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Meet the entrepreneur that redesigned sustainable fashion

Julia Grieve isn’t just an entrepreneur—she’s a trendsetter, a local celebrity, an eco-design leader, and a wife and mother of three. Julia’s former career as an international model helped develop her fashion forte and eye for design, paving the way for the launch of her sustainable fashion company, Preloved, in 1995. She’s managed the growth and global expansion ever since, while making time for media commentary, television appearances, and motivational speaking. Julia travels throughout North America educating others on the beauty of a balanced life, sustainable fashion, made-in-Canada businesses, and being a self-made entrepreneur. We asked her about her business journey.

 


 

My first job ever was Santa’s helper at the mall! I was only 14 and they said I got the job because of my great babysitting references, but I think it was because I fit the costume.

I decided to be an entrepreneur because to me, it was the most natural thing in the world. I had just returned from modeling abroad for 6 years and starting a fashion line is what I wanted to do next. I was young and naïve enough to think it was going to be easy!

My proudest accomplishment is my kids. As much as Preloved was my first baby (turning 21 this year), my three children are what I consider my greatest accomplishment.

My boldest move to date was closing down our 4 retail shops and focusing only on our e-commerce and wholesale businesses. It was a big risk, but the retail landscape was changing fast and we needed to change with it, or be left behind.

I surprise people when I tell them that I don’t even know how to sew!

My best advice to people starting out in business is to follow your dream and be passionate (you have to be in order to succeed) but don’t let your ego take you down. All entrepreneurs have a big ego. They need to—that’s what gives them the drive to start something new—but that ego can get in the way if it makes them too stubborn to listen to good advice. I’ve been fortunate to have some great mentors who’ve helped me along the way, and if I had let my ego take over, I would have made a lot more mistakes (and I’ve made lots)!

My best advice from a mentor was “Own your mistakes. Learn from your mistakes. Don’t do it again.” I’m paraphrasing, but that’s the gist of what Joe Mimram told me when I reached out to him about challenges I was having with Preloved’s Vancouver shop, and it’s always stuck with me.

My biggest setback was when our flagship store on Queen Street West burned down on February 20th, 2008. It was devastating—we lost all our stock, patterns, papers—luckily no one was hurt. It was really difficult to come back from that experience, but sometimes you have nowhere to go but up when you’re that far down. Our customers were incredibly supportive and loyal and once we reopened, further on Queen West, they came back.

I overcame it by taking it one step at a time. One of the best things we did was to show in Fashion Week, just a few weeks after the fire. It showed that we were down, but not out. We were lucky that we had the fall samples off-site at the time of the fire.

 

Related: Meet Marie Saint Pierre, the First Canadian Fashion Designer to Show in Paris

 

I balance work and life by going to bed at 8:00 some nights! I start my day really early (me and Dolly Parton, who starts her day at 4:30 am). By the time my kids are up, I’ve worked out, showered, made breakfast, lunch, and dinner and returned emails. It keeps me in control of my day.

Being a woman in the fashion industry is amazing because I get to work with so many other strong, like-minded women. There is a perception that the fashion industry is shallow, and there certainly are parts of it that live up to that image, but in my experience, it’s such an exciting business. It changes constantly and that can be very challenging, but I am surrounded by an amazing group of supportive, intelligent women as peers, mentors, and friends who help me every day.

My biggest passion is keeping Preloved a designed and made-in-Canada brand. It’s very important to me and I’ve been lucky to have a great partner in Redwood Classics who has been my manufacturer for over 10 years. I know the people who make my clothes by name.

If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know that I played “lead guitar” for Austrian rock singer Falco on one of his European tours. I don’t actually play guitar, but I was the best lead air guitarist the record company could find!

I stay inspired by taking the ordinary and making it extraordinary. For example, I’m often inspired by the vintage fabrics we source. Original button detail, plackets, patterns, pockets—we never know which direction they will take us in.

The future excites me because it’s unknown! I love waking up every day, not knowing quite what will happen next. At my wedding, my husband said “I’ve never been bored for a minute since I met Julia.” Between work, family, and friends, there is always something exciting happening and I love to be in the middle of it all.

 

Interested in getting access to role models like Julia? Visit our upcoming events page and see what speakers we have lined up this season!