According to the women behind Blondie Apparel (our sponsors for the 2017 Etsy Made in Canada show!) I could also title this post “How to Operate a Business via Text Message.”
Because that’s how Blondie co-owners Brodie O’Connor and Michelle MacGillivray roll.
They don’t take things too seriously when they don’t have to.
And when they do, they get down to business…and get back to having fun doing what they love as soon as possible.
I sat down with the girls in the back of Brodie’s shop doree’s habit for a quick chat about all things Blondie Apparel.
These two met approximately 5 years ago when Michelle approached Brodie in her clothing store doree’s habit to discuss the possibility of selling her line of clothing.
They became fast friends and, shortly thereafter, business partners.
Brodie is like me.
An entrepreneurial spirit through and through.
So when she met Michelle and saw that they shared the same aesthetic and attitudes, her brain just starting ticking with ideas on the things they could create together.
“I asked Michelle if she’d be open to collaborating on a line of clothing. I had ideas, but not the pattern making or sewing skills.” Brodie tells me.
Michelle had been running her own clothing business vandentillaart clothing for a few years at the time and, despite a great deal of success, she was finding it a bit isolating.
“After making my own way in the fashion industry for a while, I liked the idea of a collaboration. It’s always easier to be creative with someone to bounce idea off of.” says Michelle.
The two decided to start small and developed a line of scarves for their first project, aptly named “col.lab.o.ra.tion” to be sold in Brodie’s retail clothing shop doree’s habit.
“One of the first scarves we made was called ‘the Lenny’,” laughs Brodie, “Because when we were making it Michelle grabbed the bolt of fabric and wrapped it around her neck like she was Lenny Kravitz.”
“You mean like this?” I ask, and show them a picture I’ve just pulled up on my phone.
“Exactly!” laughs Brodie.
The two sewed the line of scarves (which quickly expanded into tank tops, arm- and leg-warmers, ponchos+++) themselves in their home studio (whenever possible, on the porch!) until it became apparent that they had a good thing going.
They had so much fun creating that first line together, and were so inspired by the response that they decided to make co.lab.or.ation an ongoing affair.
And so Blondie Apparel was officially born.
“We started just by selling here at doree’s and at craft shows, then on Etsy. Now we also have a website and a list of more than 20 Canadian stockists that we wholesale to.” says Michelle.
“Basically we were getting more orders than we could keep up with.” says Brodie “I hardly ever even have our items in my own shop!”
Retailer demands, web sales, Etsy and a growing number of craft shows (including Etsy Made in Canada and the beast that is the One of a Kind Christmas show) meant they had to look for help.
And though they still do a lot of their own sewing, they have begun to outsource some of their production to keep up with demand.
“We employ a small number of sewers based in Toronto now,” Michelle tells me. “It took us a while to find a Canadian manufacturer who could compliment our brand and offer the level of quality we pride ourselves on, but we finally found them.”
It’s important to Blondie Apparel that all of their items are made here in Canada.
“So many clothing makers claim to be Canadian made, but really they’re just Canadian designed and made elsewhere.” says Michelle. “Our prices reflect not only the quality of the product we make, but also the fact that they’re made here by seamstresses who are fairly paid and work in ideal conditions. That’s not something we’re willing to compromise on.”
Michelle and Brodie in their booth at their first One of a Kind Show.
Michelle is a graduate of Fashion Design at LaSalle in Montreal.
She’s also Dutch which, when I asked her the significance of that little tidbit she replied, “I’m not a huge risk taker. When we make a new piece and we know it’s going to go into production, I’ll be like ‘Let’s order…a dozen.’ and Brodie will be like “Whhhhhaaaat? No. We need a hundred. At least!”
A literal truck load of East End sweaters and ponchos.
I ask Michelle if, now that they have some proven success, she has a bit more guts when it comes to purchasing larger quantities.
“Nope!” she laughs.
Both women agree that it’s this balance in their relationship that makes things work. And although there are some ways in which they couldn’t be more different, at the end of the day you begin to wonder if they’re separated at birth. And not just because they’re both blonde.
They have fun.
“Yeah. We have a lot of fun.” says Michelle.
In fact, having MORE fun is what Blondie’s latest line is all about. (Maybe it should be what we’re ALL all about.)
Their line of for Fall/Winter 2017 will be showcased at the Etsy Made in Canada Ottawa show. (They’ve even designed our swag bags!) Blondie’s newest creations include a range of beanies and a hoodie that I KNOW is going to become a new staple in a lot of women’s closets.
