Business Link’s monthly Client Feature allows us to highlight some of the many incredible Alberta entrepreneurs we work with, like Monika Kupczak Ainslie, owner of House of Koopslie. We connected with Monika and asked her a few questions about her entrepreneurial journey:
What is your background?
Ever since I can remember I’ve always been a creative person, however that’s not where my career started. I graduated from NAIT with a diploma in Computer Systems Technology. After NAIT I was accepted into a new grad program with General Electric (GE) in Europe. I worked as an IT project manager under the leadership and guidance of some of GE’s top leaders. In my heart I always felt that I wanted to build my own business. I believe that my project management and leadership background along with my innate creativity is what helped me build and grow House of Koopslie.
Tell us about your business.
House of Koopslie, is a Canadian, woman-led brand of eco-friendly, ethically manufactured, multi-wear bamboo clothing and accessories for women of all ages, shapes and sizes. As a woman and a mother, I believe that all women deserve to feel comfortable and in their element, loving not only their look, but also themselves and everything that makes them unique, special, fearless, capable, and unstoppable, exactly the way they are, right now. Pure love.
I pride myself on creating pieces that not only help women love themselves and look fabulous at the same time, but that also are versatile, allowing for multiple looks that go from day to night and everywhere in between with ease and comfort. After all, clothing goes with us wherever we go. It is such a large part of our day and our journey, so wherever they are heading, I want my customers to be able to rock their pieces with self-love, luxurious comfort, and effortless style.
I am so honored to have the opportunity to impact women’s lives every day with something that I have created and love with all of my heart. When a woman looks in her closet and chooses a House of Koopslie piece, my heart does a happy dance.
What motivated you to start your own business?
I started House of Koopslie almost 10 years ago when my son was little. I was inspired when I started going to craft shows. I could not find much for him and I wanted to do something about it. I designed a line of edgy beanies for boys and House of Koopslie was born. A few years later I had my daughter and the line expanded into kids wear.
House of Koopslie’s ladies line came to be a bit by accident. I was working on our kids’ collection when I came across the softest bamboo fabric. I loved the fabric so much that I took a moment to make a headband for myself; it was hand-sewn and had a simple scrunch in the front. It was really comfortable and so soft, plus it looked really nice on. I knew that I had to make some for my family and friends. Soon customers started asking me to make some for them, too. And so I did. But this isn’t the story of how people bought them up and everything was amazing, because that’s not what happened. Not at first, anyway.
I made a lot of headbands and headed to a trade show where customers excitedly came by to see them. But… no one actually bought any. I was puzzled (they had asked after all) and a little crushed (a lot, if I am being honest). I put my creative mind to work and came up with an idea on how to sell off the unloved, short-lived headbands. I added a leather loop to pretty them up in an attempt to clear out the stock and be done with the failed idea. At the last minute, I also included a few headbands in one of our photo shoots and we ended up getting some really great shots. I was pretty confident that I would be able to clear out some of the headbands but I wasn’t ready for what happened next.
At our next market, we sold every single headband in the first hour. And this became the trend at every single show.
House of Koopslie’s headbands became our biggest selling item in record time. In fact, in 2016 I decided to close House of Koopslie kids’ line to focus solely on the headbands. And it’s a good thing, too. Customers across the globe fell in love with my headbands and the headbands were sold in over 600 boutiques across Canada, the US and even Japan!
What are you most proud of? What is your biggest success?
I am really proud of growing House of Koopslie’s ladies line to the level that it grew. I ended up selling my line to over 600 stores in just 2 years and even had one account that was generating $100,000 annually! I also received the Small Supplier of the Year award from The Canadian Gift Association, which was a huge honour and opened up so many doors.
What was your biggest challenge in the early days of your business?
My biggest challenge at the beginning was that I didn’t understand the industry and I didn’t have a business background. I had to do a lot of research and learn about a lot of new ideas and concepts. I had to find the right contacts and connections, build relationships from scratch, find the right materials, and the list goes on. It really was a huge learning curve and I made some mistakes along the way, but I was determined and saw challenges as opportunities for learning and growth.
In the beginning, when I was researching and trying to learn everything I could, I had the opportunity to work with a mentor who had her own very successful line. Her line was selling to hundreds of stores across Canada and she had a wealth of knowledge that could have really helped me. At the time the cost seemed too high and I didn’t take her up on it. It took me a few years to realize that that opportunity would have saved me 100s maybe 1000s of hours and so much money. Looking back, I believe that I could have been successful way sooner and for way less money, had I taken her up on it.
What is your biggest challenge now?
My current challenge is learning how to sell a business. Thankfully Business Link is here to help me with great advice and resources.
How has the Business Link helped you? Why did you come to us?
Business Link has helped me in so many ways and I don’t think I would be where I am without them. At the beginning I was visiting the offices regularly and calling Business Link all the time for different advice (this was 10 years ago and online wasn’t as big as it is now). Thankfully I met David, a Business Link Advisor, who I believe was also pretty new at the time, and to this day I consider him an invaluable business advice resource.
Being a Business Link client has opened so many doors for me. I feel like I have a team of people who truly care about helping me grow, cheering me on, looking out for me, keeping their eyes and ears open to help me learn about new opportunities.
Have you received support from other organizations? If so, which organizations.
Business Link was my first point of contact when I was starting out and it continues to serve my needs as my business grows. I have received help from other organizations including Northern Alberta Business Incubator (NABI), Edmonton Economic Development (EEDC), Government of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) and the ATB Entrepreneur Centre. There is a lot of help out there and the Business Link helped me find several resources that I wasn’t aware of.
What advice would you share with others who want to start or grow their own business?
I would say believe in yourself, have a great plan and don’t do it alone. Find the best people that you can and learn from them. You can’t know everything and be good at everything but you can surround yourself with experts that are.
What’s coming up next for you?
The time has come to move on from House of Koopslie. I am currently in negotiations with a buyer. It was a pretty tough call to sell something I created from scratch and with so much love, but I feel ready to move on to something new.
Over the years I’ve had many new entrepreneurs come to me for advice and coaching and it became clear to me that I enjoy and am good at helping others. My passions have turned to wanting to use my knowledge and experience to help others grow their businesses. I see so many opportunities for product-based Canadian businesses and I can’t wait to be part of their business journeys.
Is there anything you would like to share?
There are so many ways to grow a business. Come up with a great plan and be open to adjust as you learn. Get to know your customers really well. Also, be brave. Trust the advice of those who have been there and done that over advice of those who haven’t. Also, seek out those who have been there and done that and leverage their experience and expertise instead of trying to figure it out on your own.
Where you can find Monika: