Welcome to Chase your Dreams

A podcast for Fashion Entrepreneurs who are ready to pursue their passion and make a living doing what they love.

How to Build a Sustainable and Profitable Slow Fashion Brand with Kristi Soomer

Feb 27, 2024

In this episode, Kristi Soomer, founder and CEO of ethical clothing brand Encircled, shares her insights on entrepreneurship in the fashion industry.


Kristi Soomer emphasizes the importance of understanding your customer and differentiating your brand. She discusses the evolution of Encircled from a travel clothing brand to a versatile athleisure brand. She also shares her motivation for starting her own business and the initial hurdles she faced. Kristi highlights the value of finding support and mentoring, as well as the need to adapt to industry trends. She offers advice for aspiring fashion entrepreneurs and gives a sneak peek into upcoming projects for Encircled.

About Kristi Soomer

Kristi Soomer is a visionary entrepreneur and sustainability advocate known for her work as a founder and CEO of the slow fashion brand Encircled. With a background in management consulting, retail and supply chain management, Kristi brings a wealth of expertise to the sustainable fashion space. Holding both an MBA and bachelor’s degree in business administration prepared her for the challenges of disrupting the traditional fashion industry.

Encircled, under Kristi’s leadership has become a beacon for ethical production, eco-friendly materials, and versatile garment design. As a certified B Corporation, Encircled exemplifies Kristi’s commitment to making a positive impact on the environment, her team, and her customers.

A sought after speaker and thought leader, Kristi shares her insights on sustainable fashion at conferences, events, and podcasts, inspiring others to embrace conscious consumption. Kristi Soomer’s dedication to her community, philanthropic efforts and passion for ethical practices are demonstrated through her coaching and online education business at KristiSoomer.com, where she helps up and coming entrepreneurs learn how to scale their businesses through coaching, her eCommerce Maven podcast, Facebook community and mentoring.

Contact Info:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kristisoomer/

Website: https://www.kristisoomer.com/

Company Website: https://www.encircled.ca/

Encircled Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/encircled_/


Creating a Clear Point of View and Focusing on Customer Needs

Kristi Soomer emphasizes the importance of having a clear point of view and focusing on customer needs in order to stand out in the overcrowded fashion industry. Encircled’s commitment to sustainability, versatility, and comfort has resonated with customers looking for more than just fashion–they seek clothing that aligns with their values and lifestyle. By staying true to its core values and continuously listening to customer feedback, Encircled has been able to grow and evolve while maintaining its unique position in the market.

Adapting to Industry Trends and Staying Resilient

Adaptability and resilience has allowed Encircled to navigate business challenges and thrive. The pandemic experience underscored the need for effective risk management to plan for uncertainties and prepare for various scenarios.

Support and Mentoring to Navigate Entrepreneurship

Having mentors and a supportive network can provide guidance, encouragement, and practical advice, making the journey less isolating and more manageable. Resources such as Marie Forleo’s B-School and the Time Genius program helped Kristi Soomer refine her marketing strategy and connect with other entrepreneurs facing similar challenges.

The Role of Content in Marketing

Much of Encircled’s success is credited to its content-driven marketing strategy, inspired by Marie Forleo’s B-School. By providing educational content and helpful tips, Encircled has built a strong connection with its customers, offering value beyond just selling products.

Commitment to Sustainability and Transparency

By being transparent about their progress and areas for improvement, Encircled builds trust with consumers who value sustainability. Kristi Soomer explains that the brand focuses on creating durable, timeless designs to reduce overconsumption and openly acknowledges the challenges and limitations they face in achieving full sustainability.


00:00 Understanding Your Customer and Brand Differentiation

06:16 Starting Encircled as a Travel Clothing Brand

09:57 Creating a New Category: Wander Leisure

11:50 Motivation to Take the Leap into Entrepreneurship

16:34 Initial Hurdles and Overcoming Challenges

25:38 Transitioning to Full-Time Entrepreneurship

30:11 Navigating Changes and Adapting to Industry Trends

36:41 Lessons Learned from the Pandemic

39:26 Advice for Aspiring Fashion Entrepreneurs

43:59 Exciting Projects and Future Plans

45:48 Contact Information


Kristi Soomer

It’s very hard to break through in the fashion industry unless you have like a very clear point of view. And that’s where I think it’s really important to work or any product based business to really work on understanding who your customer is, because there are a lot of brands out there selling a lot of similar things and stuff comes around. So like there’s not a lot of new stuff out there. It may be a new positioning, which is a different thing. That’s what as an entrepreneur you bring to the table, you know, your own point of view on it, your own take, your own way you bring it to market. So I encourage people to think more about that and how they’re going to go to market and what their brand looks like and their values as much as possible. Because I think that is what becomes a differentiator at the end of the day. Anybody can make a t-shirt. It’s super easy. But can you tell a story with that t-shirt? Can you emotionally connect with that t-shirt? What values does that t-shirt bring to the world and to your customer’s closet? That’s more challenging.

