Every now and then I like to share interesting experiences that I love remembering. Hopefully this adds to your experiences as well.
In 2009 I was laid off from a small company that I had been working for for a short period of time. They sold micro-chip products that could be attached to cell phone and electronic devices to “lower the EMF’s”. EMF’s are the electro-magnetic frequencies emitted from the device. I had no clue this was a thing at the time. I’m not sure whether or not the product actually worked but business was slow, boring and I was happy to be free.
I just moved from Scarborough to a smaller town further east and was settling in. I got a newer car after I sold Sanjeet, my 1992 two door Honda Accord. Excited about the future now that I was unemployed I knew I had the opportunity to sleep in a little longer and invest more time into Honey Matthews – so I began focusing more on my brand and spent hours researching the industry, networking and creating new designs.
I worked on a shoot with a local photographer and mentioned that I had been recently laid off and that I was interested in finding business grants with my spare time. He suggested a program offered thru the government of Ontario catering to new businesses.
That night I did my research and found the Ontario Self-Employment Benefit program that he mentioned. The requirements for the program stipulated that applicants must be recipients of employment insurance, have a viable business concept and a small investment of $1,200 to qualify. I filled out the OSEB online application immediately and got the ball rolling.
Now that I had the time to create more designs I started a dress for Toronto R&B diva Quinn Marie (formerly Quinn Maybach of Rudimental Records). Prior to working with Quinn I became familiar with Quinns producer 2Rude – a platinum award, Juno winning rap artist that also produced music for artists such as Glenn Lewis, Pharohe Monch, K-OS, Saukrates, Jully Black, In Essence, Goodie Mob, Smooth Da Hustler and more – so when I heard Quinn’s first radio song High on Love (ft. Chris Styles) I reached out to Richard to connect with Quinn.
The summer of 09′ Quinn released her single Swagger of a Rockstar which received a lot of play on local urban radio stations. The buzz for the song granted her a slot on Toronto’s popular OTA Live! radio show and a slot in their live showcase that featured other well known R&B and hip hop artists from the city. As part of Honey Matthews Artist Image Development I created a look for Quinn to wear on stage that night – this time a black form fitting dress with sparkly accents and Chinese collar.
The night of the showcase 2Rude introduced me to his partner, Quinns Manager at the time, Andrea Moffat. Andrea was bubbly, bright and (to my surprise) in pursuit of running for local office of the NDP (New Democratic Party) Pickering/Scarborough East sector. After several great performances Quinn took to the stage and killed it, which ended the night on a high note.
A couple weeks following I received a phone call from an employment agency in Scarborough regarding my OSEB online application. The Scarborough agency referred me to another employment agency. The agent mentioned I would have to submit my application thru a government office in my new town out east. Perfect.
I received my invitation and attended an info session with the communications firm that would provide me with business training and coaching if I was accepted to the grant program. A diverse group of applicants (photographers, chefs, artisans, landscapers, pet groomers etc) received a lengthy application that questioned the viability of our individual businesses.
I submitted my application and after a few weeks I was contacted and asked to present my business in front of a panel of judges that would determine my entrance into the OSEB program. If chosen I would participate in a 42 week program and receive financial aid that was equal to my regular wages which would enable me to work for myself full time and bank my revenue.
It was Thursday and I dressed in my Honey Matthews pieces with my portfolio and diagrams of how I intended to profit from distributing my women’s clothing to boutiques. I walk thru the doors of the communication firm, check in at reception and take a seat. Several people ahead of me sat waiting to be called to present. I rehearsed my presentation in my mind, said a quick prayer and calmed myself down.
“Pretend you don’t know me.”
I looked up from my notes and there, behold, Andrea Moffat.
“Just saw your name on the list. You don’t know me.”
She turned quickly and went back into the room she came from, and I picked my jaw off the floor.
Finally it was my time to present my business – they called me into the room and there, Andrea sat, one of the three judges. I nearly died and I would’ve cried right then and there but, composure.
It turned out that Andrea was contracted by the communications firm to instruct classes and mentor new entrepreneurs.
Needless to say I received an acceptance call a couple weeks later confirming my enrolment in the OSEB program. The business program lasted nearly a full year with classes 5 days a week. Instructors taught everything from small business tax to general accounting, marketing and sales forecasting. We thoroughly discussed the importance of a business plan which was possibly the biggest eye-opener for me as it provided clarity. Monthly coaching with a small business mentor kept us on top of our goals and requirements. As a group we participated in a trade show and landscaped a seniors-home garden to pay it forward. Humbling.
The knowledge gained thru my OSEB experience was fast, thorough and valuable. What I learned on a spiritual level is priceless. I learned that most times in your life when things aren’t exactly as you planned, rest assured, you are usually exactly where you need to be at that very moment.
Here’s an update about the Ontario Self Employment Benefit program: It’s been terminated.
When I first started my clothing line [Honey Matthews] in 05-06 I set out to find as many sources of support that I could – I wanted to develop my knowledge and gain first hand insight from experienced designers and people involved in the fashion industry.
Somehow I came across a free in-class program for youth being offered in Scarborough (my hometown) called Passion for Fashion – so I signed up for the free program and found my way to their Scarborough location for my first class.
I attended one of Passion for Fashion’s first sessions ever and realized that much of the information being shared was vital to the beginning stages of my business. Questions that revolved around getting brand exposure and understanding how to create your brand identity became important ideas to focus on.
I saw that not only were the sessions informative in the business aspect but it also provided the opportunity for a student/mentor relationship. The sounding board we were given allowed for real fashion experts to answer our novice questions based on their real life experiences which removed much of the guess-work that weighs the minds of any young entrepreneur.
Fast forward 6+ years (2015) and I’ve begun offering business consultation services for new start-up fashion entrepreneurs; you’d be surprised to know how many people aspire to design clothing but are too afraid to pursue their dreams.
I realized that I enjoyed this consultant/mentor role so much that I decided to find an opportunity to mentor youth in the same way that I experienced Passion for Fashion years ago when I began Honey Matthews.
Out of curiosity I Googled Passion for Fashion and sent an email to the contact I found online – she informed me that after 6 years of service in Toronto that the Passion for Fashion program was being cancelled due to lack of funding. The not for profit organization was operating with annual support from government funding, private donations and corporate sponsorship.
A month or two after learning of PFF’s abrupt ending I received an email from the lady I spoke to and she asked if I’d be interested in mentoring youth for a summer program from July to August in downtown Toronto.
This program awarded $3,000 in government funding to 30 youth aged 15-25. The selection process only awarded funding to the best viable businesses that applied to the program. The students filled out applications describing the business they wanted to start and were approved by the coordinators of the youth employment agency.
We met on Wednesdays where I had the opportunity to speak with all students, sometimes individually and other times in round table discussion. The students created businesses ranging from lawn care to pastry baking, apparel, phone apps, photography, graphic design, and the most impressive – fence painting. The fence painter was making the most revenue with at least $3,000+ per month which was mostly profit.
During our sessions the students asked questions about my business and how I created my name and logo, how I got exposure in the media, how to budget and make sales. They asked about patents and suppliers, how to start a website and how to find new customers – just a wide range of questions and I absolutely loved it.
One thing about experience is learning from your failures and your success – but mostly your failures. You learn more by correcting mistakes than you would learn without them.
With my years of experience and knowledge gained I found myself in a position of wisdom that I can share to enlighten and push others.
I’m willing to admit that I don’t know everything – but I know enough to get you started.