Founder Catch Up: Sarah Garner on Finding Balance, Being a Female Founder and Achieving Her Goals
Founder Catch Up
We caught up with our founder, Sarah Garner, to talk about where she got her start in fashion, what inspires her, and how she finds balance in her life while being a female founder and achieving her goals.
What did you study in school?
I studied economics and commerce. I chose my degree when I found out in my first year of university that to enter the summer internship program I was interested in, commerce would be the required prerequisite. The internship was based in NYC and was a training program for becoming a fashion buyer. I applied and got in! I worked for Bloomingdales that summer which kicked off my career in fashion.
Before Retykle, what did you do, where did you work, and how does your fashion background support your role as the founder of Retykle?
After my internship in NYC, I took a job with Canada's luxury department store, Holt Renfrew. I worked in various buying roles until I grew restless for a more significant challenge and a new adventure. The SVP of Marketing at Holt Renfrew had left to be the President of Lane Crawford, and it put Hong Kong on my radar. At the same time, I was reading about China and the booming luxury fashion market there. Canada is a conservative fashion market, so I was thirsty for change and felt the need to be at the centre of growth in my industry. So in 2007, I packed three suitcases and jumped on a plane for a new chapter and landed the Women's buying role at Lane Crawford. I spent the following years attending runway shows and buying trips to all sides of the globe. After Lane Crawford, my next move was to DFS, the biggest luxury travel retailer in the world. I moved to specialise in inventory management in global planning, which was a great experience and education in inventory and its best practices. However, I did miss the creativity of being closer to product. Moving to Shanghai Tang to run all departments relating to product is where I saw my return to a more creative role and my most challenging role to date, professionally, whereas becoming a mom was a whole new world entirely. Wearing that new hat was how the idea for Retykle was born.
When my firstborn son was a few months old, I had already accumulated a closet of outgrown clothes. Around the same time, my friend had given me a sizeable amount of high-quality 'hand me downs' for him. I felt indebted to her for her generosity and gave her a gift card for my tally of the secondhand value. This simple exchange planted the seed, and it led me to a new way of thinking in terms of shopping for children — recirculating kids items, creating a positive outcome for parents, the environment and the community.
After 10+ years in luxury fashion, I came to recognise that the industry was moving towards a dangerous future. When I started in the industry, there were two collections per year - spring/summer and fall/winter. With the introduction of fast fashion, every brand felt the pressure to increase options for consumers and introduced new collections - pre-spring and pre-fall. Many brands have sped up this delivery cycle to monthly or even weekly from what was traditionally a two-collection year. The increase in production and consumption coupled with the explosion of fast fashion has led to a devastating effect on our environment. Having my son made me feel like when I made the return to work it needed to be in a capacity that would make a difference to not only his future but be part of a more comprehensive solution for the industry.
My experience with product, customer experience, forecasting, warehouse, and inventory management has been integral during this process of creating and building the unique retail model that is Retykle. In saying that, I don't think you can adequately prepare yourself for the rollercoaster that is being a founder, possibly not dissimilar from the unknowns of parenthood and what you imagine it could entail before becoming one. Sometimes it's like being on two rollercoasters all at once!
What are your favourite things about fashion?
Fashion is an essential aspect of self-expression and transformation. It conveys how you want the world to perceive you. I love that this kind of self-expression has the power to transmit subtle messages. I have worked with hundreds of brands and designers and have a deep respect for the creative expression and craft of bringing designs to life for the enjoyment of the wearer.
Who are your influences?
Trailblazing female entrepreneurs have inspired me in the fashion space like Natalie Massenet and Sara Blakely, but I have to say the most influential female role model in my life is my mom who was a hard-working, self-made entrepreneur. She ran a very successful architectural firm while at the same time wearing her super-mom cape. I was inspired by how she worked, always with passion and integrity and observed from a young age the professional ownership and independence she possessed; she was the master of her destiny.
What are your most memorable moments in the early days of Retykle?
I wore all the 'hats' for the first year of Retykle. I was seven months pregnant with my second child when we opened the Retykle online platform in 2016, and I vividly remember waddling up driveways to seller's houses to be greeted with surprise that the (very pregnant) founder was also the one doing all of the foot-work. They must have thought we were a much bigger operation at the time.
When you start a business and work tirelessly, you hold your breath in anticipation of how it will be perceived and regarded by the public, not just supportive family members and close friends. On day two of opening, we received orders from total strangers, which was utterly fantastic. In all that excitement I had to triple check that they were orders from the public and that I didn't know them! From there, I never looked back. Those initial orders were so important to me. It was a nod, a vote, validating our brand and concept, which meant the world being a start-up and taking those first big steps. Now, after having established our brand, I try to pay it forward with other new, small businesses because I know how big the challenge is and how much it will mean to them.
What have your children expressed about your work at Retykle?
My kids see our Retykle logo and say "Mommy's office!” They get very excited when they visit our pop-up stores or come into the office. I have a three-year-old and a five-year-old, and because of their age, they now understand the Retykle concept at a very basic level. They both know now that we are recycling clothes that are too small for them by finding them a new home and child who can wear them.
How do you find life as a mother, wife, and founder of your own company?
It doesn't always work in perfect harmony. When you're a founder, there's no defined end to the workday, no real days off and the wheels of my mind constantly turn, so I have to practice switching off and giving space to the other essential parts of my life. I hold a great sense of passion, pride and responsibility for all of my roles and I juggle priorities to give each enough time and attention each day. My husband has been an enormous supporter of Retykle and has been part of the journey since day one, and his support has been invaluable. My kids are the centre of my world, and I prioritise them in my day to ensure I have routine time with them. The tricky part with toddlers is not letting my mind drift into work mode and try to stay present during the creative Lego building or make-believe taking place in front of me.
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