Glynis Tao

Welcome to Chase Your Dreams, a podcast for fashion entrepreneurs who want to build a purposeful and profitable clothing business so they can make a living doing what they love. I’m your host, Glynis Tao, an apparel business consultant and SEO specialist with 20 years apparel industry experience. I’m also a mom to a wonderfully energetic little boy named Chase.

My guest today is Kristi Soomer, a visionary entrepreneur and sustainability advocate known for her work as a founder and CEO of the slow fashion brand Encircled. With a background in management consulting, retail and supply chain management, Kristi brings a wealth of expertise to the sustainable fashion space. Holding both an MBA and bachelor’s degree in business administration prepared her for the challenges of disrupting the traditional fashion industry.

Encircled, under Kristi’s leadership has become a beacon for ethical production, eco-friendly materials, and versatile garment design. As a certified B Corporation, Encircled exemplifies Kristi’s commitment to making a positive impact on the environment, her team, and her customers. A sought after speaker and thought leader, Kristi shares her insights on sustainable fashion at conferences, events, and podcasts, inspiring others to embrace conscious consumption.

Kristi Soomer’s dedication to her community, philanthropic efforts and passion for ethical practices are demonstrated through her coaching and online education business at KristiSoomer.com, where she helps up and coming entrepreneurs learn how to scale their business through coaching, a podcast, Facebook community and mentoring.

Welcome, Kristi. It’s so nice to have you here today. Thanks for joining me on the podcast. 

Kristi Soomer

Thanks for having me, Glynis.

Glynis Tao

This feels like a dream come true, because I’ve been hoping to talk to you for a while. I’ve been following your work and I’m a huge fan of your brand, Encircled. As a matter of fact, I’m wearing one of your tops today.

Kristi Soomer

Yeah, I was like, that kind of looks familiar.

Glynis Tao

Yeah, I love it. I love the color. You’re an entrepreneur, podcast host, business coach, mentor, not to mention dog mama, to sweet little doodle named Harlow, who by the way has more Instagram followers than I do. How do you find the time to do it all?

Kristi Soomer

Well, I don’t have kids. So that’s part one, I’m just a dog mom, but I do keep up with her post. I think I’m actually more regular on my dog’s Instagram than on my own. Like, I find it easier to post content on there for whatever reason. And I think that’s kind of the case for a lot of people because social media is where people tend to overthink what they need to post and stuff like that. Especially I find within the space that we operate. So dog Instagram is just a much easier place.

But how do I find the time? Well, I mean, most of my time is spent in Encircled. The majority of my time goes into operating and running the business. But I do have like the other things on the go, like my podcast and Facebook group and stuff like that and do some coaching and mentoring.

Um, but that’s a very small portion of my schedule and I’m just, like I’ve, I’ve become pretty good at like time blocking and really being focused with how I use my time. I’m a huge advocate of Marie Forleo’s Time Genius program, which I’ve been through and I also coach in as well. Um, and it’s really about changing your mindset on time and not, um, trying to be the most productive person ever, but instead being like really focused on your efforts and doing like less almost to get further ahead with what you’re working on.

So it’s a balancing act for sure. And every week is different. And some of them, especially around key holidays like Black Friday and Christmas and stuff like that can be kind of messy. But I’ve tried intensely over the last few years to cut back my hours. And I think I’ve been pretty successful at it.

Glynis Tao

What I admire you most for is that you’re an innovator, leader, disruptor, and champion of small business. Not only have you built a successful business, you are dedicated to helping other business owners achieve success as well. You’re also very open and transparent about sharing strategies you use at Encircled. I know the story of Encircled and how you got started, which involves solving a pain point that you had, but I want to talk to you about your most recent business announcement.

You decided to make some changes recently and create a new category of clothing. Do you want to talk about that and what led you to your decision to return to your roots?

Kristi Soomer

Very up to date question. I love it. Since this announcement was just made last week. That’s great. Yeah. So originally Encircled started as a travel clothing brand. Essentially I was in my most recent previous career, I was a management consultant. So prior to the pandemic times, management consultants pretty much traveled on site to clients and most of my clients were not in Toronto. So I was living out of a suitcase, flying, you know, back and forth to New York, sometimes Calgary for like years, not just like weeks.

And so I started to really challenge myself on the notion of traveling light and being stylish because you can’t check a bag. Everybody will make fun of you and the consulting world. And you don’t want to do that because you don’t want to spend extra time at the airport. So I started, that’s my original inspiration behind designing the Chrysalis Cardi, which was like our hero piece that I launched with back way, way, way back when, which is an eight in one garment that can be transformed and it’s made out of the same lovely fabric of the Evolve top that you’re wearing.

