Changemakers: Jelena Pticek and Karen Carrillo
With stores closing and labels leaving, or worse, shutting down, how would you describe the current state of the fashion industry in Toronto?
Running a small independent shop is a very demanding task. There are no weekends, no holidays and very few free evenings. At the same time financial rewards don’t exactly match the amount of sweat and toil put in. But we are not doing this to get rich. We are doing it out of love and because it makes us happy. We are lucky in the sense that there are two of us to share the workload and we are surrounded with people that believe in us and what our work represents.
It is the same when it comes to the local fashion industry – one has to work hard and stay persistent and true to the original idea, the reason(s) why it all started. It is not easy but having integrity in what you do is key.
What do small businesses need to survive?
We definitely feel that there should be a strong support system put in place for small businesses. We cannot compete on a level playing field with massive corporations, but the number of jobs and economic activity we generate to the economy is vitally important.
We are not looking for handouts, but [instead] support to help us run our organizations. Compared to large companies, we simply do not have the resources and manpower to develop a tax strategy, create a business plan and learn the ins and outs of various regulations. In a small business, all the important tasks fall on the same people from running a website and social media strategy to keeping the books in order.
Where these supports do exist, there also has to be better marketing and communication to local entrepreneurs that they are available and can be utilized. It doesn’t necessarily all have to be government run either. The Toronto Fashion Incubator or Enterprise Toronto (run by the Toronto Board of Trade and the City of Toronto) are examples of local support.
What would you change if you could?
Make it easier for start-up designers to get into the business, and help small businesses thrive; there unfortunately isn’t much push to keep small businesses afloat.
What is your mission, what you hope the collective will achieve?
We hope that Freedom can contribute to a change in mindset in society overall towards local shopping. That more and more people support local products and businesses not just as a style choice or as part of a temporary fad, but as a purposeful part of their everyday life– that local decisions inform how they choose what they eat, what they dress in and what services they purchase.
What can we do?
Unfortunately, there seems to be a misconception that shopping local is more difficult and costly. We would love to see a shift in this perception. Purchasing power is huge, and we don’t think many people quite understand that yet. Most people are still set in the “I’m only one person what I could do?” view, not realizing that their decisions and actions have a huge impact. Our prices are not astronomical and are actually on par with many mid-priced larger companies, but because we are a small boutique the perception is unfortunately skewed. Our products are made to last a lifetime, not only because of the quality of the craftsmanship but because the styles are also timeless.
Buying from us (and other local merchants) means that you are keeping a very local community thriving, which in turn keeps you thriving. We would eventually love to grow enough to support some kind of franchise model so that Freedom Clothing Collective can exist in all pockets around Canada, each showcasing the local community where it lives.
Advice from one change maker to an aspiring one?
Our advice, to anyone, is to believe in yourself. Even on days where things don’t seem to be adding up and when people put negative thoughts in your head. Be realistic with your expectations. Try not to expect magic to happen overnight (it doesn’t), it is work- hard, steady work. Surround yourself with people that will support you but also be prepared that the day may come when you may have to join the 9-5 work force again. The most important thing is that you give it a try, but give it your all.