Feb 24, 2022
This featured story is brought to you by the Power of Why Podcast in collaboration with Invest Ottawa. We teamed up to produce this special series to celebrate women leading in Ottawa for International Women’s Week (IWW 2022) and shine the spotlight on our IWW 2022 featured leaders to unpack their passion and purpose.
Each year, five inspirational leaders are selected to represent International Women’s Week. They are role models achieving a significant impact on our economy, community and society, and embody the spirit, goals and values of IWW.
She started her career on Broadway before founding fashion startup Kania Couture Inc., whose designs were showcased at New York Fashion Week, World Mastercard Fashion Week, and Project Las Vegas. Today, Stacey Martin is the founder of Canadian luxe loungewear company Stacey Martin Lifestyle, at the intersection of sustainability, comfort and style.
Stacey joined us to share the greatest lessons she’s learned as a serial entrepreneur: from overcoming failure and channeling your purpose, to finding the right people for guidance, and raising money during a pandemic (with the power of crowdfunding).
Tune in to the podcast or take the time to digest each article found below. Regardless, Stacey’s story provides a lot of gems of wisdom!
Naomi: How did you grow up?
Stacey: I did competitive dance my whole life. I knew what I wanted to do from a young age but I didn’t know anybody who practiced the arts as a job back then. So I charted my own course.
My mom saw my passion for dance and fashion and she never stopped that. She wanted me to have fun and live my dream. I never thought that creative entrepreneurship could be a real job. But it was what I loved.
Naomi: It’s beautiful that your mom really encouraged you to explore anything that piqued your interest.
Stacey: Even when I didn’t want to do it, she’d be like, “just go, what are you waiting for?”
I loved fashion since I was little. I made my high school graduation dress. I was a dancer in New York City. I love my dance clothes, but whenever they would ask you to go audition for something else that asked you to sing or to act, you had to put on regular clothes, but sometimes you had to go and dance again.
And I thought, “Why can’t I have clothing that allows me to move and look good?” So I was like, “I’m just gonna make it.” I went to the fabric store, got some sweatshirt material, and made a dress. I kept making things and people wanted to buy the clothes off of me.
Naomi: So many businesses stem from people first identifying a gap.
Stacey: What are you lacking in your life that makes you go, “Why don’t we have something like this?”
Naomi: What was it like to start creating this for other people?
Stacey: I was going to a yoga class and the director said she loved what I had on, and asked if I could make a line for the studi, I said yes. I was in Ottawa at the time visiting my mom. I had to find a business name, buy a proper sewing machine. That’s how I started the business.
Naomi: You’ve been at New York Fashion Week and have traveled everywhere for your brands. Can you tell us about Stacey Martin Lifestyle Inc. and what you’re working on today?
Stacey: Stacey Martin Lifestyle is about bringing attention to Black female entrepreneurs and giving opportunities to women. I think I could have moved faster if I had some of this knowledge a long time ago. So part of the company is about helping people understand that they can go there too.
I’m about making clothing that women can be powerful, beautiful, sexy—whatever they want to feel, whatever matters most to them—and be comfortable.
Naomi: There’s this quote by James Clear that says “Vision is the bottleneck of talent.” It’s not a lack of effort, but a lack of direction.
Stacey: When it comes to creativity, we’re like, “Well, I’m not the best artist.” We can get negative. But we all have that thing in us. For the girls reading: you got a long way to go. Hold on to what you have.
When I was 17 and 20, I had way more fire, more purpose, more passion. Understand what you truly love. With all our obligations and the external messages from social media, we feel like we’re not good enough. But just do it. Take the dance class, go to pottery, go for a walk, maybe skiing—I don’t know what it is for you.
For me, it was building this business. Now, I love reading, but I never was a reader. I love educating myself on women empowerment. It makes me come alive. Find the thing that helps you go through your life.
Naomi: How did you get clear on what you wanted to work on?
Stacey: I think it came from pain. From not achieving what I wanted to. Externally everything looks amazing, but I was like, “what is the purpose here? Is it just to be a better fashion designer?” No, my purpose is helping others. It’s always been making people light up.
I realized that not being successful wasn’t a bad thing. It was almost a blessing. We don’t want to fail. It’s not great. But whether it’s a failed relationship, job, or whatever you want to call it, when you’re in that place, you realize what you actually want.
Don’t stress about finding your purpose. That just adds another burden and obligation that got you this way in the first place. When you were a child, what did you love? What made you happy? Maybe love it again.