Um, and then over the years, you know, we’ve still always had that travel ethos, I would say at the heart of everything we do, but we’ve definitely shifted, I think a lot in the last, like, probably since around like 2017, we really focused more on talking about minimalist wardrobes and capsule wardrobes and, you know, kind of doing more with less.

And while I think that resonated with our customer, it’s a hard concept for people to wrap their heads around a little bit. And I think sustainability in itself is a very complex topic in any industry, but for some reason, I guess maybe I’m a bit biased. I feel like fashion, it’s incredibly complex because there’s so many nuances to the sustainability continuum. And I think over the years, I’ve changed my opinion a little bit on sustainability from just purely looking at like the fabrics you’re using to not only that, but the longevity and the utility of the design being as like, as important, if not more than the fabrications. Because one of the biggest things I know in the industry, and I’m sure you’re a well aware as well, is that like, it doesn’t matter if you make 8 billion tops out of a sustainable fabric through one of the fast fashion brands, like if they’re not needed, and it’s over, it’s fueling like over consumption, and then they’re going to fall apart in a year anyways, you can’t wear them. We’re no farther ahead.

So I think our move to creating a new category, which we’re calling Wander Leisure, is really a push to come back home, not only to our roots, but also to where our customers are today. And I would say that’s kind of our niche has always been like this like elegant athleisure. So like not your everyday kind of yoga pants kind of stuff, but a step up from that and stuff that people can wear not only to work, but on the weekend or to trip to your city or Paris and not look like a tourist and be comfortable.

So I don’t think we’re really changing as dramatically maybe as it seems, although we are being more focused, I think, with our designs and actually slowing down our product development cycle quite a bit. But it’s more so that we’re changing how we articulate it to our customer, because that’s what we want. Like I want the designs I’m most proud of are the ones that, like your Evolve Top, I designed in 2013, 2014 maybe. It’s like almost 10 years old and it’s still timeless and many customers still wear them. So to me, that’s a marker of sustainability is creating clothing that’s timeless, elegant, wearable, comfortable, and that’s sustainable. So it’s really just another take on it. We’re not giving away any of our core values at all, but we’re just really changing kind of our focus a little bit.

Glynis Tao

That totally makes sense. I’m looking at your website, and you know, it’s the message is really clear in terms of like, this new, or not new message, but it’s saying travel inspired, elegant athleisure that takes you places. We make wander leisure travel inspired, elegant athleisure that takes you places. That’s like, you know, it gives you really clear ideas to like, okay, what is it that you do? And you know, what is the idea purpose behind your your company? And I love this, like, this word that you invented. Chic comfy, compact and clever styles consciously crafted to never compromise on fit, function or quality. I mean, it speaks to me. And that’s why I still love these designs. Oh, and I see the Evolve Top is on the website homepage on the front homepage too.

And like, you know, I subscribe to your e-letters and I read every single one of them. And I just love, you know, the little tips that you give to people. Styling tips are how to create a capsule wardrobe or how to pack, you know, better for trips. So it’s, it’s really neat. Like I really like what you do. And it just, to me, seems like you really know who your customer is.

Let’s talk about a little bit how before founding Encircled, right? So you were working as a strategy consultant. Can you share a memorable moment or experience that motivated you to take that leap into entrepreneurship and launch your brand?

Kristi Soomer

Yeah, I think for me,

Like it started with the idea originally. So just like I came up with that word, wander leisure, I think just like a moment when I was packing for, ironically, my first yoga retreat I’d ever been on, I was on the bench, they call it, or on the beach in consulting when you’re not assigned to a client. So I asked my manager, can I go on vacation? Cause the cancellation just opened up in this yoga retreat my friend’s going to.

And now that seems like very normal, but I guess back like 10 years ago, or even that would have been more, that would have been more like 13 years ago, yoga retreats were not like super well known. So I’d never been on one, but I did yoga. So I was like, let’s go last minute book trip going like two days later, packing for my trip, overpacking because you know, I’ve never been on a yoga retreat. What do you bring? I don’t know. So I started just like shoving all this stuff in this huge suitcase that I had and it broke.

And I was packing the night before and it broke and I was like, Oh my God, what am I going to do? All I have is a carry on. This is a crisis. I can’t call my friend because it’s like four in the morning and I’m packing. So I’m like, I just got it. Okay. What, what do I not need to bring? And then I’m like, why am I bringing like all this stuff? Like I need a cardigan for the plane, but what else? I wouldn’t really use it there. Like, so that was like a pivotal moment where I was like, okay, I need to like think more compact with how I’m packing and why do I have so much like single use items that are not multifunctional that could be. So that was like one moment.

