58 - Kristi Soomer - Creating a Fashion Brand On Her Terms

Kristi was introduced to the retail world out of college.  In the past 11 years, she has worked in various aspects of the business, but has remained in the corporate world.  In the past 3 years she had been doing consulting, and had to do a lot of traveling.  It was when she was going to a yoga retreat, she was frustrated when she had to stuff items into a smaller suitcase.  She realized the clothes she had weren't really versatile. She then came up with her first design.  

When you start in an industry that you don't have a lot of experience in, where do you go?  There wasn't a lot of resources for Kristi because it's a very closed lip community.  She joined a fashion incubator and started researching.  They had a great library, and she took an illustration and sewing course.  She started learning and up-leveling her skills.  

She just dug a lot and kept searching and continued to find the answers.

How are you working this retail side while still working a corporate job? Kristi sells 95% of her items directly from online.  This allows her to have flexibility from her job.  She watches for the popularity of her clothes, and then releases more as the need increases.   She keeps it in a cycle where she's only releasing new colors and designs twice a year.  The non traditional way has allowed her more freedom.  

She will do some consumer shows here and there, but mostly she's concentrating online.

What's been your primary marketing strategy?  She started with PR at first but found it to be too cash intensive.  She then moved to a blogging strategy, where she partners up with bloggers.  It's taken a bit to find the right niche, however, now every campaign they work on together sees quite a bit of success.  Eventually, she will go out and pitch, but for now it's bloggers, social media, and newsletter marketing.

How does the campaign work?  She really works on a partnership, where they work on promoting each other.  Kristi will send them pieces, and they will write about them.  Then they help with promoting.  Kristi calls them more than just partnership, but more like friendships.  It can be either a paid post or a product seeding.

Going back, how would you have made sure to find the right partnerships from the start?  Kristi looks back and it's all about a very singular message.  She started saying too much in the message about what it was about.  It came to a point where she had to step back and really ask why these people would really buy her product.  She started talking to her consumers to find out what sparked their interest in her brand.  She discovered it really stemmed down to its roots which was travel.  

When she started to concentrate her message on that, she decided to focus her blogging marketing.  

What was an obstacle that you've had to overcome?  The fear of not knowing what she doesn't know.  Because she's not from the production side of things, she has a fear of productions.  She tends to be out of stock verses over stocked.  She always tended to error on the side of producing too little.  She has learned to be better about watching production runs so there are fewer mistakes.

Do you currently have a warehouse?  She has a home studio and runs pretty lean on inventory.  Her model works mostly on pre-orders.  She opens it to her newsletter based first, and then pre-sells.  She opens pre-orders and will sell almost all of her inventory while it's being created. She generally has 50-70% of the inventory sold before it's even finished.

Where do you see this going as you scale?  Kristi will be looking for investors in the new year, and will be looking to expand.   She will also look at more content marketing and help with giving ideas to her customers about where and how they could wear her clothing.

How are you doing all of your time management?  Kristi did an accelerated MBA program helped her become more efficient.  She learned not to procrastinate as much.   She uses post it notes and check lists, and remains very checklists of stuff she needs to get done.  She also gives advice around finding time for VA's to help with these things. She really optimizes her time to the more impactful channels.  

What's the one thing you can't live without when it comes to your business?  Kristi is a fan of the shopify app.  She sells some of her items on there.  

More About Kristi:   Kristi is the Founder/Chief Fashionpreneur of Encircled (http://www.encircled.ca), a brand of versatile travel apparel, proudly Made in Canada.

Encircled was founded in late 2012, with a little seed money, and a lot of passion. Kristi is a self-taught designer who’s designs have now been featured in the Globe & Mail, FOAM magazine, Cameron Diaz’s The Body Book blog, National Post, The Kit.ca, CityTV Breakfast Television, CHCH11, Rogers TV, and more.

She’s also a Consultant and Retail Strategist/Blogger at Retail Bliss (http://www.retailbliss.ca).

Experienced in branding, with and an eclectic history of entrepreneurship and corporate life, Kristi received a Bachelors in Finance from the University of Western Ontario, and MBA from Queen’s University.


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