I was so pleased to be able to get to know the owner’s of Mile End’s fantastic vintage store Citizen Vintage a little bit better. Lara Kaluza and Becky Emlaw have graciously shared their business knowledge, tips for wearing vintage and their favourite places in Montreal.
Before you opened Citizen Vintage, you held quite a few pop-up shops. Do you think that this experience was crucial for the success of your store?
Becky: The pop up shops allowed us to verify that our vintage collections were a good fit for the neighbourhood. By the end of our third pop-up shop we were feeling very confident that our collective styles slipped seamlessly onto the streets of Montreal.
Although I have been involved with Arterie Boutique & Friperie since 2004, starting another enterprise with a new partner was still a risk. I have experience with running a store but you need more then just business experience when opening a new business. Finding a compatible or complimentary partner is so important.
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in owning your own business?
Becky: I think most entrepreneurs will say the same thing and that is you have no guarantee that you can pay yourself a living wage. When a business has employees, the employees get paid first and then you get paid second (if there’s anything left).
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
Becky: If you like what you do you will never work a day in your life. – George Emlaw (my dad)
Starting a business is a huge risk and when making such a big gamble it is really important to put a lot of thought and research into it. It’s true that if you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work, but it doesn’t necessarily guarantee that you will be successful. It really took a lot of hard work, research, planning and number crunching to get the business off the ground.
Were their any moments of failure besides renting too soon which you talk about here?
Becky: We started out as three partners but money got tight and one of us decided to get a job and go in a different direction.
I’m not really sure if that is a failure or just a side step.
If you could tell yourselves anything when you were first opening the shop four years ago what would it be?
Becky: It’s hard to grab your share of the online market, so the sooner you start the sooner you will realize what will work for you. Start it at the same time as your store and let them grow together.
What are some important points that one should consider before starting their own business?
Fashion & Beauty
After two kids and a ridiculously large range of clothing sizes in my closet, I feel I am starting to rebuild my wardrobe from scratch. What are your favourite essentials to have in any closet?
Lara: My favourite dress right now is a black, simple and sporty racerback stretch knit dress. I can wear it with sneakers, loafers or sandals. It’s the only LBD in my closet right now.
Long skirts are back and I love them. Elegant, flowing, simple. For fall you can pair it with an ankle boot or oxford.
Lastly, I love my oversized button up cotton men’s shirt. It’s a 2XL white Pierre Cardin with little grey stripes. I wear it with everything; jeans and a tank, over a dress or with a little mini skirt.
Do you have any favourite beauty products?
Becky: I’ve never habitually worn make up or used special products. I own mascara and like 4 shades of lipstick.
You both site your mother’s as influences on your love of vintage. Were there any beauty or fashion tips that you learned from them?
Becky: My mother was a sewer. I had three sisters and she made us all our clothes. By the time I was old enough to have a sense of personal style my older sisters were out of the house so my mother had more time to collaborate with me on some pretty wild pieces. So if she taught me anything about fashion it’s that if you can figure out how to make it you can wear whatever strikes your fancy. I wore some pretty bold stuff in high school.
Lara: I think the best beauty advice my mum gave me is that less is more. My mum’s a bit of a hippy, she doesn’t have a very complicated beauty routine, she rarely wears make-up and she doesn’t even pluck her eyebrows
How do you select your vintage products?
Becky: When we go shopping we split up and shop. We swap our treasures and then meticulously go over each other’s items seam by seam. Quality is first. Obviously, we also have style criteria. I’m a little more classic and Lara has more of a sense for what’s happening now. Usually the inspection of the product takes just as much time as the selection process.
I’m always a bit nervous vintage may look a bit costume-y. Any tips?
Lara: If vintage makes you nervous, mixing new and old is always a safe bet. Match a pair of new jeans in a style that suites your body type with a bold geometrical 90’s print button up and you can’t go wrong. Or keep it classic. There are certain pieces that never go out of style. A simple 1960s shift dress, high-waisted wool pants or a two-button blazer are every wardrobe’s must-haves.
Montreal’s arts scene has really taken off. I know you guys support the community through your collaborations. Are there any artists in particular to check out?
Lara: The Lost City by Danica Olders is always worth checking out. She does it all. Clothing, prints, paintings, sketches, murals, collaborations, projections and whatever else strikes her fancy at the time.
Where do you guys like to head for brunch/lunch/dinner?
Brunch: Dépanneur le Pick Up
Lunch: Le Cagibi
Dinner: Pizzeria Magpie
What neighbourhood do you call home and why is it so great?
Becky: We’ve both lived in the Mile End for many years. The creative energy here is pretty amazing. There are still free activities, music shows and art shows to attend if you yourself are a broke artist. There is a lot of collaboration in the music and art scene. Watching it all unfold over the years has been wonderful.
For more on Becky and Lara check out this profile on their website.
Citizen Vintage, 5330 St-Laurent
(Photo credits: Citizen Vintage Automne 2015 Lookbook; Photograph: Ariana Molly, Models: Kaeten Bonli & Esmee Steck, Make-up & Hair: Patrizia Mancini, Styling: Lara Kaluza & Tamara Tousignant, Top Photo care of Citizen Vintage)