Finding a great affordable bag ain’t easy, and how to find one is definitely one of the most frequently asked questions I receive from friends and readers. Is it possible to find one that’s Canadian too? That gets even harder. But that’s exactly why the designs (and price points) of Ontario-based bag brand, Poppy & Peonies, caught my eye. After working for major brands such as Fossil, Banana Republic and Aldo, fashion designer Natalie Dusome decided to apply her skills and knowledge to building her own brand. See below to learn more about her, and her handbags, in the latest Founder Files feature:
Business Name: Poppy & Peonies
Name & Title: Natalie Dusome, Founder & Designer
Location: Penetanguishene, Ontario
Education: BDes- Bachelor of Design- Ryerson University
GC: Tell us about your brand, what do you do?
I’m the founder and designer of Poppy & Peonies, an accessories brand that sells fun, functional handbags for women.
GC: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
ND: I was inspired to start Poppy & Peonies when my daughter Poppy was born. When I became a mom, my lifestyle changed drastically and I needed practical fashion that fit this new lifestyle, but I couldn’t find it. It got me thinking that there must be other mothers on-the-go out there looking for trendy, affordable and multi-functional fashion. From there I took the leap and decided to create Poppy & Peonies.
GC: Tell us about your past work experience at brands like Fossil, Aldo and Banana Republic; how did your experiences help you create your company?
ND: Right after graduating from Ryerson, I moved to the U.S and it was such an amazing experience. I had an incredible design mentor at Fossil who taught me all about hardware design; at Banana republic I really honed my sketching and design skills, and at Aldo I learned a lot about the commercial market and the business behind fashion. Each experience gave me different tools that I would eventually need to build my own brand.
GC: Why do you love what you do?
ND: I’m one of these really lucky people who have found what they love to do. I’ve always loved creating and knew I wanted to be a fashion designer since I was a little girl. From conceptualizing and creating the design to seeing your finished samples and putting them out into the world – each part of the process gives me so much joy. Sometimes the designs turn out great, other times they need to be corrected or need ‘surgery’ (our inside joke). Then you make corrections, and re-sample the design until it turns out amazing. Having your customers buy that finished product is so exciting! The best part for me is seeing the bags out in the world – like a proud mom seeing her baby on T.V. or in a magazine.
GC: What makes your business special?
ND: Our company is about more than just handbags. We’re on a mission to empower women and build female entrepreneurs by providing the tools and resources for women to start their own businesses. We have a society of female influencers who bring our handbags right into your living room!
GC: What makes your product special?
ND: Poppy & Peonies is a special product because it’s both versatile and gorgeous. You can wear each bag multiple ways – some even transform and can be worn up to 5 different ways for $89! It’s amazing.
GC: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business?
ND: I’ve learned so many lessons. The importance of life/work balance is something I am constantly trying to juggle. I’ve learned how important time management is, and to do the tasks that add the most value to my business and delegate the ones that can be done by someone else.
GC: What have been some of the pros and cons of building your business in Canada/Toronto?
ND: There are so many pros to building business in Canada and owning a Canadian company. We are an incredible, supportive country and I am overwhelmed by all the support I’ve received from my community, influencers and editors.
GC: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
ND: My number one piece of advice would be that there’s no elevator to success, only the stairs. If you want to start your own business you need to have grit! It takes dedication, hard work and perseverance. I believe you have to love what you do to have a successful business, because there will be times that you’ll fall down and want to quit, and the only thing that keeps you going is your love and passion for what do you.
GC: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
ND: Yes, everything! My background is in design, not business, logistics, production, e-commerce, nor marketing. I have had to figure everything out on my own and have learned many lessons the hard way, but I really believe in positive thinking, so I wouldn’t have it any other way. At the time these lessons are hard, but I try to see them as gifts and learning experiences.
GC: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs to prepare for?
ND: Sleepless nights! I had no idea starting a business would be this much work.
GC: What has your experience as an entrepreneur in Canada been like?
ND: It’s been amazing! I’m a very proud Canadian and I love that I’m creating something and has helped support job creation.
GC: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
ND: I’m a highly motivated individual and that comes easy for me, but being organized and balanced is something I’m constantly working on. I used to jump around from task to task and constantly shift my focus, but I’ve found that time-blocking and doing similar tasks together is more efficient. I also try not to be a slave to my emails, I time-block my calendar and answer emails together, not as they come in.
GC: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
ND: I love strong women who are doing what they love! I’m a huge Beyonce fan. Tory Burch and Sophia Amoruso are also great role models and total girl bosses!
GC: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
ND: My daughter and I always sing a song in the car about where we’re going, and that always puts a smile on my face.
GC: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
ND: I find inspiration everywhere! It could be anything from a pattern in a old window at an antique shop or the colour combinations in an umbrella to the street style looks in Paris. I see shapes, colours and patterns everywhere I go.
GC: As a Canadian based company do you have international goals and if so why?
ND: I launched Poppy & Peonies a year and a half ago and we still have so much ground to cover in Canada. I would like to grow into the U.S eventually so we can serve new customers and new markets.
GC: Who is the Poppy & Peonies client and where can your items be purchased?
ND: Our customers are everyday women on-the-go who are looking for affordable, trendy bags that can transform and be worn multiple ways. Poppy & Peonies is sold online at www.poppyandpeonies.com and through our society of influencers, who are brand ambassadors that make it easy and convenient for busy women to shop. Our influencers bring the collection right into your living room so that you can share some laughs, catch up with friends and of course, shop!