And then I think the real pivotal moment, at least in my career, I would say was, and I’d already kind of started Encircled at this point and had it kind of running as like a side hustle to my full-time job, but it was the Rana Plaza factory collapse. And that was in 2013. Um, and I was still actively in consulting and my vertical was retail. So, and I was going to Montreal and I was on the ferry. Uh, that’s how old I am to the Island airport in Toronto, which is now a tunnel. Um, and I overheard somebody from one of the brands talking about how their brand was involved in this. And I wasn’t supposed to hear this conversation clearly, but I did need to hear it. And the way they were speaking about it was so disrespectful to the people that were involved in that. And it just made me really question.

They didn’t work for me or anything like that or work with me, but they’re in the industry. And it just hearing that made me like sick to my stomach. Cause I’m like, these are people’s lives who are lost making clothing that weren’t even being properly paid in the first place. They were literally locked in to this building and could not leave. And it just made me think like, who am I helping with the work that I’m doing right now. And the answers weren’t what I wanted, you know?

And I think that’s tough and that’s definitely a very privileged position to sit in because I was in what I believed was my like dream career, but I didn’t want to help more big businesses do bad things ultimately. So I realized that if I wanted to create change in a positive direction, it wasn’t going to be through this role and it wasn’t going to be in this industry even. And I think that’s very true. Cause now if you look even like we’re like 10 years later there’s not much change that’s happened in the mass fashion or fashion vertical in terms of sustainability. Like it’s moved very slowly. The biggest change has come from the creation of all these other brands kind of starting up and bringing new ways of working and new designs, new materials.

Um, so I really wanted to be at the forefront of that. And that was like pretty pivotal in thinking like, you know, at the end of my life, do I want to be known for restructuring brands and firing people and cutting 50 cents out of a manufacturing cost? Or do I want to be like a champion of creating better lives and the workers who make our clothing and educating consumers on, you know, where things are made and the value of quality and cost per wear and utilization of clothing in the industry.

So that was a pretty pivotal moment in making the decision, I think, for me to go forward and actually quit my job and go into the business full time.

Glynis Tao

Wow, that’s an interesting story. I didn’t know that part.

Entrepreneurship comes with challenges. What were some of the initial hurdles you faced when starting your clothing brand and how did you overcome them?

Kristi Soomer

The first one would be not knowing anything about manufacturing a garment for sure. And back when I started, you know, it’s not like it is today where, you know, there’s Upwork and a lot of resources online and, you know, myself included creating courses for digital marketing. Like it wasn’t as big and accessible as it is now the information kind of gig economy. So that was a big hurdle, I think was figuring out actually how the fashion manufacturing process worked, how to get a garment made, which fabrics to even used, you know, that’s very still much a black hole. I think when you’re trying to make a garment, even for us today, because there’s like, you think as a consumer, you’re like, Oh yeah, there’s, there’s modal, but there’s modal jersey, there’s modal scuba, there’s modal rib, there’s tubular rib, like there’s so many variations on one thing, there’s fleece, there’s French terry, like what are the differences, like where it’s certified, like just figuring out even that was so difficult. So that would have been like a big one.

The second one would be, I think, believing in myself as a challenge because I came from a very non-entrepreneurial family. My parents believe in like working at a corporation forever. So I didn’t have a lot of family support. I didn’t have a lot of friends who are entrepreneurs. It’s not like it is now. Now entrepreneurs are like, you know, superheroes and everybody wants to be an entrepreneur. It was not like that. It was like, don’t quit your day job, girl. So that was really hard because I didn’t know what I didn’t even know. And there wasn’t a lot of communities to help support you at that time. So that I think that was a big one because I just didn’t really I don’t know, I had a great idea, but I didn’t realize it, I think.

And then, yeah, just figuring out the technicalities of selling online. This is like early days Shopify, my original site was not built on Shopify, it was built on Magento. And just understanding even how to run a web store and figure out shipping and all that kind of stuff. Wow, that whole logistics side cannot be underestimated.

Glynis Tao

Yeah, absolutely. So many moving parts to running a clothing business.

So, I mean, going back to, you know, when you sort of like, well, sort of coming from a family where, you know, wasn’t really entrepreneurship wasn’t really supportive, like, okay, stick with the corporate job, you know, like, how did you stay motivated during those times? Like, you know, did you have anybody that you worked with, or coach or mentor or something to help you like, get through those more of the challenging times?

Kristi Soomer

Mostly I didn’t tell people what I was doing. I hid it. I hid it from a lot of people. Not that I lied, but I hid it because I didn’t want people that I didn’t want my family to know. I didn’t want my work to know because I didn’t want them to think I wasn’t serious about my job or like somehow maybe stealing time from them. And then my friends, I would periodically like have them try stuff on or whatever. But I don’t think anybody really thought I was being serious about it.

