Q&A: Natalie Dusome, founder and designer of Poppy & Peonies, is making life easier (and more stylish) for moms.

Natalie Dusome

Natalie Dusome is the founder and designer of Poppy & Peonies, a sustainable, functional Canadian accessory brand named after her daughter Poppy. With dreams of becoming a fashion designer since she was a young girl, Natalie founded her brand in response to a direct personal need of hers: Functional accessories that could accommodate being a new mom. Confident she wasn’t alone in that need, Natalie created Poppy & Peonies to design practical pieces that would help other women navigate motherhood a little easier and much more stylishly. Since the brand’s formation, Natalie has appeared on Dragons’ Den and Poppy & Peonies continues to grow rapidly, collaborating with other brands and influencers in the process. 

 

How have you managed your business finances through the pandemic?

COVID really affected our business — we had to examine our entire business model and pivot quickly to survive. We had to preserve cash flow and lean out on all aspects of the business, from our marketing spend to our inventory purchasing. We participated in and were very grateful for the government programs available, including wage subsidy, rent subsidy, Métis Business Recovery Financing loan, and the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan. We didn’t want to take on any more debt, but we couldn’t turn down the forgivable portion of these loans — especially when we really needed the cash flow to offset the slowdown in sales. These funds came in handy to optimize our website and get in front of our audience who was now spending more time online shopping.

Has your approach to sales and marketing changed? 

Social media platforms play a huge role in how we connect with our customers. As a brand, we had to get crystal clear on our brand values so we could connect with our customers on a deeper level. Our marketing strategy has definitely shifted since COVID. Video content has never been more important, especially since Instagram is competing with Tik Tok and is no longer a photo sharing platform, but an entertainment platform. We had to get more comfortable in front of the camera talking to our customers on Instagram stories and creating videos and reels. We also launched an affiliate program where we could partner with, empower, and reward brand ambassadors for creating and sharing user generated content. 

How has technology played a role in your business during this time? 

We made the decision a year ago to have our entire team work remotely permanently. Women need more flexibility in the workplace to juggle the new, ever evolving landscape of school, work, kids’ activities, and trying to balance it all. Our team is more productive and much happier working from home. Having a remote team requires technology to keep us connected; we use a number of software tools for that. We use Shopify and a ton of apps to optimize our website. We also switched our bookkeeping to cloud accounting, which means less paperwork, more efficiency, and better monthly finance reporting.

How have you managed your mindset (and that of your team)?

As a company, we really try to focus on the silver linings of COVID. We believe in gratitude, and express it regularly to our community of customers and our team. When you come from a place of gratitude there is so much to be thankful for, so the energy is high and positive. We believe in a growth mindset, always learning new ways to work and optimize the business, and new ways to grow — this keeps us curious and sharp. 

For personal care, I really value meditation. I try to squeeze in one or two five-minute sessions a day; it resets my mind. Time blocking has really helped with my productivity. Instead of bouncing around between five different tasks, I’ve learned to focus on one task at a time. This allows me to get into a flow and produce a higher quality result. I’m also learning that rest is productive — our brains do a lot of problem solving when they’re resting, so now, instead of burning the midnight oil, I go to bed. 

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to all entrepreneurs in your industry today?

This year, I got a mentor and it’s changed everything. She’s someone who really inspires me; she’s in my industry and is where I want to be. She’s also a mom, a CEO, and is running a huge online Canadian brand, and the advice she gives me is like gold, because she’s been there and done it. My advice would be to find a mentor in your industry who inspires you and is where you want to be. You’ll probably talk yourself out of it by thinking, they’re too busy — why would they want to help me? But be bold, reach out, and just ask and see if they’re interested; 30 minutes once or twice a month isn’t a lot to ask, and it’s rewarding for them too.  

My other advice is to get clear on your business goals. Write them down, hang them in front of you, look at them every day, and ensure every step you’re taking that day is getting you closer to that goal. 

Lastly, get out of your comfort zone as a business. The opportunities that gave me the biggest rewards were the ones that scared the shit out of me the most — like going on Dragons’ Den or collaborating with Jillian Harris. Get comfortable being uncomfortable; that’s where the growth happens. 

