Kristi Soomer is the founder and CEO at Encircled a Canadian female-founded sustainable clothing brand. Launched in 2012 they are now a multi-million dollar business. And she’s also the host of the Brave and Boss Entrepreneurs podcast.
Kristi’s business started with a product idea. Something she said was extra complex since her background isn’t in fashion or entrepreneurship.
She worked in the corporate world and travelled frequently. Over time, she became frustrated with the amount of clothes she had to pack when traveling until a happy accident led her to an Aha! moment that would become her business.
Kristi’s suitcase broke when she was going on a trip and she had to shove everything in her carry on. She realized that if she just had more versatile clothing to begin with she could avoid the problem entirely.
From there she became fixated on creating a single article of clothing that could truly transform and work in many different situations. She’d solve her own problem, and a problem other women likely have as well. The outcome of that initial idea, the Chrysalis Cardi is still sold on the Encircled site today.
Launching Big, with Some Consequences
Kristi worked on her product over the course of months and decided to start a website to see if her idea was appealing to the market.
Her developer convinced her to launch with Magento, something that she says in retrospect was a major mistake. Within two months of launching she moved over to Shopify and has been on that platform since.
Kristi’s favorite Shopify tools:
- Dear — Encircled has two websites — one for Canadian facing consumers and one for America. They use a tool called Dear that stitches the two sites together.
- JudgeMe for reviews
- Gorgias for helpdesk
Encircled started with the Chrysalis Cardi and launched with a very small range — two colors in two sizes.
Kristi grew the collection slowly and intentionally and today the collection holds steady at around 40 pieces. Creating timeless pieces that hold real value for women is front of mind for Kristi and she’s proud of how long some of the favorite pieces have remained popular.
Encircled has 14 people in house to run the business, but outsources fabrication and manufacturing. All the original design, production, customer service and shipping, operations and marketing are done in house and mostly in Toronto.
Kristi says they have some freelancers and contract teams they work closely with to do some of the major pieces like accounting.
Building an Ethical Business
Encircled is a Certified B Corp. and she says that vertically integrating is one of the primary ways of being sustainable and ethical.
Eventually, Kristi says they want to bring as many pieces of the process in house, including eventually, fabrication and retail. The sustainable road has a much higher cost than fast fashion for instance and Kristi points out that it’s a slow build.
Certified B Corporation
Becoming a Certified B Corporation requires a third party audit that looks at your business in great depth to verify that you’ve held your company to the highest ethical standards.
Verifying the claim of being ethical is a heavy lift. Kristi recommends it, but says that it’s really critical to get support in the form of a team or consultant.
Evolving the Brand Messaging to a Broader Audience
In 2016, Kristi changed the messaging of their brand away from being a travel brand and towards a wider audience who were interested in building a capsule wardrobe.
The focus on quality, sustainability and ethics became their new messaging.
Surviving the Pandemic
During the pandemic, Canadian factories shut down everything but essential production and Kristi says that the business got down to the wire when it came to inventory and at one point had only two weeks of inventory left.
They were able to partner with their manufacturers and quickly pivot to making face masks from organic material. That decision stabilized their cash flow and allowed them to keep afloat through the Spring.
Quizzes for Customer Acquisition
Encircled has a quiz that’s been on their site for 3 years and has been a great tool for the company.
For the quiz, the team uses Typeform and integrates with Klaviyo. The opt-ins from the quiz beats out a really well done email welcome campaign the business has almost 10:1.
Kristi says it’s been so successful that it’s one place she wants to continue experimenting with ways of creating experiences online that help people craft wardrobes online.
eCommerce Book Top Tip
- Traction: Get a Grip on Your Business by Gino Wickman
eCommerce Traffic Top Tip
- Email Marketing
Tool Top Tip
Growth Top Tip
- Be consistent with your content marketing
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