But I did, you know, one of the communities I early on got into was I took a program called B-School by Marie Forleo and she had a large community of entrepreneurs and it’s global. So we had like a little Facebook group for all the e-commerce retailers. And that was like my first kind of connector network, I would say, of people kind of experiencing the same thing. So like, how do you do this on Shopify? How do you upload that? Like, how can you make this graphic? Like how did they do this? Like and that was just like incredibly supportive in terms of getting me forward.

I was hoping that I would have more resources but I found that the local community wasn’t as supportive of my initiatives and that’s not meaning to slight anybody but I think I didn’t come from a traditional fashion background and my business was really commercial. Like I’m not a like couture designer and I think a lot of the agencies in Toronto and organizations kind of cycle around those like higher end designers. So there wasn’t really a space for me to be supported there.

Although I will say, I found one of my technical designers through like a resume database at one of those incubators. And she was invaluable to like the first few years of my business. So you kind of have to pull from resources where you can get it and where you feel like most supported. 

And definitely I found like online was the place. And now it’s so great because there’s so many great online communities and mentors and coaches and stuff like that. It’s really such an up level, even for me at this stage in my business to find somebody who’s, you know, a few years farther ahead that can see what you can’t see.

Glynis Tao

Yeah. So you mentioned Marie Forleo’s B-School. I also was in that program. I took it when probably around maybe 2011, 2012. Yeah, it was only when the program was around for a couple years then, and I still had my own clothing brand. But I was struggling with like, a lot of the same things that you mentioned. And like, but I came from a fashion background, in manufacturing background. So I had product development and garment manufacturing experience, but I didn’t have the business experience. And so that’s what why I turned to B-School.

And I thought, was very early on like one of the maybe first you know kind of online programs that were available but it had that community feel to it and that you also get the support which is great and um yeah you’re currently mentoring um for them as well right?

Kristi Soomer

Yeah I mentor in both programs B-School and Time Genius I’ve actually been doing mentoring in B-School for almost eight years, maybe, it’s been a while. So, so yeah, and Maria is amazing. As you know, like she’s really committed to constantly like revisiting the content and expanding it. And now she has a whole mentor team, you know, in there helping in the comments, and it’s a variety of people like it’s me and there’s a couple there’s another e-commerce entrepreneur, there’s, you know, life coaches, there’s website designer mentors, like there’s a real rich perspective in there.

Sometimes I want to go in and ask questions. I can probably just DM them. But like, she’s really done a great job of staying current with what’s happening in digital marketing, because I think that changes quite a bit. And I will say, like, to her credit, like I took, I mean, I have an MBA, I went to business school, and I have an MBA. And when I took her program, I was like, whoa, I’ve been thinking about this all wrong.

Um, and it’s because like my tactics and my background were all corporate marketing, which does not work when you have no money. It just does not work. So what I was trying to do was adapt corporate marketing tactics to a small business. And like, it was not working. And I took it in 2013. And the only reason I know that is because it was soon after I launched my business and I had hired a PR agency because that’s what corporate people do. And they had kind of run out of steam after three months, because I only have one product. And they were like, I don’t think we can promote you anymore. We’ve been there, done that. You got lots of placements. And I did get lots of placements. But then all of a sudden, I had no marketing plan. Like as soon as they left, I did $138 in March 2013 in sales. And I thought to myself, you are never going to be full time in this business. That is crazy bad. That is so bad. And it was my friend who bought it bought a cardi, like it wasn’t even somebody I didn’t know.

And I laugh about it now, but like, some of the early tactics that I started to use were from B-School because they were content driven. And actually you still see that as you mentioned, to this day in my business, we do a lot of content creation in the business, not just like outfits, but like actual educational content and packing lists and all this kind of stuff. And a lot of that was inspired through that program.

And it’s so value added and it creates just such a nice connection with your customer because you’re truly giving them something other than just trying to sell them something, but you’re giving them a lot of value as well.

Glynis Tao

So it sounds like in your early days, I guess when you sort of started Encircle, like you still were working at your job, right? Like you hadn’t quit your job yet at that time, like when you had, when you do, you were doing in Encircled at the same time. And because you were like am I ever going to be able to like do this full time?

I had the same experience too. I was working as a product manager at Reebok and doing the business on the side until I was kind of forced out of my job. And I was like, well, I guess this is the opportunity for me to do this full time and never look back. But the learning curve was just huge.

Obviously, you know, now we know you’ve managed to be successful over the years and have been able to scale the business. Did your previous experience as a consultant, like, help you in being able to, you know, plan and establish your business? You did talk about it a little bit, but yeah, did you draw from a lot of that experience from your work into your business?

