With a career in brand management and consulting, Kristi Soomer was always traveling for work. For years, she had first-hand experience with the hassles and frustrations of regularly packing and living out of suitcase for days or even weeks at a time.
One day, when she found herself packing for a yoga retreat in Costa Rica, an idea clicked. Frustrated with the lack of truly versatile and stylish travel apparel, Kristi was inspired to create an innovative fashion line for women who wanted to travel lighter and smarter.
“As someone who flew 100,000-plus miles a year, I struggled to find apparel that was chic enough to wear to the office, but easy to wear on the beach or on the plane,” she says. “Often, travel clothing is just that — for travel. Our designs are made for travel, but easy to also wear in the city, all year.”
Encircled Inc. was born. For nearly two years, Kristi grew her startup on evenings and weekends, on the side of her other career. In November 2014, Kristi decided to fully invest in her passion and work full-time on Encircled. Since taking that leap, she’s learned some key lessons along the way.
Administrative Tasks Can Be Tedious, But They’re Important
When a business is still in its infancy, things like day-to-day operational tasks can easily fall off the radar because they’re not activities directly related to sales.
“Yet in my experience, managing this [operational] side of the business is what makes your business sustainable, and ultimately profitable,” Kristi says.
As the sole employee behind Encircled, Kristi knew all too well that ‘time is money’. One of her key time-saving tactics is to use operational tools that can be linked or integrated together. For example, Encircled has a strong web presence, and hooks most of its sales through its website. Kristi uses Shopify as her e-commerce solution and finds the integration with QuickBooks Online has helped her become more efficient at managing her financials overall.
“At a quick glance, I can see my profit, sales and expenses for any time period, as well as the capital available for upcoming production runs,” she says. “These tools allow me to be nimble, and is a timesaver at year end.”
Using tools that will scale alongside your business will also save time in the long run.
“Currently, I’m using the QuickBooks EasyStart version but I understand the upgraded version has payroll, budgeting, and inventory functionality that will be valuable as I scale up my business,” she says.
Stick To Your Core Values
Based in Toronto, ON, Encircled has a business model built around local production. “Made in Canada matters to us,” reads its website. Motivation for this business decision came from Stats Canada numbers that indicated less than five per cent of apparel sold in Canada today is actually manufactured in the country, compared to 70% of apparel sold in 1989.
“The choice to produce locally in Toronto was easy for us,” she says. “Although producing in Canada typically costs eight to 15 times more than abroad, we are passionate about keeping a close eye on working conditions as well as quality.”
Keeping production close to home also allows Encircled to produce small batches, which is more sustainable for their operations at the moment.
Kristi’s other core values include reducing environmental impact and using eco-friendly fabrics and materials. To help communicate and showcase these values, Encircled’s website has a special Blog section that is focused on focused on sustainable healthy living and travel.
There is great value in good relationships, be it with customers or collaborators. For Kristi, she’s sought business partners who share the same core values on quality, sustainability and local production.
“I truly enjoy the partnership that I’ve formed with my production partners in the product development process,” says Kristi. “They are aligned with Encircled’s ethos and always working to help us optimize our designs, costs, and processes.”
Since her leap into full-time entrepreneurship, Kristi hasn’t looked back and is already making plans for the next phase of her company. She says she has plans to develop new apparel designs, increase her production volumes, and eventually hire staff and get an office space. Coming off a recent successful appearance on Dragon’s Den, the sky seems to be the limit for this made-in-Canada travel fashion line.