The Bright Side of Business bimonthly column is presented by Star Motors.
Whether she’s dancing on Broadway, presenting at New York Fashion week, or running her ByWard Market boutique, Stacey Martin approaches new projects with off-the-charts energy.
Now, more than a decade after the Ottawa fashion entrepreneur first launched her clothing line, she’s tackling the challenges COVID-19 thrust upon her business head-on, raising funds aimed at propelling her next phase of growth and striking international marketing partnerships.
In 2009, Martin officially launched KANIA Couture Inc., a luxe brand of loungewear created with sustainable materials. She first got her business off the ground by attending trade shows and selling wholesale to friends and family.
“I'd then use that cash flow to put back into the business,” she says. “It was a slow but steady snow(balling) effect.”
After 15 years in the fashion industry, Martin reached the $1 million mark in sales. But when COVID-19 hit, almost all of her revenue streams – which included speaking engagements and fashion shows – quickly closed.
“I realized I had two choices,” she says. “I either stop the business completely, or really scale in a big way.”
Enter stage right: External capital
Even before the pandemic, Martin was shifting to an online sales model and rebranding from KANIA Couture Inc. to Stacey Martin Lifestyle.
“I realized I had two choices ... stop the business completely, or really scale in a big way.”
“I realized Stacey Martin is a universal name,” she explains. To take the new brand to the next level, Martin started looking for investors.
However, when she started researching options, “I realized what a disadvantage I was at,” Martin says.
“Less than 0.5 per cent of Black female entrepreneurs have gotten capital funding,” she notes. In fashion itself, Martin adds, only 14 per cent of North America’s leading fashion executives are women.
“We can always talk about change, but it's at the core level. It's at the leadership level, the executive level and the board members level,” she says. “If those are still the same people, then nothing really changes.”
When speaking to a high school friend about systemic barriers to funding, Martin learned that her friend’s husband, restaurateur Keith Hiscox, was looking to diversify his investment portfolio after seeing the impact of COVID-19 on the food industry.
By August 2020, Martin had partnered with Hiscox, as well as Adam Miron, co-founder of Ottawa cannabis producer Hexo, to secure $250,000 in seed funding. The capital went towards the business rebrand, covering everything from legal fees to new graphics.
Canada’s apparel market was worth almost US$28 billion last year. While major players include Lululemon and Roots, “none of these (brands) are really like Stacey Martin Lifestyle,” says Martin, whose products are all ethically manufactured in Canada with sustainable materials by a female-led, Black-owned business.
“It thrills me to know the possibility of how much this company can rise, and that I can bring the community with me.”
From Canada to the Caribbean
As well as raising funding, Martin has partnered with the Nevis Tourism Authority, creating a collection that celebrates her Caribbean heritage. Committed to keeping a low carbon footprint, Martin explains that St. Kitts and Nevis was rated as one of the most sustainable islands in the world.
Each item in Martin’s NEVIS collection will have a unique QR code, allowing customers to see their product displayed in the Caribbean.
“The brand will be the essence of how you feel when you're on an escape on an island,” Martin says. “When you're in the piece, I want you to remember where you wore it and how you felt.”
Today, Martin is using an equity crowdfunding platform to raise her next round of $1 million. Even as her business grows, Martin will keep her boutique in the ByWard Market.
“People always say, ‘Ottawa is not a fashion city,’” she says. “Well, let's show them together.”
The Bright Side of Business is an editorial feature focused on sharing positive stories of business success.
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