Kristi Soomer

Consulting is that like the reason people hire consultants and probably the reason people hire coaches and mentors is because it’s like an objective view on the business. So when you’re a business owner, you’re not as objective, no matter if you have a consulting background. So from that sense, no, but I would say my whole career was helpful in structuring the business and even my school, like I think my MBA program, I went to Queens University in Canada and that was really transformative from a framework perspective. So that’s why I think I’m such a strong operator is because I do have a strong framework for operating the business and the business is, as you know, fashion businesses are really finance driven. You really have to understand the numbers and be really good at forecasting and inventory and manufacturing and stuff like that. 

Of course you have to be good at design, but the fundamentals that underpin it need to be really strong. So I think my education and career set me up really well for that. So I worked for some amazing consulting firms, but I also like a lot of shaping of my career happened when I worked at Colgate-Palmolive, which is a consumer packaged goods company that’s run like, you know, the tightest ship you’ll ever run. And like that taught me so much about like profit and loss statements and marketing spend and all these things, you know, that are really important for a business. So I’d say that’s like been really helpful. And I don’t think I, you know, I quit my job in 2014 and I had been in my career for almost 11 years, which is like very stupid, probably to a lot of people who are thinking, why would you do that?

But it’s not like what happens today. People graduate university and they’ve already got a business on the side or something. They don’t even bother or sometimes they don’t even bother going to school or college and they just start their business. That just wasn’t really as much of a thing back then. And I’m grateful for every lesson. And I always say this to people who are doing a side hustle. There’s always something to learn from your business and having that side business you know, although it was hard because I wasn’t home a lot. So I would literally like pack orders on the weekend. And I dropped them on the way to the airport in, you know, Canada Post mailboxes, and I’d have the driver pull over and like stuff some in there. And then I go to the next one, I stuff a bunch in there. That’s kind of how I worked. And so that was hard. 

But I, there was also I didn’t have to worry about money as much, you know, that whole financial stress point was relieved from having a career. Like I wasn’t like constantly stressing about that. And so that kind of was, I think, a big game changer. So I always encourage people if they can kind of do both, or at least keep some sort of consistent income while they are starting their business. I think it is it does reduce that like anxiety that comes from being an entrepreneur that we all know comes with it either way at every level, it reduces it for a little bit and allows you to focus on, you know, what matters most and to hire out stuff as well.

Glynis Tao

Sort of like what would you say was the tipping point for you? Like, what was the thing that you did that, you know, got to really like, boost you, your business?

Kristi Soomer

Yeah, I would say like every year, especially early on, you know, the business was like kind of doubling every year. And I think it hit its point where it was becoming unmanageable by me, uh, part-time for sure. And I was starting to realize like, if I want this PR opportunity, if I want this, I want to do another product. Like everything was moving so slowly because I could really only do it on like Saturdays and Sundays. Um, and I’d have to take vacation to work on the business. So it’s becoming like prohibitive, I think. So I had to decide.

Um, and I don’t remember the specific revenue, but I think it was around, I would guess like $150,000 or something like that. Like I was doing a decent amount of revenue through the business a year. And I was like, okay, I’ve got something people are like interested in what I’m selling. So like, what if I actually put my full-time effort in and what will happen?

Um, so yeah, I would say like over the years, it just started to kind of grow. Obviously as you get bigger, it doesn’t double every year. And then during the pandemic, we had quite a bit of growth, like a lot of brands did for sure, just with people shifting to online shopping and being kind of in this space where we literally make sweatpants you can wear to work. So we were in the right spot at the right time kind of thing. So yeah, but it does get harder as it gets, your business gets bigger to grow and the tactics always change.

Back in the day, like, especially when I first started, like working with bloggers was such a big and influencers, they weren’t even called that back then, was such a big unlock for our business. Like we could do a blogger partnership, you know, and we would make like $20,000 in like 24 hours. Like it was crazy. Now it’s like so much more fragmented. So you kind of have to, as a business owner, as you know, like adapt your skillset all the time to kind of the changing channels and the tactics and the strategies and, you know, Facebook ads are always shifting and all that kind of stuff. So you really have to become a Jack or Jill of all trades when you’re an entrepreneur, which is, it’s tough, but I think it’s really fun too, cause you get to learn about a lot of stuff and continuously challenge yourself.

Glynis Tao

Yeah, absolutely. And you share a lot of that knowledge on your podcast, especially exactly what you’ve been doing, what’s worked and what hasn’t worked for your business. And I love that. I really, I’ve listened to almost all, if not all your podcasts, because you offer such valuable advice. It’s just valuable. It’s, you know, practical. It’s stuff that you can do. It’s, you know, it’s not anything crazy. It’s like stuff that’s actually doable. And knowing that, you know, you’ve tested it out for your own business, knowing that it works. It’s like, wow. I think that’s great.