Shazia Zeb-Sobani made it to a VP role by knowing when to rebel — and sticking to her values.

Shazia Zeb Sobani

By Sarah Kelsey 

 

Shazia Zeb-Sobani learned at an early age she would have to rebel against the status quo to get where she wanted to go. 

“I grew up in Pakistan and went to an all-girls boarding school. There were always separate rules and social norms for girls and boys,” says Shazia. “I became passionate about challenging those norms. I didn’t see my values or what I wanted to be doing reflected in many of the things I was being offered.”

Those values — respect, equity, and curiosity — are things Shazia has used to guide her career decisions ever since completing a marketing degree at the University of the Punjab. It was following her MBA from the University of Calgary (where she now lives) that she accepted a role at TELUS. Today, after 15 years with the organization, Shazia is Vice President of Customer Network Implementation, accelerating fast and high quality broadband connectivity to minimize the digital divide while motivating a team of almost 600 people. She encourages them all to do what she did: challenge the norm. 

“Because of my tech-oriented position, I am very often the only woman at the boardroom table, whether that’s at an international conference or a stakeholder meeting,” she says. “But that also means I’m now in a position where I can advocate for change and the support of marginalized groups, and to create a level playing field.” 

Shazia says her position at TELUS has also given her the opportunity to create solutions that will establish technological equity for two distinct population groups within Canada: those living in rural areas and the Indigenous. Her team is at the forefront of two projects that will see the company’s Purefibre technology brought to millions of previously underserved individuals. 

“Everyone has to have access to high-speed internet, so we are rolling up our sleeves to close the digital divide,” she says. “It’s been infeasible in the past to bring connectivity to these areas, but if we don’t invest we are handcuffing these communities to forgo participation in the global economy, which is something that will have tangible impacts on their social and economic well-being.” 

“If you let yourself be yourself you will showcase your energy and passion, which will open up opportunities that allow you to make your next career move.”

This is just one of the projects that allows Shazia to break down barriers for others — while also affording her the ability to challenge herself on a daily basis. She’s an advisor to the TELUS Diversity & Inclusion council, a coach and mentor at the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association and the University of Calgary, and on the board of Women in Communication and Technology. In all her efforts, Shazia encourages younger generations to dream about going into roles they’ve only seen previously held by men. “They can aspire to be engineers and data scientists.”

Curiosity is key, too; Shazia believes having a growth mindset can help women evolve their careers and move into positions where they inspire and spark change. Women leaders also need to embrace who they are and to stand up for their values, regardless of what those may be.

“We need to learn to be ourselves. We have to stop trying too hard to fit in and eschew stereotypes that women are too emotional or can’t make decisions,” says Shazia. “If you let yourself be yourself you will showcase your energy and passion, which will open up opportunities that allow you to make your next career move.”

Shazia also advises that developing a support system will help women leaders persevere through challenging times, like COVID, “because whether anyone likes it or not, women are still expected to do too many things — from managing households to running teams and even taking care of friends and family.” Relying on similarly situated peers you respect and confiding in them when things get to be overwhelming will help you sit more comfortably with the idea that no one can do it all. How and where you need to direct your energy day-to-day will constantly change, she adds. 

“There are still those stereotypes that women need to be perfect. That successful and highly accomplished women must do it all. At the end of the day, we’re all human. No one is perfect.” 

Don’t try too hard to fit in or be perfect,” Shazia says. “There are still those stereotypes that women need to be perfect. That successful and highly accomplished women must do it all. At the end of the day, we’re all human. No one is perfect. One day your family will have to be a priority; another you might have to devote more time to your career. We always need to weigh the tradeoffs and ensure what we’re doing aligns with our values.”

Most importantly, she encourages any woman — especially those seeking a career change post-COVID — to do a deep dive into what matters to them on a daily basis before taking a leap. This will ensure their next move lets them create the change they want to see, both personally and professionally. 

“What are you passionate about? What do you value most in life? Does the work you would be doing keep you close to your values?” she asks. “If something doesn’t align with the things you value most, it might not be the ideal role. Be intentional with your choices. Don’t rush. Focus. This will help you do what you love while helping others around you.”