I've always approached my wetsuit business with a "figure it out" as I go mentality. Live and learn. Move and grow. Sink or swim (both of which are a-ok with me, as you can imagine)! There have been lots of calculated risks that sometimes I think I moved too slowly on; but then I also look back and recognize that I just really needed to go through each stage and face each challenge the best I could. And, Man! I've really come a long way!
I can relate my progress to my efforts to connect to people, listen to their needs, and learn. I am a sponge. I want to know more and to really understand just about everything (and everyone). I weigh options, love to analyze problems and come up with solutions that everyone else thinks are just too hard to do. I want to be the one that does all the hard work! I think I might be crazy for wanting that because it can be really taxing, but when customers tell me how much they are enjoying being in the water with their Truli, I know I am on the right path.
You, yourself, may have even been someone I listened and learned from! Maybe you answered one of my surveys a couple years ago on whether I should keep front zips. Or maybe you tried on one of my sample wetsuit designs when I was trying to figure out the new sizes and you let me measure you. Or maybe you were a friend and mentor who talked me through my doubts, brainstormed ideas, sent over referrals. Or maybe you emailed me and told me, "Thank-you for existing." That's a big one for me and I get it more than you can imagine, which tells me how badly women need wetsuits that fit.
So, it was a year ago when I really focused on how I would learn to grow my business and take it to the next level. Even before COVID, I was experiencing some major challenges with having my wetsuits manufactured overseas, such as huge up front costs, huge minimum order quantities, unusually long lead times, and a not so amazing system for working on new designs and sizing. I felt resistance towards doing anything more with Truli until I could feel out some ideas with people who knew more than me.
I discovered three services that I connected with:
The first was the team at IFundWomen. I made the leap to crowdfunding with IFundWomen last fall despite not feeling 100% that it would really work. In the end it was a major milestone for me. The campaign taught me that it was possible to sell way more than I currently was doing IF I had the inventory. As well, I got to know the coaches and trusted their insights on how I could transition out of me being a one-woman-show and onto something bigger.
The second was Catapult Grey-Bruce, which provides local entrepreneurs with mentors to help grow their businesses. I had a lot of ideas about bringing the production of Truli Wetsuits to Canada and I wanted to learn more about how other businesses approached manufacturing products in Canada and what my options could be locally.
The third was through the Faculty of Communication and Design at Ryerson University's Fashion Zone. I discovered an incubator program there that would allow me to gain access to the resources of the institution. I knew that whether they had the experience with wetsuits or neoprene or not, I needed to get in there to connect to the design community in Ontario.
So with my crowdfunding campaign funds paid towards a small inventory order and several months before it would arrive, I looked at the first quarter of 2021 as a period I would do some serious learning (all while running the business, of course)! I received coaching from IFundWomen, mentorship with Catapult Grey-Bruce AND started the incubator program at Ryerson - It was A.LOT. I was pretty late replying to a lot of emails and this was the reason why - sorry about that! But the information I learned and continue to receive has been invaluable and I am now feeling I've got just the right enough knowledge to make some calculated risks, of course with a side of "figure it out" as per usual, and GO!
These are some of my key take-aways and decisions I've made for the business…
Overseas Production vs. Making Wetsuits in Canada
After all of the research and advising I received, I decided that I will continue working with my manufacturer overseas. As much as there is a strong pull to bring production to the place where the business itself is located, things like, raw materials, skilled labour and expertise are not yet available here. To hopefully address this later in the future, I will start small :). My plan is to set-up a neoprene hub in Tobermory to do custom wetsuit alterations to leg lengths and sleeves (petite women - I see you!), provide wetsuit repairs for any brand, establish a prototyping and design studio, and act as a location to recycle old wetsuits and research methods on how to breakdown and reuse these materials that are not biodegradable or recyclable at this stage. This way, I will start to create the design and material expertise closer to home, but continue to rely on the expertise for the mass production overseas.
Cost of Inventory = Investment Opportunity
I've been studying and studying and studying the different ways people start businesses (I didn't really do that in the beginning - I was reallly focused on product development). If you've ever watched Shark Tank, it's kinda like that. I'm not saying I'm going on Shark Tank (or Dragon's Den in Canada), but I've been getting Truli ready, so I can pitch my plan to investors and have already received a lot of interest! This has definitely been a part of my verrrry calculated risk component. I want to be sure that whoever invests in Truli is aligned with all of our mission, vision, and values (BTW - If that's you, please reach out so I can include you in my network to connect with when I'm ready).
Sell Now to Make Another Order
While I am getting myself ready for next-level-Truli. I still need to get another inventory order in ASAP considering the long lead time. The new inventory purchased from the crowdfunding campaign last November includes select sizes from the Truli-Ful the Beautiful 5.5mm full coverage polkadot style as well as the Truli-Capri 3.5mm sleeveless capri. These are on schedule for completion overseas on July 7th and in pre-COVID times took 4 weeks to arrive in Canada for distribution to customers. My broker and the shipping community has informed me that it's too unpredictable to say when they will arrive, but we just need to stay optimistic. There are a very limited number of sizes available in this order, but if I am able to sell these out, it should be enough revenue to purchase another round of inventory that could arrive around January 2022. Let's see if we can make it happen!
If you'd like to purchase from these Fuls and Capris that are currently in production, please reserve your size by completing your measurements into this form. We will review your measurements and assign you a size (if we haven't already done so). If the size is available in the new inventory arriving this year, we will send you an invoice for payment. Your reservation is not confirmed until payment has been received.
And Last, But Not Least, My Truli Life ❤️
Well, I absolutely cannot believe it's already May. Although I've been busy with online meetings and learnings, the winter (and now spring) up in Tobermory was a perfect combination of anxiety balanced in bliss! Can you imagine this feeling or is it really strange? I gave up my shifts at Foodland (my main in-person social connecting activity) when things got busy with all of my trainings. But the more I dived into my learnings, the more I became acutely aware of all that would come with Truli's growth - it stirred up a lot of emotions in me. I felt an immense amount of pressure that really scared me. Bigger means more to lose and with a bigger impact. Ugh. The anxiety has felt really overwhelming, however, there are many things that contributed to being able to move into periods of pure bliss too. One is the fact that the Bruce Peninsula is beautifully empty during winter and even on the coldest of cold days, the snowy scenery is majestic. As well, I somehow met a kindred spirit who became my companion and adventure partner. We ventured into the water, me layered in my Trulis to catch some messy Great Lake waves on our SUPs. We went winter camping, explored and climbed over boulders covered in ice, and even discovered a new (to us) local shipwreck that we paddled out and dived. We paddled and paddled and paddled some more as the days got warmer. I wonder how my mental health would've fared through it all if I didn't have a wetsuit or my other gear to get outside, let alone another human to connect with! I'm so grateful for all of these opportunities and experiences especially during the freezing winter days and lockdown after lockdown. And now that the days are warming up (slowly, but surely), the town is starting to prepare for the tourist season. It's hard to tell how things will progress as we are in this third wave of the pandemic and government imposed stay-at-home order in Ontario until May 19th (which is expected to continue). I spend quite a lot of time on my Headspace app learning so much about how to experience thoughts and feelings in a mindful way.
Me, my Truli, my Headspace app, the trees, the freezing lakes, and each person I get to meet along the way are all reducing the stress of it all and letting me live a little more blissfully every day. It's really quite a good feeling after all.