I know in the past three, four years, you know, there’s been a big shift in terms of consumer behavior and, you know, the way industry trends are going. How have you adapted to all those changes? Like, have you obviously had to adapt your business model? Like, how did you navigate through all of these changes?

Kristi Soomer

Yeah, so…It’s been a little tough because like somewhat ironically, I’m sure this happened to many brands. You know, in 2020, we were going to expand into physical pop-ups. Like we had booked a bunch of like collaborative pop-ups with another brand in person and we had booked all these shows and events. And then, you know, all of a sudden you can’t do any of these. And so that was tough.

Um, but you, and we used to do a lot of in-person events and retail in our studio even. And then all of a sudden we’re like, can we even open our studio? Can we even ship from our studio? So we had to like really adapt quite a bit. And because of where we’re located, like some of our manufacturing shut down, like there was a lot of like, um, uncertainty, especially during the first like six months. Um, so we, we adapted pretty quickly to you know, selling masks. We were one of the first brands in Canada to move to that because we had a manufacturer who was like ready to make them and already had like everything set up for that. And those really carried us through the first few months of the pandemic for sure. And, you know, it was crazy. You would like go on the website and we get a sale like every second when we restock them, like it was, it was insane.

But that led to a lot of discovery of us as a brand, which was nice as well. So once we had manufacturing back open, we were able to like get back into production and kind of business as normal, but not really for a few years. So you just kind of have to roll with the punches. It’s, you know, it was an incredibly difficult time. I think any entrepreneur will tell you that. And, you know, even from everything, from getting materials to, you know price increases, to getting people to work for you, and like all the things. Like there was just so many things that like, I hope we just have the next decade and it’s just like cool and calm. That’d be nice. Cause I think a lot of us like really went through it, but you know, all you can do is just do the best that you can and adapt and be gentle and kind to yourself through the process because you know that like other people are going through the same thing as well.

And that’s where I think community is really helpful also is to make sure you’re supporting yourself with like, you know, different communities, because oftentimes what you’re thinking, you’re probably not the only one experiencing it. So it’s good to have that community so that you don’t feel so alone.

Glynis Tao

Yeah. Just exactly what you said. I mean, during the pandemic, we were all in it. So it’s not like you felt like you were the only one going through it. You know, the entire world was.

So in that way, I felt like it’s never been a time like something like this in history and like within the past hundred years, that was like global, that everybody was in the same situation at the same time and all having to adapt to this.

But like, would you say now, you know, did the pandemic help you in your business in terms of identifying certain things? Doing things differently? Has it changed the way you did business? Do you think you came out stronger?

Kristi Soomer

That’s a great question. Would I do it again? No. No. If I’m honest and transparent like I am, no, I would not wish that on anybody. But I’m definitely more resilient. And I think, you know, all the business owners that I know are in some way, because it showed a lot of us that, you know, we can adapt to whatever is thrown at our way. And some businesses were just dealt a crappy hand. Like it was just like chance, right? Like if you’re in the right category, like thank God we weren’t selling like luggage or something during the pandemic, that would have been a lot harder to like deal with, right? So I think in some ways, some brands got really lucky. Some of them did not. Like restaurants, I think struggled a lot.

And we lost a lot of great restaurants, I know in Toronto. So it’s like, it’s like neither good or bad. It’s just like, it happened and we deal with it and we move on. But the things I learned for sure were like, you know, nothing is certain. And I think too, I think a lot of us got that reality check that like, you know, as an entrepreneur, like stuff is always out of our control, but there’s usually like stability somewhere.

And I think the thing with the pandemic was that it was like really out of control and there was no stability in your external environment and then internally. And it’s just like, whoa, okay, that can happen. And for a lot of us, like we had never experienced anything that unstable in our lives. So I think from that perspective, it was eye-opening to not only build resilience, but also to build awareness that like we have to plan for some of these things.

Those things that people talk about in risk management that we laugh at, because we’re like, oh, that’s stupid, that’ll never happen. They can happen. Like nothing’s out of the field. So I think about that a lot when we’re planning production, when we’re how we structure our business, where people are located, who serve the business. We’re definitely much more hybrid model with a huge portion of like remote freelancers now just because of the way things have shifted. So I do think we took whatever positives we could out of it, but yeah, it was a very challenging time for sure.

Glynis Tao

For aspiring entrepreneurs in the fashion industry, what advice would you give them based on your own experience and lessons learned?

Kristi Soomer

I would say it’s very hard to break through in the fashion industry unless you have a very clear point of view.

