If you haven’t heard of Toronto-based handbag brand Poppy & Peonies before, you’re going to be really glad that you did. Created and designed by Natalie Dusome, Poppy & Peonies offers trendy, affordable and versatile bags that can be worn multiple ways. Style Nine to Five had the chance to chat with Natalie, who has not only built and grown the business by herself, but she has done so while raising a family. Read on to learn more about Natalie and how she started Poppy & Peonies and where she sees the brand headed in the future.
SNTF: Let’s rewind to the beginning. Natalie, what first attracted you to the world of handbags and accessories? What did you study in school to help get you where you are today?
ND: I grew up in a really small town and as a kid, I was obsessed with fashion magazines, it was like this magical fantasy world and I wanted to be part of it. I would dream about becoming a designer, doing fashion shows and traveling the world, so eventually, I learned to sew and started making my own clothes and it grew from there. It also helped that my parents were super supportive and really believed in my dream. After discovering that Ryerson University offered a degree in fashion design, I spent my high school career building my portfolio and luckily enough, I was accepted!
SNTF: When did you know you were ready to branch off onto your own and launch your own business? Can you tell us about that process?
ND: I always knew I wanted to start my own business and I’ve always been very focused. I recently found an old yearbook from grade nine and under dream occupation, it said “run a multi-million dollar global brand,” LOL! In order to start my own company, I knew I’d need to gain experience working for successful global brands, so after design school, I moved to the U.S and got started at Abercrombie & Fitch. I then moved to Fossil where I started designing commercial bags, then to Banana Republic in New York and that lead me to Aldo back home in Canada.
It was when I became a mom and my lifestyle changed that I got the idea for Poppy & Peonies. I saw a niche in the market for mothers and women on-the-go who were looking for trendy, yet functional and affordable bags. It was really scary leaving my dream job as Head Designer at Aldo. I loved the company, my boss and the work I did, but I felt like it was now or never and I knew I had enough experience under my belt to make it work so I took the leap and I’m so happy I did!
SNTF: Can you tell us about Poppy & Peonies and what inspired your business?
ND: Poppy & Peonies is all about female empowerment. We sell both online and through our society of influencers – a group of incredible women who are designing a life they love on their terms. I’m so passionate about building entrepreneurs and empowering women and that’s what inspires me every day.
SNTF: How did your background influence the direction you wanted to take your brand?
ND: I love design and I’m inspired by the way objects function. Poppy & Peonies bags are multi-functional, so what’s really fun and challenging about my brand is coming up with an on-trend handbag that can transform and be worn multiple ways.
SNTF: What is the most important thing you’ve learned since starting and running your own successful business and brand?
ND: I’m a designer at heart, so it’s difficult for me to shift my mindset and wrap my brain around the numbers, but it’s so important to understand your numbers. Fortunately, there are so many tools and resources out there to help entrepreneurs succeed in that area!
SNTF: Running your own business must keep you incredibly busy. How do you find balance? Have you been able to master the perfect work/life balance?
ND: Finding work/life balance is my life’s journey and mission. It’s also the MOST challenging part of running my own business and something I’m always striving to work at. I love what I do so much that it never feels like work, so I’ll often find myself working on weekends or during a vacation, but that takes time away from my family. I struggle with trying to be the best mom I can be, provide my husband with the attention and time he deserves, grow my business and not neglect myself in the process – it’s such a juggling act!
SNTF: If we had the chance to look at your schedule, what would an average day look like?
ND: Honestly, my days are crazy, to say the least! I start my day at 4 a.m, communicate with overseas vendors, catch up on emails, get some designs done in the peace and quiet, or get a work out in. At around 7 a.m my daughter Poppy starts to get up, I make her lunch, eat breakfast, negotiate over her clothes for the day (she usually wins), run out the door and drop her off at daycare.
I’ll then head to the office to meet with my team and depending on the day, try to get some designing done, discuss social media strategies or prep looks for an upcoming shoot. After being in the office all day I like to unwind with Poppy and my husband, prep for dinner, then get a little more work in before I head to bed and do it all again!
SNTF: What do you consider your turning point with Poppy & Peonies? When was the moment you really felt that you had made it?
ND: I think going to the grocery store and seeing five customers carrying my bags was the moment I thought, O.K you got this!
SNTF: What advice would your present self give your younger self when you were first breaking into the industry? What about when you were first launching your brand?
ND: Get on top of technology and social media sooner. Before I launched my company I was pretty private on social media and never engaged too much. I wish I would have been more involved sooner and more familiar with online shopping and social media trends.
SNTF: What skills are essential to working as a handbag and accessories designer? Do you think having an industry niche is important?
ND: Loving what you do is the most important, but having a vision, knowing trends and the commercial market, and having the skill set to communicate and translate your vision into sellable, relatable product is key.
SNTF: When it comes to the world of women’s handbags and accessories, what obstacles have you faced and how have you overcome them?
ND: Building a brand from scratch means facing multiple obstacles along the way. From meeting supplier minimums and managing quality to raising capital, managing growth and building brand awareness. Managing quality is difficult, so we work with a third party quality team who can identify any issues before the products ships. Raising capital and managing cash flow can also be a challenge, but being organized and finding investors who really believe in you and your business is the key to staying on top of it.
SNTF: When it came to launching your business, did you have any mentors help you along the way?
ND: Surprisingly, no! I didn’t have a business mentor at first but once we started to get traction and see real sales, I sought out a business coach who understood my business model and has helped guide me with big decisions.
SNTF: The handbag industry must be incredibly competitive. How would you say you differ from other Canadian brands?
ND: What makes Poppy & Peonies unique is that our bags are very functional – we have bags in our collection that can be worn up to five different ways. Customers love it because they can buy one stylish and affordable bag then wear it multiple different ways to suit the occasion or event.
SNTF: Finally, what do you wake up looking forward to for Poppy & Peonies? Where do you see the brand headed next?
style=”padding-top: 14px;”>ND: I’m really excited about the future and can’t believe how far we’ve come in a year and a half. We are looking to grow into new areas across Canada and the U.S and then eventually expand into the realm of jewelry and accessories.
You can stay up-to-date with Natalie and Poppy & Peonies by following them on Instagram.
All photos courtesy of Poppy & Peonies.
By Ainsley Smith, Toronto @ainsleysmithy
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