Naomi: I’d love to switch gears a bit, to talk about what you mentioned earlier about the person who’s advising you and your business. How has this helped you?
Stacey: It’s helped me astronomically. His name is Adam Myron, and he is the co-founder of HEXO Corp, a medical marijuana company. He started from nothing, so I see somebody that I’m like, “I can be like you.”
Find the person who’s done it. A lot of the time we’re asking questions to the wrong people. This isn’t just in business–even in a friend, when you’re going through something in your life, it’s always best to ask someone who has been there.
Naomi: What are your thoughts on business mentorship and advising? Because Adam is from a completely different industry.
Stacey: People will ask me how I got to be a fashion designer when I was a Broadway dancer. But it’s the same, it really is just about your product.
Often we get mixed up with our talent, and think that our talent is our business. But it’s your talent. And that’s great. Harness that. Sometimes we look at fashion designers and look at their companies and are like “How are they the designer? They’re not that fashionable.” That’s because they own the company and they’re hiring a fashion designer. The business owner sells.
Naomi: What was it like raising money?
Stacey: It was probably the most nerve wracking time of my life and I’m a performer. I thought I’ll make my pitch deck, and I’m going to pitch my company like in Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank.
It didn’t work like that. A lot of investors wouldn’t even look at me. So I founded a company called FrontFundr which allows regular people to get equity in your company through crowdfunding.
Basically, the way I’m talking to you now, I did pitches pretty much every day to different people, for different denominations from $250 all the way up to $30,000. It was one of the most vulnerable events in my whole life.
I’ve never done a financial pitch before. Asking people for money during COVID-19 took a lot of guts. You just have to jump. There is no safety net. Create a strategy. Know how many people you need to pitch to in a day. Try to get some sort of system in order. But you have to just do it.
That is the lesson for everything in business. You can have the most beautiful art, fashion, or course plan, but you need to push it to the people who are going to buy it.
Naomi: What did that preparation look like for you?
Stacey: I was just like “run girl, run!” To anyone who’s reading, plan at least three months ahead of time. I planned in terms of what my company was going to be, my pitch deck, and what I was going to say.
I used to not like math but math is the savior. It’s not scary. The story is that I need $250,000 by May 16. I’ve got 90 days to do it. How many people do I have to pitch to?
I had big ideas and thought I’d pitch to people for $10,000. Those people were all interested in listening to what I had to say but they weren’t investing. So I started spending more time where I was getting more of a return, which was on people who are investing $1,000, $2,500.
Naomi: So you broke down the process into its smallest parts and saw, tangibly, what you need to do in a day, in a week. You made it attainable, by being consistent.
Stacey: It is a lot easier said than done. But that is the system. When you break it down and make it simple, it doesn’t get overwhelming.
Naomi: Do you have any advice for people who are trying to sell their vision?
Stacey: Be yourself. I know it sounds cliche, but honest to goodness the people that invested in me, were investing in my passion and drive and tenacity. You are your package. You need to believe in yourself.
Naomi: Before we wrap up, what’s something that you’ve been really curious about lately, whether it’s in fashion, entrepreneurship, or anything else?
Stacey: I love to travel. Coming back to business, when you are your most authentic self, everything else comes in alignment more easily. When I’m traveling, even when I’m just driving for a long drive down the road, I get flooded with ideas of inspiration. I want to get that movement and flow back into my life.
Naomi: Can you leave us with the feelings you are evoking through your brand and products?
Stacey: Nevis is the island where my mom was born. And I just wanted people to feel the sentiment of what it is. When I go to Nevis, it’s like magic. Time stands still. It’s effortless. It’s sustainable. It’s just this way of freedom. I have an official collaboration with the island.
What I want to evoke through my clothing is that when people put the clothing on, they can feel that sense of beauty that comes with being on the islands.
An intrapreneur, consultant, and interviewer.
Naomi Haile is curious about people, their paths and what drives them. In 2017, she launched the Power of Why Podcast. Her guests have taken the non-linear path in business, venture capital and other creative professions to share their story. Each episode explores people’s philosophy on life and work.
As we all navigate our lives and careers, Naomi hopes that everyone she connects with – guests and listeners – can shape products, companies, and communities of impact.
Naomi is a consultant at QuakeLab. She is starting graduate school at Columbia University.
In support of its Women Founders and Owners strategy, Invest Ottawa offers programs and services that enable and accelerate the growth and success of women entrepreneurs from every walk of life. Visit www.investottawa.ca/women to learn more!