Every month, we feature a Fabulous Female whose business savvy and confidence inspires us. We believe in supporting fellow female entrepreneurs and their incredible business ventures. If you know of a Fabulous Female whose story deserves to be told, please email us to nominate them.
This month, we interviewed the honest, open and inspiring Helen Siwak. Helen is a passionate eco-entrepreneur and the driving force behind lifestyle blog EcoLuxLuv, social media services via THEClosetYVR, contributor to VancityBuzz, StyleDemocracy & Retail-Insider.
Please introduce yourself
My name is Helen and this year I turn 50 years old. In 2016, I find myself an eco-entrepreneur, writing full-time, wrangling a younger husband and 2 rescue pets, advocating for the rights of humans and non-humans, striving to live an ethical vegan lifestyle and coming to terms with being an secular humanist.
Tell us more about your current businesses
Until late last year, my business was THEClosetYVR – defined as luxury designer resale company specializing in hard-to-find pieces that gave shoppers a taste of ‘the good life’ at an affordable price point. We sold online, at curated pop-up’s and at private shopping events, we even had a go at retail boutique in Gastown. When the boutique closed last October, my husband and I decided we wanted to stay in the pre-owned fashion business but acting more as a hub for other luxury re-sellers as it was the acquisition of pieces that was definitely where our passion was. So now, we are re-branding the THEClosetYVR to be specific to be curators of luxury clothing and services associated this and expanding the Eco.Lux.Luv blog into a lifestyle magazine for sharing the philosophy of living ecoluxury on a thrift budget.
We love the quote you have by Oscar de le Renta, “Luxury to me is not about buying expensive things; it’s about living in a way where you appreciate things.” What does that quote mean to you? How do you live a luxurious life?
We are bombarded by inspirational quotes every day but none of them spoke to me so, when my website template required one, I went on the search and found this one by legendary designer Oscar de la Renta. It said it all. I own very little and am very happy this way. I do not enjoy ‘consuming’ and have always felt there was better use of my hard earned cash than to ‘buy things’, especially crappy things.
In the world we live in, it is possible to purchase luxury designer clothing ‘second hand’ with the tags still hanging on them, to buy beautiful home furnishing from Facebook, to rent literally everything from our homes to appliances to dogs for the weekend! We can use vehicle-sharing initiatives to access cars, truck, vans, to use home swaps websites for vacations, and the list just goes on and on, and every day clever entrepreneurs come up with new businesses to make life even more eco-friendly.
Then, you can take the money you save from not buying all those things and support change that you would like to see in the world. To me, that is a luxury. To be able to feed and house my family and still send money to a struggling animal shelter, to an exhausted activist trying to stop the sex-trade of children in her village, to help a family fleeing war and to a group of volunteers fighting senseless eco-destruction.
Is there a difference between “style” and “fashion”? What do the two words mean to you? How would you describe your style?
Style is ‘personal’ and fits your inner beauty and fashion is a ‘business’. My style tends to be classic with clean lines and definitely does not follow trends or the dictates of an industry that is STILL trying to figure out what a real woman is!
Have you had any experiences that are unique to you as a woman that have helped you become a successful entrepreneur?
I describe myself as a serial entrepreneur. I see opportunity around every corner and I am not afraid to speak up with my ideas. In 1990, when fleeing an abusive relationship in Calgary, I ended up in Vancouver and needed to work quickly and registered with 11 temp agencies. I never turned down work when the phone rang. I was in my early 20’s and everyone around me was slaving away at minimum wage jobs, like bussing at nightclubs or clerking at the mall and they just didn’t seem happy. I went somewhere new literally every day and picked up a diverse set of skills from bankers, accountants, interior and graphic designers, property managers, lawyers, home renovators, etc. It wasn’t until the summer of 1994 that I had that ‘unique experience’ that made me think that a 9-5pm job wasn’t for me.
I had taken a (very unsatisfying) union job at UBC and in the evenings/weekend’s was publishing an underground magazine called ‘In Hell’s Belly’. My friends and I covered a wide range of topics and had been receiving national press for having developed one of the first online sales portals in Canada on the ‘world wide web’. We rented a kiosk at Lollapalooza in Cloverdale, to show people that they could buy things online (crazy right!). We had set up an old computer with a gas-powered generator and was showing the members of the Breeders, when a representative for the then mayor of Surrey approached and asked if I wanted to be on the evening news talking about what we were doing. Of course, I jumped on the opportunity and then the mayor came over he said something like ‘Why did you get all those tattoo’s on your arms?’ Dumbfounded, I sputtered into the microphone ‘So I will never have to work for a man like you again!’ Probably not so nicely - but you get the gist. That was the moment realized I was going to have to do it for myself and have been working on my own terms ever since.
What advice would you have for a woman wanting to start her own company?
I would say - Is this company idea something you want to live and breathe for a very long time? If ‘Yes’, then you have passion and go for it, and bring in as many people with skills as you can, to make it a reality. If ‘No’, then look around and see who else is doing it (or something very similar) and doing it well, and join them and help them grow. Nowhere does it say that everyone has to start their own company, compete and constantly be watching over their shoulder. There are some that thrive on that approach but if you want to be happy and successful, you can make your own terms, and it may involve taking your idea to someone else and building from there.
How do you strike a healthy work/life balance?
I don’t! I don’t even know what that means - is it really attainable for an entrepreneur? I don’t know but right now, I have added a new full-time writing contract with StyleDemocracy.com to my roster (in addition to VancityBuzz and Retail-Insider) and time is so tight that I am writing 7 days a week from 8am to 11pm and blocking off bits of time in my Google calendar to ‘play with dog and cat’ or ‘have date night’. It is kind of ridiculous but incredibly satisfying at the same time. Something will have to give eventually but not right now.
Just go for it and have a sense of humour – don’t sweat the small stuff.