I am so excited to present this Q&A from Jennifer Glasgow who is really such an all-star and a huge inspiration. Originally from Winnipeg, she moved to Montreal with very (very) little and has gone on to found and run General 54, a successful and inspirational Montreal boutique, for the past nine years. She also designs at Jennifer Glasgow Designs (of which I am a huge fan) and Lacroix, her basics line of clothing.
As a successful businesswomen and such a force on the Montreal-creative scene I was so excited to collaborate with her for these questions of which she was very kind to answer so many. She tells us about learning from failure, the power of knowing your client and some solid resources for setting yourself up for success.
Your background is quite varied. You’ve done everything from welding to creating hats for the Cirque du Soleil. It really seems like you are fearless with taking on new challenges. What’s the biggest lesson that you’ve learned when taking on all these new challenges?
My background is quite varied. I tried out different jobs because I wanted to push myself as a woman and young adult. It was a bit rebellious on my part. It was important for me to show to people that I was capable of doing all kinds of jobs. I had to get it out of my system, in a way.
I always wanted to design clothing but I didn’t have the means or the access to design schools in Winnipeg. Nor did I have the money to leave, so I did many jobs to get by and get out. I worked as a window display person for Eaton’s, a cameraperson for the University of Winnipeg and finally a welder. Upon moving to Montreal, my first job was sewing hockey gloves to support my household. The worst job ever…
I learned that a strong work ethic is very important. I also learned that you don’t have to please anyone else or show anyone what you are able to do. It is really about you and your future and your happiness and these are your challenges.
Hmmm… good question. The hardest part is taking risks. Believing in yourself and making decisions that will (hopefully) work.
There are so many options and choices in terms of product, timing and design. I enjoy all of these aspects but sometimes the stress that comes with those choices is quite high! You really have to enjoy throwing it all down and believing it will all be fine.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
You are nothing without your client. Everything you do is based on being attentive to their needs. Whether it is about hiring wonderful sales people or addressing body issues and technical things like bra straps. It seems silly but unless you listen to the feedback (good and bad) you will likely fail.
What has been your biggest success or what are you most proud of?
I would say I am most proud of running General 54 for the last nine years! Next year is year ten and I really look forward to celebrating the store’s birthday. Coming from Winnipeg with nothing but a cat and a boyfriend and working for seven dollars an hour sewing hockey gloves, I am so happy to be able to say that I am still in Montreal with a creative existence and a good community (but a different boyfriend 🙂
Montreal’s creative scene has really exploded. Why do you think it has taken off?
It has always been the place to come for artists and young entrepreneurs. Our cost of living is still much lower than elsewhere in Canada. We still have government programs to enable small startups.
When I moved here in 1995, landlords were giving away months of free rent if someone would just move in. It was hard to make money but our lives were simple and we could make our art with very little.
Of course, Montreal has changed but it still has the reputation of being accessible and art friendly. There is a constant rotation and there seems to be a surge of young entrepreneurs coming up through the design schools and CEGEPS. When you mix music, art and design together in one place or area, it is sure to attract more of the same. The Mile End was this hub in the early 2000s. It is changing and moving but there are still so many creatives in MTL.
Do you have any advice for those looking to get into the creative field or start their own business? Do you have any advice or resources to share?
Don’t be afraid of failure. Having gone through 4 or 5 partnerships and art-based businesses before finding myself in retail and design, I recognized my own failures but didn’t give up. We learn from every experience both personally and business wise.
One piece of advice is to take an accounting class. One thing most creative types lack is good money sense.
Other recommended resources:
YES Montreal – Youth Employment Services
This is a great place get advice from professionals, counselors. You can also take other programs like accounting and learn how to set up business plans.
This is a terrific program for young entrepreneurs. It’s really great for building business plans. I did this program in 1999 and it was extremely helpful. Many of my friends have also finished this program and gone on to run very successful businesses.
Another good resource centre is CDEC. Each borough has one. The one on the Plateau can be found here.
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before setting off on their own and starting their own business?
Who do you want to be your client? Do the work before your start. You may have beautiful business cards, wonderful materials and the right attitude and work ethic but unless you understand who will be buying your work, you will flounder.
Don’t expect to make money for a while. Depending on your industry, most start up businesses will not make money for at least 2 years. Have another means of putting food on the table – just in case…:)
If your business depends on a location and not the Internet, I would study it hard. Do not open brick and mortar offices or stores without having a deep understanding of neighborhood. Do a cost analysis based on all of the variable and fixed costs to find out how much you have to sell to cover your monthly expenses. It seems simple but it is the downfall of many small businesses.
What do you see in the future for Jennifer Glasgow Designs and General 54?
Well, Jennifer Glasgow Design will be heading to NY to explore the American market! We will be expanding our points of sale, which is always exciting. We will be growing our basics line of clothing called Lacroix ( named after my partner Dan Lacroix). This line is only found in our flagship store General 54. And there are talks about opening another G54 …shhhhh….don’t tell anyone. It is an exciting time all around.
Thank-You Jennifer for answering all of my questions. As always, I am so grateful for the advice and inspiration.
(Credits: Lookbook Photos: Manon Parent – Photography, Joanie Lapointe – Makeup/Hair, Ashleigh Devon Ayles Hayes – Stylist, Rebecca @ folio – Model, all other photos care of Jennifer Glasgow)