Attempting find sustainable, ethically produced designer fashion at affordable prices can be a discouraging task for even the most seasoned stylist. Thankfully the world is full of ambitious creators like Fresh Collective‘s Laura-Jean Bernhardson to help you discover just how enjoyable it can be to release your inner ethical fashionista!
Find out just how this crafty diva transformed her passion for local, independant designer fashion into a successful business and why I’m Totally Smitten with Fresh Collective:
Way, way back in 1994 I began my career as a designer and started my first label. After a few years of selling wholesale and doing shows I decided to open my first store. This was under a different name, Fresh Baked Goods, but in the very same location that our Kensington Market, Toronto location of Fresh Collective is today!
I was surprised to fall in love with retail! I loved being able to meet the customers directly every day and create an experience for them that was awesome and empowering around style. I remember one day, in those very early times, a mother in her 50’s and her daughter in her 20’s came in together and fell in love with the store, each stacking up various pieces to buy that suited her own style. That made me feel awesome and I knew I wanted to have more stores.
In 2003 my first official location of Fresh Collective was on Queen Street West in Toronto (we just moved this location to Queen East in the Beaches after 13 years on Queen West). To be able to afford the costs and fill up the much larger space, I started with the concept of renting out rack space to other local designers. When designers signed on they had a space in the store and worked a day a week as well. This allowed us all a way of sharing the overhead and the staffing while being able to meet our customers in person.
I found I also loved working with the other designers and creative people, building their businesses together was a very fun way of working and quite effective too as there is strength in numbers!
Around 2010 I got more serious about taking the business to the next level, and started building more structure and standards into our operations. In about 2012 I wanted more consistency in customer service and for our product range to be able to offer the customers an even better experience so I started to phase out the “rent space and work in the store model” and hired Store Managers and Style Coaches to staff the stores.
We continue to work with many of the designers from those very earliest days and have added many more to our roster as well. We rebranded that first Kensington store to Fresh Collective and opened a third location in Toronto on Roncesvalles Ave.
Over the years I’ve developed a real passion for entrepreneurship and for building the kind of business infrastructure that can allow creativity to flourish. Recently, I also launched a business coaching practice as I love to bring what I’ve learned over these 20+ years to other entrepreneurs and help drastically shorten the path to achieving their goals.
Today Fresh Collective’s mission is to create a fashion retail experience that is authentic, joyful, individualized, connected and empowering; providing women the best in independent designer fashion for a full and busy life.
I continue the “working together” vibe today in several ways but my favourite is our Style Profile feature. We reach out to women in our communities to model our outfits and feature them on our blog along with an interview. They get great photos and publicity for their business, art, passion or cause, and we get beautiful women of a variety of shapes, sizes, ages and lifestyles to show off our products!
Our customers always tell us they really appreciate the “real women” marketing as it allows them to see themselves in the outfits. And we’re so proud to show that our brand is about real women and real lives instead of the unrealistic “smoke and mirrors” kind of marketing so much of the fashion world engages in.
We also create marketing material with the designers we work with, including producing our own behind-the-scenes video content of them in their studios.
Our store staff are called Style Coaches for a reason! They are specially trained in style, body shape and fabrications, and are committed to making sure you LOVE what you buy with us.
We never push to make a sales goal, but always offer honest advice and great solutions. Our customers can try on everything in the store if they like! They bring in pieces from home for us to match up with items from the store, or they call ahead so we can have a selection ready and waiting in the changeroom for them.
We also offer our customers head-to-toe styling services including a Premium Wardrobe Makeover package. This is a 2 hour Styling Session where we work with some items they bring in from their own closet as well as items from our store. It starts with an online questionnaire to start discovering the customer’s lifestyle, fit issues and style goals.
(In Toronto? Want to get this service for FREE? Click here and use promocode FRESHLOVE to make this $200 service totally free.)
My vision is to keep growing more stores so we can bring this kind of fashion and style revolution to more women across Canada!
Laura-Jean’s Top 5 Style Tips:
1. Don’t even think of buying something if it’s “Not bad”. When a customer comes out of the changeroom and looks at herself in the mirror and says, “Hmmmm, that’s not bad…. ” I tell her we’re going to set our sights higher. I go back out looking for those items that she is going to LOVE! When I see her come out and I can tell she sees herself in a new way, and she really, really likes what she sees, I’ve done my job!
2. When in doubt, try it on. I often see customers who decided something ages ago. “I can’t wear red.” “I shouldn’t show my knees”. “My arms are too big for sleeveless” etc. For all those years, they never tried that style again! Here’s where I will be a little pushy and suggest they try it anyway. So many times they surprise themselves and a whole new world of style (and self-love and appreciation) gets opened up because the tried something new and love it.
3. When things fit, they always look better! This one has two parts. There are some women who will always have trouble buying things off the rack. If you’re significantly different than average shaped, you may find you need to get things altered to have them look and feel right. Find a good tailor and just do it. It will change everything for you style-wise and boost your confidence through the roof!
And then there are some women who are self-conscious of their weight. They think that wearing things a size too big will help “disguise” their tummy or rolls. It just doesn’t work that way! It looks sloppy and self-conscious.
When things fit right, and skim your curves, you just look better, more professional and much, much more confident! I worked on this for YEARS with my mom whenever we were shopping together and I finally converted her! Having a little round tummy or rolls is fine! There’s no need to try to hide those! The right fits show off your shape to its best advantage without clinging or making you feel uncomfortable and can play up those areas you love to show off!
4. Have fun with colour! Some customers are very afraid to do matching “wrong” and want to know exactly what goes with what. I like to be less rules-y and have fun with colour! This really is a case of experimenting and seeing what you like. If you do want guidance on colour matching, book a style session with us! We’d love to help you have fun and learn how to mix and match with more confidence!
5. Keep lifestyle in mind when making your buying decisions. So many of us have a “closet full of nothing to wear” which is expensive and wasteful. Simply don’t buy things you’re never going to wear! Yes, you love that sequined pantsuit, but honestly, are you ever going to wear it? I’d rather see you buy a really cute dress with pockets that you can wear to work, wear with flats for a lunch date, add a blazer for a client meeting and dress up with fishnets and heels for a dinner date! Many of our customers ride their bike to work. I’d rather sell them an A-line skirt over a pencil skirt any day of the week! My goal is that my customers buy less stuff and love and wear it more.
A massive bear squeeze to Laura-Jean for sharing her amazing Fresh Collective journey and absolutely fantastic styling tips and tricks! Head on over to Fresh Collective and browse the collection + be sure to check out the groovy style profiles, you just might recognize someone!