In honour of Women's History Month, we’re featuring women who inspire us. These entrepreneurs turned their passions into a successful business. We hope their stories inspire you to create businesses and lives that you love.
In our last post in the series, we’re turning the lens inward by featuring the founder of Encircled, Kristi Soomer. Encircled makes sweatshop-free, minimalist clothing from eco-friendly materials in Toronto, Canada.
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Kristi Soomer and I’m the founder and CEO of Encircled. I started Encircled because I wanted to make it possible for women to travel without compromising their style. Over the years, Encircled evolved to focus on more apparel for everyday adventures, not just when traveling abroad.
I grew up in Toronto, playing competitive sports and honestly, having little interest in fashion until a later age. I have an undergrad in Finance and an MBA, so basically no schooling in fashion either. I just had an idea and wanted to see it through!
I now live in the King West area of Toronto with my lovely pup, Harlow.
My current role at Encircled is CEO where I oversee the company’s operations, marketing, PR, influencers, production, design - basically all the things. I’m very lucky to have a great team helping me make everything happen in all of these areas!
What was the moment when you realized you wanted to open up your own business?
I was in corporate for well over 11 years prior to quitting my job to make the leap full-time into entrepreneurship. I worked in CPG, marketing and management consulting, and no one in my family is an entrepreneur - it’s definitely not in my veins. But, I’ve always had a strong call to create, and a passion for making something from the ground up.
I started to realize that I got bored very quickly at jobs, and frustrated with the lack of impact I’d have at the level I was at in my career. Also, much of my work felt unaligned with my values.
When I was on my yoga retreat that inspired the creation of the Cardi, one of the teachers was leading a meditation about what you really want to do and how you want to impact the world in your lifetime. It made me start to feel like I was destined to be part of the solution, and part of something bigger - that was probably the moment I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.
It wasn’t until about 3 years later that I quit my job. It’d now be tough to go back to my old way of life. Entrepreneurship is definitely addictive!
Kristi styled The Minimalist Legging II with over the knee boots to dress it up.
What has been your biggest success so far?
Growing and scaling a business in one of the most competitive industries in the world!
We’ve been around for just over 5 years, and continue to grow double, and sometimes even triple digits year over year.
Second, I think we’re truly starting to make an impact in changing the way people think and view fashion. When I started Encircled, people shopped with us for our designs. Now, many come to us for our ethics and sustainability. It’s inspiring to see that the world is shifting to care more about who, where and how their clothing is made.
Third to that, becoming a Certified B Corporation®
“When I was on my yoga retreat that inspired the creation of the Cardi, one of the teachers was leading a meditation about what you really want to do and how you want to impact the world in your lifetime. It made me start to feel like I was destined to be part of the solution, and part of something bigger - that was probably the moment I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur.“
What has been your biggest challenge in running the business?
Kristi: The unpredictability of everything about running a small business - the constant ups and downs.
It gets easier as the years go by, but there is always a new challenge or opportunity waiting around the corner. Some of these are positive, and some are not. From a day to day basis, things shift massively, and when you’re small these impacts can be felt even more.
Being able to work through tough situations is a key skill that every entrepreneur needs.
What do you love most about what you do?
The ability to create something from the ground up, in a way that feels authentic and aligned with my values. Every damn day.
What advice would you give someone looking to start their own business?
I love this question! A few things:
–Find something you’re passionate about. Something with a bigger mission. Don’t worry if you have no experience in that area. You can figure it out. Follow your heart.
–There is no silver bullet for how to grow your business. Building a business is a lot of trial and error. But, once you find something that works, you have to be consistent with executing. I see too many entrepreneurs not following through, and that to me is one of the biggest differentiators of success; follow-through and consistent action.
–Start small, test and scale. I started Encircled with just one product (The Chrysalis Cardi), in one size, and two colours (Black and Charcoal Grey). We had just this product for a YEAR. As we grew, we extended our product line, sizing, and colourways. Starting small and not over-investing in an idea before it’s proven is a good strategy for building a sustainable startup.
"Find something you’re passionate about. Something with a bigger mission. Don’t worry if you have no experience in that area. You can figure it out. Follow your heart."
Where do you find inspiration?
Kristi: I’m very inspired by other entrepreneurs, in particular, female founders and leaders. I know how hard it is to start and scale a business as a woman, so if anyone has figured that out, I’m game to see what they’re up to!
A few girl bosses that I follow for ideas and motivation are Gabrielle Bernstein, Lori Harder, Joanna Griffiths (Knixwear), Michele Romanow (Dragon’s Den), and Lorna Clarkson (founder of Lorna Jane).
I also follow many creatives, and bloggers, especially in the minimalist lifestyle and slow living space and I’m an obsessive podcast listener (primarily business focused and motivational).
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Kristi: “Everything is figureoutable” - Marie Forleo
As an entrepreneur, especially a solo founder, you’ll run into situations where you have NO idea what to do. You don’t have the answer, you’ve never experienced something like this before, and you may feel like you have no idea where to go for help.
When this happens, I recite this quote. I tell myself I can find a way, and start trying to problem solve. Even the craziest situations have solutions, and the best thing you can do is to keep moving forward, reach out to your network, research, and try some things. Every problem has a solution, even if it’s not obvious or easy.
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not working?
I love spending time with my dog, Harlow
. Walks, cuddles, anything!
Travelling is also a big passion of mine. Exploring new destinations with the manfriend is one of my favourite hobbies.
Lastly, hanging out with my friends. Some are entrepreneurs, some are not, but they’re all wonderful, warm, intelligent humans, who I’m grateful to have in my life.
All photos are copyright Encircled. Contact us for permissions/rights to re-use or repost images.
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