Their versatile Poncho is back, and the perfect travel accessory.
The long sleeved Riverbend Tunic is essentially the most amazingly comfortable and versatile dress I’ve ever owned.
I can dress it up with some boots and some accessories, or throw some leggings and a denim jacket (or better yet, a Trinity vest!) over this baby and I’m golden.
For me, the best part about Blondie Apparel is that all of their pieces work together. I’ve long contemplated the idea of creating myself a capsule wardrobe to make the morning get up and go easier (not to mention to finally quit it with the wasteful spending on disposable clothing!) and Blondie is the first place I’d start.
As sponsors of this years event (and participating as vendors for their fourth consecutive year), Blondie will have a larger dedicated space to accommodate the hoards of loyal customers that are looking forward to seeing them at the Bell Sensplex.
I ask them what they think it is that makes their customers special.
“Honestly, they are SO loyal it’s crazy.” says Brodie. “It’s not uncommon for our clients to purchase the same sweater in multiples.”
“I think also, that we are super honest with our customers. We always tell them what looks good, and what doesn’t, and genuinely want them to love our clothes. I think they really trust us at this point.” say Michelle. “We don’t make anything we wouldn’t wear ourselves.”
“And we are also super excited when people put our stuff on and it looks good.” she adds laughing. “Like we say ‘yay!!!’ a ton.”
“Yeah. We say ‘yay’ a LOT.” adds Brodie. “And yippie! Most of our texts are just long strings of ‘Yay!’s and ‘Yippee!’s. Because we’re really are so excited to be doing what we love to do, and making people happy.”
The Blondie girls having more fun. :)
So let’s talk about mistakes.” I say wryly. “I don’t want people to think this maker stuff is always easy. Tell me something that you messed up…and maybe learned from.”
The two look at each other and shrug, until I see a flicker in Brodie’s eye.
“Pyjamas.” she says.
“Oh yeah. Pyjamas.” Michelle groans.
“We made this line of pyjamas a couple years ago and they just never took off.” explains Brodie. “Because they were handmade and we chose good fabrics, they were priced to reflect that. But not everyone wants to spend a lot of money on something they don’t wear out of the house. Those pyjamas were a perfect example of us trying to do something we THOUGHT people wanted, instead of sticking to the script.”
“We are so much better at that now.” Michelle chimes in. “We know our brand and our aesthetic and what our customers keep coming back for. We try new things, sure, but we never deviate from what we are good at.”
I ask them what they’re good at.
How they would sum up the Blondie aesthetic.
They have trouble answering.
Not because they don’t know I don’t think. But because it’s become so intrinsic in the way they create that they don’t have the words for it.
But I do.
Because I am a Blondie Apparel enthusiast.
I own the East End Sweater in three colours.
I have a Trinity vest, a pocket tee, a floral AND a striped Cross-Front AND a long sleeved tunic. I even have some leg warmers which, admittedly, I’ve never worn, but I enjoy owning nonetheless.
I didn’t actually realize HOW much Blondie Apparel I have in my closet until I started this inventory exercise.
What Blondie Apparel is to me is easy, ready-to-wear fashion. It’s all functional, but with thoughtful cuts and elements that make the pieces flattering and stylish. They’re the type of clothing items that you go to every time you reach into you closet because you know you look cute, you feel good, and you’ll be able to do whatever it is you need to do that day in them.
Whether I’m running to the gym, or working in the shop, picking up a half ton of candle wax or meeting a friend for lunch, I can do it all with the same outfit pieces.
I literally wear East End sweaters so often they’ve become my signature tops. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve left one behind at the gym, or at a party, only to have it immediately returned to me because the person “knew it was Emily’s sweater”.
There’s something about that that makes me feel good.
I thank the girls for our chat, and leave the shop the continue on my day of planning for the weekend’s event.
I DO hope you’ll join us, and the 149 other incredible Etsy makers we are showcasing at the Etsy Made in Canada OTTAWA show this weekend. Introduce yourself to Blondie Apparel while you’re here, and come give me a hug!
(I’ll be the one huddled in the corner praying nothing goes sideways
In the meantime, you can check out Blondie Apparel on Instagram, Facebook and Etsy.
Join the Etsy Made in Canada Facebook Event HERE for all the details or find the Made in Canada event closest to you HERE!