Here is a scenario that sounds a little too familiar.
You have to attend a dressy event. Let say a wedding, not yours though, but like your sister’s friend’s. You, involved in a monogamous relationship with your jeans, do not own any cocktail dress, so you decide to buy one for the occasion. Two hundred bucks later, you leave with your fabulous dress which, after being twirled around on the dance floor to the sound of DJ LoveIsForeva’s groovy rhythms, will sleep until the end of time in your closet.
Another possible scenario.
You just feel like slowing down your shopping pace (either for your wallet sake, or the environment or social ethos), but you don’t necessarily want to give up on the wonderful feeling that a new piece of clothing induces in you.
Station Service, a clothing rental company which only carries quebecer designers, might be the solution to your fashion conundrums. The difference between other similar companies that might have already crossed your path: the selection is very extremely incredibly gorgeous. Seriously, there’s not ONE piece of clothing picked by Raphaëlle Bonin, the founder, that I wouldn’t wear. Boasting more than 30 designers, like Noémiah, Martel, Betina Lou, Les Enfants Sauvages and Oneself, the online platform lets you rent à la carte (for 7 days) or sign up for a monthly or yearly subscription to enjoy an even great number of clothes!
A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to try out the “Soie” package for a whole month (three pieces of clothing every two weeks). Besides crying when I had to give up my Eliza Faulkner top, everything went like a charm! Preliminary fitting at the boutique to make sure I picked the right sizes, home delivery and dry cleaning included: it was so cool having access to all those new clothes, all locally made, which, if I had actually bought, would have forced me to file for personal bankruptcy.
I met up with Raphaëlle at her boutique atelier in the Mile End to chat over some drinks about Station Service and her quite healthy (most of the time) relationship to entrepreneurship (aka: you don’t have to work 125 hours a week to run your own business).
What did you do before launching Station Service?
I studied Management of Cultural Organizations at HEC. My goal was to work in cinema production. It’s when I took a class in entrepreneurship that I realized that I had what it took to be an entrepreneur and that it was what I wanted to do. I thought of Station Service while I was still in school. I dreamed of a space offering clothing rental, even though I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with it at that time.
The first time you told me about Station Service was two years ago. The company was launched six months ago: what did you work on during that year and a half?
The idea was born while I was still at HEC and then, after graduating, I enrolled in the Coaching program at District 3. That’s when I did my market study. A friend of mine and I interviewed 60 women to know what kind of service they were looking for, if they were looking for one at all. I also got in touch with a few designers.
During Fall 2016, I did a socio-financing fundraising – my goal was to launch in Spring 2017 –, but my personal finances weren’t stable enough and there was a part of me that was just not ready to launch officially. Even though I was able to raise 8 000$, a project like mine required 30 000$. It’s important to say that I was working part-time and alone on that project, which is why it took a little more time.
Was it hard to convince designers to get on board?
It was harder at first because I didn’t know anybody in the fashion industry; my background is in culture. It was really a matter of making a name for myself. As soon as my plan was clear and that I knew how my platform could be useful to them, I basically just had to meet with them. We developed a trusting and collaborative feeling really quickly – the designers were really excited!
You wanted to work in cinema and you decided to switch your professional course to fashion entrepreneurship. Why such a drastic change?
I’ve always been involved in many projects! Both of my parents are entrepreneurs, so I’ve been soaking in that world for as long as I can remember. I did a short film without studying in cinema, with a crew of 20 people, and it toured festivals! My biggest strength is to surround myself with trustworthy and competent people who have a similar vision to mine.
Why fashion? It really came from a personal problem. I used to buy cheap stuff, like from Forever 21, and I would end up giving a lot to my friends. I’ve never been a fashionista per se, but I know a beautiful piece of clothing when I see one. In other words, fashion is a passion of mine, but I’m not the one always following the latest trends. So the concept rose from personal consumption issues and because I couldn’t find any existing solution to them.
I also see myself as an artist manager or an art curator. In my opinion, designers are artists. Their clothes are artworks and I’m promoting them, I’m providing them with a stage.
What have you learned since you launched Station Service?
I learned that you have to patient towards yourself. You can’t do everything. Even though I’m a perfectionist, I’ve realized that I have to cut corners sometimes. You also have to be patient towards your brand; growing takes time.
Also: looking one step ahead, but not more than that. It may sound like a funny analogy, but I learned that concept when I used to do ski competition which I also apply now to entrepreneurship. When you’re skiing down a slope, there are gates before you and you have to focus on the one coming. If you look two gates ahead, you will trip and hurt yourself. Same thing if you don’t look at all. You must structure your thoughts and be in a one-step-at-a-time thinking mode. If on a daily basis I tell myself that I want to be as big as Zara or that I want to change the world, forget it, anxiety will take over. The trap with that kind of approach is that whatever you will do will never be good enough.
What does an entrepreneur’s everyday life look like?
I’m at the office from Monday to Friday, except on Wednesday, which is the day I book all my meetings and errands: visit designers, pick up inventory, swap pieces, bring the clothes to the dry cleaner, etc. On Monday, it’s our team day! We are three at the office and we organize our weekly planner, social media posts, calendar and upcoming events. I also answer to a loooooot of emails, I do accounting and host clients when they come to the boutique. On Friday and Saturday evening, I work in a restaurant. Sunday is my day off.
During the week, I do yoga, which I had stopped doing during the launch period… The worst idea ever! I was so tensed. Now, I give myself permission to rest. At the beginning, I used to come in at 9am and I would leave at 7pm and then I would answer emails at home. I don’t want to live like that. I need to sleep, otherwise it’s counterproductive. Starting up your own company is like running a five-year marathon. If you’re already out of breath during the first year, good luck getting to the finish line.
Do you have advice for women who dream of launching their own business?
Having a supportive environment around you is really important, because it can feel really lonely when you get on such a journey. From a personal point of view, I have an incredible boyfriend, he takes such good care of me and he’s super understanding. Professionally, I gathered people equipped with complementary tools to mine, strengths that I don’t have. I would be lying if I said that I started this company all by myself. With a solid team, you can accomplish anything.
What do you like the least and the most about being your own boss?
I’m starting to realize… I’m not a boss! I’m more of a leader. I work with a linear model, not a hierarchal one. I prefer collaboration and exchange of ideas. I will ask other people’s opinion, even though I always have the final word.
What I don’t like so much is all the pressure I put on myself. I impose myself a strict set of rules to lead by example. I feel like I owe a lot to my team. When they’re here, I think that I absolutely have to be with them, that I can’t book meetings outside of the office. But, honestly, I could not be there. Reality is that, even though I’m my own boss, a team depends on me so I can’t do as I wish all the time.
What I really like is when I realize that I’m my own boss, and I’m like «nice»! Sometimes, when I have an event to go to, I forget that I can borrow clothes from my own office. I wish I congratulated myself more often, without becoming vain either.
Do you sometimes have professional breakdowns and if so, how do you get back on your feet?
Last fall, I worked so much that, when the holidays were over, I didn’t feel like going back to work. I was exhausted, even though I’m usually a pretty positive person. I gave myself the right to take it easy and remove weight from my shoulders. I took time for me, I built myself back up in order to be able to lead my team and make the brand grow. It was a period all about selfcare in which I still am today.
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