When I was a scrappy little fashion student, I used to make hand painted silk scarves and when I was feeling gutsy I would walk down Queen Street West and Kensington Market and drop into stores and try to sell them. That’s when I met Christina Bergstrom - she had a little studio and shop up a flight of stairs near John Street. Her clothes were bright and graphic and suited the style of scarves pretty well, and she let me leave a few on consignment. I think we even sold a few.
Christina has since moved to a bigger store on street level – she’s now on Queen Street East, east of the Don River. I walk in and say hey from time to time, and this week I sent her a few questions about what its like to be a designer-retailer.
Why did you decide to become a designer/retailer?
Deciding to go the route of retailing my designs in my own shop was actually just a natural progression in business growth for me. I had started my business in the 90′s doing custom clothing design. After about 5 years of business experience with that, and a growing client base, I felt the need to have more design liberty, but to maintain the personal interaction with customers. Retailing Bergstrom Originals seemed like the perfect step.
It seems like its a lot of work to be a designer, and it also seems like a lot of work to run a boutique. What are the advantages to doing both? What are the challenges?
I think no matter what route anyone chooses in this industry, hard work is important for success. I definately live and breathe my work, but the bonus is that it doesn’t really feel like “a job”.
The Advantages of combining designing with retailing are:
- having direct contact with customers (the people who are actually wearing my product) getting feedback on designs
- being able to use the boutique and its atmosphere as part of the branding of my label. I think the clothes and the space work together to create the image of Bergstrom Originals.
- being in control of customer service, which again strengthens customer satisfaction with the brand
- Having a relatively short cycle from an idea to reality means I can respond to, and work with trends, market conditions and just a “feeling that’s in the air”.
- Time management. No doubt can be a huge challenge. Working with people I trust, in the store and for production, eases this issue
- Knowing what feedback to listen to, and what not to listen to: Not everyone that I see in the store, offering advice and suggestions, is necessarily in my target market.
- Finding a balance between creative freedom and good business sense.
You are able to interact directly with the women who wear your clothes. Do your customers inspire your designs?
They certainly do!
I love that my line has developed from getting a real sense of who my customer is. I always think about the lifestyle trends of my customers when I design. I am a realist, and appreciate good value, so I always strive to design clothes that can be worn in the many facets of my customers life.
What has been the proudest moment of your career?
Rather than one specific moment, I have a huge sense of pride when I see a satisfied customer, or when I gain a new customer through a referral.
Everyone is thinking twice about their spending patterns these days, so I feel honoured when anyone chooses to make a purchase at Bergstrom Originals