Recently I had the honour of being interviewed by Kelsey Jorssen, of Jorssen Marketing, for her interview series on unique, independent bands and the people behind them. Check out the interview below.
Thank you Kelsey for the opportunity to share my story.
Haberdasher & Co. : Creating a Gentlemen's Brand
Well...we reached out to another brand whose branding we thought was on point and this time, hoping to interview a man to add variety to our pre-existing interviews. This is the second time this has happened now where in fact it, we discovered that a woman was the mastermind behind the company. This makes Haberdasher & Co. even more compelling because they're demonstrating that their branding is on point in reaching their target customer: men who need to be suited up.
Meet Bobbie Long: founder and operator of Haberdasher & Co. She believes in not only making men look boss, but enhancing the overall shopping experience as soon as you enter the door. Would you like a scotch while you get your measurements? Yes, please!
1. You’ve lived here for 12 years. Where did you come from before and what is your work background?
I moved to Vancouver because I thought I was going to be a rock star (laughs)! Not that I play any instruments or sing! In Calgary I worked in the restaurant industry, as well as for a couple of event and concert promoters, which allowed me to be a VIP Host for many rock stars and celebrities. I wanted to do that here, but when I got to Vancouver the city was going through a major transition in the live music scene and many of the iconic live music venues were being closed or torn down, and the ones that were remaining were largely catering to DJ’s and EDM. I spent about a year working nights and weekend with a local promoter, while maintaining an office job. But finally gave up on the dream when it started to become more of a volunteer job. I stayed in the office job for a few more years, but felt like it was sucking the life out of me, so much to my chagrin, I ended up going back to the restaurant industry. Which was not fulfilling and I wanted out for good. One day I received a program guide in the mail for Langara College and they were offering a new program called, Image Consulting. Something inside me clicked and I knew I had to take the course. So I registered.
2. Why menswear?
The Image Consulting program was largely focused on styling women. Throughout the course, I kept finding myself doing my assignments for men. One day my instructor pulled me aside and said that I could do very well in men’s fashion, but needed more education, as menswear is quite technical, and could get it by working in retail. Shortly after the course was done, I was hired at Dunn’s Tailors and had an amazing opportunity to learn from people who had been in the industry for decades. But I wasn’t being fulfilled with my mediocre retail job that wasn’t utilizing my talents, or forward thinking with its direction. And at that time, men’s fashion was changing rapidly, and as a business, you embrace the change, or you sit on the sidelines and watch it happen. Which was the case with that company. Then through a crazy turn of events, (ask me about the story in person) I ended up working at the dream job that I envisioned in my mind, but didn’t know existed, until I started working at a newly re-branded menswear store in West Vancouver, called Baracos+Brand. Which ended up being a quite the serendipitous opportunity.
3. Being a business woman, how do you find it connecting with men through your brand?
Men don’t have the same body image issues that most women have. And when they don’t know how to do something, they will pay an expert to help them take away the pain, and in this case, make them look good. I can tell men what to wear and they trust me, because I guarantee compliments. I tried working with women, but I think you need a psychology degree to deal with their deeply rooted body image issues. And that is not something that is going to change in the change room. I realized early on that it was just not for me.
4. We loved seeing that you are giving back through the Mission Possible charity and creating a unique event called the “Gentlemen’s Evening”. Tell us a little more about it?
The Gentlemen’s Evening has been on my mind pretty much since I started working in men’s fashion. I’ve done smaller events with Baracos+Brand, but nothing to this scale. I even had it in my business plan. And then six months into my business I got a call from a fellow who is the Brand Ambassador for Absolut Elyx, he wanted to come by and check out the studio. Once we met, he explained how they want to partner with Gentlemen’s brands like mine to host events. This was like a dream come true. I believe in manifesting and this was proof. Partnering with them allowed me to make the event even greater than I originally envisioned.
I’m a big proponent of giving back to the community and when you are fortunate enough to host such an event, it is an important to leverage it and create an opportunity to raise money for your favourite charity. Mine is Mission Possible, an incredible organization in the downtown east side that is helping people gain the skills and experience to find meaningful work.
So I created an interactive way to raise the money at the event. We provided a by donation head shot photo booth, a shoe cobbler shined shoes, and a Barber provided clean up cuts, the guys loved it! We also sold raffle tickets to win a free suit. We raised over $1,100 and one of our amazing vendors donated 100 pairs of socks. It was such a proud moment when I was able to present Mission Possible with the cheque and socks. I can’t wait to do it again and raise even more money!
5. Growth for future events??
I had amazing feedback after the first event. I thought it would be an annual event, but I now think I’m going to host it twice a year. Which is also a great way to showcase the seasonal in-stock collections. We are tentatively planning another one for this Spring. Having said that, I have other events in the queue, such as a customer appreciation Glenlivet Master Class. I’m in a unique situation where I need to come up with creative ways to introduce myself to new potential clients. And what better way to have gentlemen come together with great food, booze, music and networking. We’re seeing more gentlemen-inspired events happen and I think it’s great. They’re different from sporting events, because it's more refined and sophisticated. I believe men in this city are becoming more that way.
6. How does your brand differ from the competition like, Top Shop or Indochino from a community relations perspective?
First of all, I don’t put them in a traditional role of what competition would be. To be diplomatic, I’ll just say that I often end up with their former customers, due to their lack of quality products and service. But what I do give them credit for, is turning the industry on it’s head and pushing it to make custom clothing more approachable and cost effective for the consumer. Five years ago, made to measure clothing was very expensive and out of reach for the average consumer. It was them that catalyzed me to open my business, I wanted to provide not just quality products, but also expertise in styling and tailoring. Which I think is greatly lacking in men’s fashion. Men are being undeserved and I want to change that.
I want H&Co. to be known as a trusted men’s lifestyle brand that provides quality clothing, services and informative content. I’d like to have several different locations throughout the country, with passionate people helping men live, look and feel their best. Keeping it small and authentic. I think there’s a lot of in-authenticity in retail.
7. What’s a typical day for you?
Ahaha there’s not a typical day. Every day is so different. I’m in the process of really trying to streamline my days and be more disciplined with my actions. I’d like to get to a point where I have more ‘regular’ days. Right now, that’s not entirely the case. Some of my actions are to get up earlier (5am), because there’s just not enough time in the day between social media, blogs, newsletters, sales calls, fittings, networking and everything else that I get to do as a Solopreneur. I can’t take my business to the next level if I continue on the same route. It’s gettin’ real!
8. Which is why you’re waking up at 5am?
Trust me, I’m trying (laughing) it’s so outside of my comfort zone! 6am is more comfortable. I wake up at 5am, in my warm cozy bed, and say to myself, “You need to be disciplined and get out of bed”. Then I’m like f**k it, and go back to sleep for an hour. I think I’ll be more successful at getting up at 5am during Spring/Summer. I suck at Fall/Winter. Most of what you do as a business owner, is not easy or glamorous, but you have to push yourself to do it anyway, because that’s when magic happens.
9. Advice for new business owners?
Surround yourself with loving and supportive people that will encourage and lift you every step of the way, because there will be moments when you forget to believe in your yourself. Practicing discipline is also very important, because at the end of the day, you must be your own boss, coach, cheerleader, etc. Make discipline your religion. This is something I work on everyday!