sell Nettle’s Tale swimsuits, but it also offers mugs, backpacks, travel towels, candles, and other products that someone might take on a camping trip to Vancouver Island.
“We have a lot of local designs, too, like Harlow Skin Co. and Plaj towels—they’re woven in Turkey but the girl that does the brand is local,” Church said. “Gastown is one of the best coffee-retail-restaurant areas. All of the cruise-ship passengers get dropped into this neighbourhood. So it’s a great location for a swimsuit shop.”
Harlow makes leap from wholesale to retail
The founder of Harlow Skin Co., Chrystal Macleod, has also benefited from a loan and mentorship from Futurpreneur.
She’s working long hours to prepare for next month’s opening of her first retail store, Harlow Atelier, at 655 East 15th Avenue in the Fraserhood neighbourhood.
“I was very lucky to come across this space,” she said. “It’s 1,100 square feet. It’s going to have our brand, Harlow, and the concept of clean beauty, clean body, clean home—and an assortment of products and goods for home and life.”
Macleod has 15 years’ experience as makeup artist. She emphasized that she’s always thrived on helping people feel good about themselves.
She first launched her line of healthy cosmetics online, enjoying tremendous success, beginning in 2015.
Her timing coincided with growing appeal of makeup products that were free of parabens and other chemical preservatives.
“We have about 75 wholesalers throughout Canada and the U.S.,” Macleod said.
Her extensive experience in the beauty industry taught her many things about how cosmetics are created.
For example, she explained that preservatives aren’t needed if there’s no water added because “whole ingredients” have a longer shelf life.
She also said that natural beeswax can extend the product’s shelf life.
“It’s antibacterial, it’s antimicrobial, and it’s also very healing,” Macleod said.
Futurpreneur provided Harlow Skin Co. with a $15,000 loan. This was then leveraged to obtain another $30,000 from BDC, which is the federal government’s business development bank and financial institution.
According to Macleod, this provided enough financing for her to open a store. But what really helped kick-start the retail side of the business has been the mentorship.
Futurpreneur paired her with consultant Azadeh Yaraghi of GoGo Telugo, who helped Macleod define her customer base. And the skincare entrepreneur is planning to apply the lessons she’s learned to the wholesaling side of the business.
“Harlow is the unperfect girl in the button down shirt + cotton underwear lounging atop a mess of crisp, white sheets,” the website states.
Also on the Harlow website, Macleod has written a blog about her morning rituals, which demonstrate the company’s holistic and uncomplicated philosophy. Each product has fewer than 10 ingredients—pure and natural, with no greenwashing.
It reflects Macleod’s belief that good skincare is rooted in a healthy diet, as well as healthy products.
“We already have these things in our body that we produce naturally that take care of and keep our skin supple, moist, and hydrated,” she said. “But over time and as we age—combined with the environment and the things we put in our body and the things we don’t put in our body—can affect that. But if you can put the proper ingredients inside and the proper ingredients outside, you create that glow from within and without.”
Many people don’t realize that skin is the largest organ in the human body.
“It’s going to absorb what you put on it every day,” Macleod noted.
(This article is sponsored by Futurpreneur Canada.)