And that’s where I think it’s really important to work or any product based business to really work on understanding who your customer is, who you’re serving and how you’re either solving some sort of problem for them or creating some sort of joy for them. Because there are a lot of brands out there selling a lot of similar things and know, we see it all the time that fashion is very recycled in terms of silhouettes and you know, now 90s fashion is back again, much to our horror, you know, stuff comes around. So like, there’s not a lot of new stuff out there. It may be a new positioning, which is a different thing of old things. And that’s, that’s what as an entrepreneur, you bring to the table, you know, your own point of view on it, your own take your own way you bring it to market.

So, I encourage people to think more about that and how they’re going to go to market and what their brand looks like and their values, um, as much as possible. Cause I think that is what becomes a differentiator at the end of the day. Anybody can make a t-shirt. It’s super easy. Um, but can you tell a story with that t-shirt? Can you emotionally connect with that t-shirt? You know, what, what values does that t-shirt bring to the world and share your customer’s closet? That’s more challenging.

Glynis Tao

Yeah. And, um, I mean, you have very strong values as a brand and seem like it was something that you had, you know, from the beginning had your set core values. And that’s carried you through all these years. And the more or less I guess the values have remained the same in these past 11 years?

Kristi Soomer

Pretty much. Yeah, I think I mean, they haven’t really changed that much. I would say maybe the way we articulate them has sometimes changed. But like, we’ve always been really comfortable. Versatility has always been at the core of what we do. The thoughtfulness of our design is always integral. And then obviously, our ethics have always been there.

We’ve always been made in Canada and always strive to do the most sustainable thing with our fabrics as possible. So yeah, they’ve always been the way they are. And I think that’s a testament. I do believe that our customers see that we live our values and we’re really authentic about them and we’re transparent when we can’t achieve something. Some things are just not realistic for small brands and some things are just not far along enough to deliver on product quality and stuff like that yet. Removing spandex out of every product would be amazing, but there’s benefits to spandex that people don’t understand in terms of longevity and rebound and fabric and fit.

So like there’s things that we can’t solve for yet, but it doesn’t mean we’re not thinking about them. So we’re always very transparent with our customers to let them know, you know, where we’re doing well and where we’re maybe, you know, still a work in progress.

Glynis Tao

I love that. Um, what’s your look for 2024?

Kristi Soomer

Yeah, so I think it’s really positive. We’re coming out with a lot of new styles coming up, really inspired by our customer where they are today. As you mentioned, when I started Encircled in 2012, even I’ve grown up with the business, this is like 10, 12 years later, and I’m even in a different phase in my life. So we’re really designing for the woman who is living her midlife journey.

And we really want to be a part of that. So that’s something we take really seriously into how we design. So I’m very excited to kind of roll that out a little bit more in terms of how we’re executing on even pants or like tops and dresses and stuff like that. Like we have some really great designs that are functional, yet comfortable, yet elegant and dressy that we’re launching over the next like six months that are planned out. And I’m really excited about them all.

So I’m really happy to see our customers reactions because I feel pretty confident in them and the new directions. So, so yeah, it’s looking good.

Glynis Tao

Oh, amazing. Can you provide any sneak peek into any exciting projects or plans a brand has for the future?

Kristi Soomer

Yeah, so we are coming out with, for years people have asked us for dressy sweatpants, which is one of our best selling products. Without pleats and without ruching like less of a sweat pant kind of looking sweatpant. So one of our new products that’s coming out in February is called the Wanderer Pant. And it is basically like your go to like, kind of like tapered leg work to weekend pant made out of dressy sweatpant material. So it feels like pajamas it’s so comfortable, really elegant. Um, our designer’s done an amazing job at making jersey not look like jersey, which is really difficult to do. Um, so it has, it looks actually structured, but it’s not, um, it’s soft. So I’m really excited for that pant. I think our customer is going to love it. Um, it’s really modern and fresh and it’s like one of those pants you can wear anywhere. Um, and everywhere. And that’s the beauty of our dressy sweatpants and other designs that’s been around forever.

So this is, I think, one of those designs that will be in people’s closets for a really long time. So we’re really proud to bring that to market next month.

Glynis Tao

Oh, I’m excited for that as well. I have a pair of the dressy sweatpants. I’d like to see the next evolution of it. Yeah. Where can people find you if they want to get in touch with you?

Kristi Soomer

Yeah. So you can check us out at Encircled.ca. That’s E-N-C-I-R-C-L-E D.ca.

We’re at @Encircled_ on Instagram and you can find me at @KristiSoomer on Instagram or TikTok.

Glynis Tao

Thank you so much for being here today and sharing your valuable insights into entrepreneurship, the fashion industry and business scaling with us.

Kristi Soomer

Yeah, thank you for having me.