Say “Yes” to the Journey
Charlene Martin, Toronto fashion designer and expert, argues that the journey to becoming an entrepreneur in fashion is just as, if not more, noteworthy than the destination.
It was only at the tender age of 9, that Charlene Martin first experienced her true and profound love for fashion. Her mother, who owned her own clothing store in downtown Toronto, had young Char at her side, accompanying her to vendor meetings and factories and helping out in the store on weekends, “That was basically my childhood” Martin recalls. With all of the premature exposure to entrepreneurialism, Char had already begun her action-packed journey to success without even knowing it yet. Fast forward about 24 years, and accumulating 14 years of experience in the fashion industry, Charlene’s journey as an entrepreneur had been nothing less than action-packed. With perseverance and saying “yes” to keep on her journey Charlene now finds herself working on a new project that she claims is “Something that I believe my past experiences led me to do all along.”
Sons of Odin
Back in 2013, Charlene along with business partner and also once boyfriend of 8 years, Zakariah Milanahich, launched their very own clothing brand by the name, Sons of Odin. The collection encompassed the pairs shared vision, impressive design skills and fashion forward knowledge. The brand grew a very reputable and large following so much so that their Spring/Summer 2015 collection walked down the runway at the Toronto Men’s Fashion Week and was being sold in Holt Renfrew Toronto, locations in New York City as well as L.A. Major celebrities such as Justin Bieber, Ludacris and Kardinal Offishal (to name a few) have been seen in their pieces and known to be fans of the brand. As her success with Sons of Odin sounds all well and good, Charlene did not hesitate to leave out the many crucial pieces that paved the way for her journey, “I think to be an entrepreneur you really need that internal drive that makes you keep going even when it gets tough. You have to wake up in the morning and create your schedule on how you’re going to be profitable and use your time wisely. There is no boss managing your time or your work ethic, it's you! There is no room for laziness. The biggest lesson I learned is that networking is key. The more people you know and support what you are doing the more help you will get.”
Staying True to Your Path
Martin really stressed on the importance of networking, especially as an entrepreneur, the fashion industry has many challenges and is notorious for being highly competitive so having a solid or extensive network of industry professionals or other is key in the journey, “It’s always good to keep a good network of people that you find you respect and connect creatively with…Other competitors will imitate your designs and you have to take it as a compliment and create something bigger or better. Always stay true to your vision and to not let others try to market you in any other way.” Martin admits that through her journey, there were difficult or stressful moments that she had no choice but to take head on, however, she managed to remain as her own motivator. Her burning passion to create and design and the urge to bring all of her ideas to life was exactly what kept her pushing through, “I had my hand in every facet of the business. From sketch to design, to sample creation, sampling fabrics for manufacturing/sourcing fabrics. I also managed the other side of the business from marketing, branding, selling at trade shows in New York City and Las Vegas to buyer meetings. Seeing your creative ideas come to life is the most rewarding experience an artist could feel.” Charlene experienced everything first hand and powered through each obstacle with her end goal as her main motivator. Charlene had patience, drive, passion and support to keep her going and she had a clear understanding that her projects were not going to happen over night, “Having your own business there are ups and downs and you may not have a steady pay check for a while or even no pay check until you start becoming profitable. That may take a while maybe even a year, but you have to make sure you will be okay during this time. However, the long term benefit will be that when you do become profitable there is no limit because you are controlling your success and the sacrifice you made during the early years would have been all worth it.”
A Message to Those Embarking on Their Own Journeys
As someone like myself, who has already commenced down the path of entrepreneurialism and continues to maintain an end goal or goal(s) in mind, I had to ask for her advice, not just for me, but for all of those that are hoping to one day bring our own ideas and creations to life. Charlene intelligently answered my question with another posing question, “I wish I was asked this when I started, are you ok with being poor? Are you okay to work countless hours for free with no reward or recognition? Are you willing to give everything you got for maybe a chance to be fortunate enough to have the career of your dreams? If you said yes to all of this I wish you luck!”
Charlene Martin definitely validated that sometimes the journey will teach you more than what you initially knew about the destination, but the only way to really find out for sure is by continuing to say “yes” through each obstacle.