I caught up with Jess Sternberg, co-founder of Free Label, a new line of ethically made-in-Canada activewear from Toronto. Their black and white Betty tanks have been making a splash across social media as versatile basics (that match perfectly with leggings). In a matter of weeks, Free Label has built their brand from the ground up through their online presence.
You just launched a new line of activewear! Was there a gap in the market you saw that you wanted to fill?
I did! I found there is a gap in not only the activewear niche, but fashion in general: Canadian-made. Part of my job managing flow-active.com is to scout out great made in Canada pieces but I have a lot of trouble finding classic, not overly designed basics made ethically in Canada… and at a reasonable price. I just couldn’t find that perfect tank or tee that you want to wear everyday, so I figured I’ll make it myself!
What does it mean to you for something to be ethically made?
Ethically made can mean many things. But to me, there are two simple but important questions that determine whether something is made ethically: 1) Are the people who are making your clothes being treated fairly and with respect? 2) Is the environment being treated fairly and with respect?
What was the process behind bringing this to market?
My partner, Julian, and I spent many months working up the confidence, business plan and designs. That’s the first step. The next step is finding a reputable factory in Canada that has the same environmental standards as us. The rest is history!
How did you learn what you were doing?
I am really really lucky that I’ve had the opportunity to run a business through Flow-active. I gained a lot of insight into the buying side of the fashion industry. That inspired further self study into the manufacturing and production side of fashion and the rest I learn as I go. I’m still learning!
What marketing tools do you use to get people to notice your shirts? Have you noticed any particularly effective tactics?
I primarily use social media. It’s practically free, and if you spend the time engaging and collaborating with the community, you can build up a following in no time. I find Instagram is particularly useful because it targets this amazingly kind and engaged yoga community. If I had a budget, I would focus on building an Instagram ambassador program (gifting clothing), and boost my Facebook posts.
What can you share with us about your next designs?
Julian and I are currently working on a small 7-8 piece collection. Picture all those perfect basics you over-wear until they become yellow in the armpits.That’s what we want to make… but without the sweat stains.
Was there anything you learned as the general manager at Flow-Active that helped you bring Free Label to life?
So many things! But I think the best thing Flow-active did for me was realize I can do this. Anyone who has enough passion and is willing to take risks can start their own business.
Do you have any tips for building a brand through Instagram?
Be genuinely you and engage with others.
What are your strengths as an entrepreneur and how do you play to them?
Passion. This can sometimes manifest as major stress (I’m the kind of gal who takes her work home with her), but I believe passion can take you all the way. I embody the things I’m passionate about, take about them to whoever will listen, get involved in relevant communities, etc. My biggest strength is that I completely immerse myself in my project.
What other yogi-run businesses do you look up to?
I think “Teeki” is a prime example of a brand that has refused to sell out. In an increasingly saturated print legging market, Teeki continues to produce original prints, ethically and with passion. They built their environmentally conscience business primarily through Instagram, making Teeki the ultimate modern yogi-run business. A lot of people ask me if I look up to larger yoga apparel manufacturers. I don’t. They may be a great business model for major profits, but I think businesses today need to be about more than that (especially in the yoga industry).
Black Betty or White Betty?
Want more fun with Jess? She joined us on the air at Guinea Pigging Green to talk ethical fashion and staying centred on social media.
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