Jean L. Price
With her spiky platinum hair and infectious giggle, you automatically feel Jean’s warmth and energy, but the generous smile belies a life that hasn’t always been that easy.
Growing up in the Donna Reid era, Jean’s aspirations when she left school were to get married, have children and live happily ever after, but as we all know, life isn’t like that. Jean did get married at 18 (not something she would recommend) but it didn’t work out.
Her first career goal was to become a legal secretary and she did. Working her way up from file clerk to law clerk in a local lawyer’s office, she stayed there 12 years until she decided to move to Toronto.
Clews Clothing grew out of classes Jean took at George Brown College. She and Fred, her partner, started off running the business on the side. Both worked full time during the day, and at night and at the weekends, would design and sew the clothes. To launch the business, they held a home party, inviting family and friends to see and sample their designs.
For three years, they kept up this double life – employees by day, entrepreneurs by night. It was exhausting. They focused on craft shows and home parties, and word of their designs spread. At that time, they were still taking on every aspect of the business but the time came when they had sufficient work to hire others to do the home parties and to help with the sewing.
By now they had to ask themselves whether they were really serious about the business, and the answer was yes. So Fred quit his job, and eight months later, Jean joined him. “Our family just shook their heads. One of them asked “why had I given up a good government job with a pension?” reports Jean. They just couldn’t understand but by the same token, were willing to help out financially, as the banks were just not interested. Clews Clothing was considered too much of a risk factor.
Both were free spirits and determined to make a success of the business and 17 years ago, they purchased their existing building – 6,000 square feet – in which they live, work and house their retail store.
Like many retail businesses, cash flow was often an issue. However, it was when the bank phoned on a Friday to call in their line of credit - $30,000 – and expected payment on the Monday, that Jean realized how vulnerable they were. She managed to negotiate a deal with the bank, and was determined never to have the company placed in such a tenuous situation again.
Creativity is clearly an integral part of their success. Jean’s enthusiasm for the business is very evident. “I love the sewing. It is such a unique business. Every six months I get to work with new fabrics and designs, so it is like starting over twice a year.” It also takes a savvy business mind, as Jean has to calculate how much fabric she needs and how many outfits she can sell within the 60-90 day turnaround, so the bills get paid on time. “Keeping your suppliers happy is crucial to your survival” she observes.
When asked why women like Jean’s clothes, she is quick to tell you that she makes them comfortable. “They’re for real people, not models” she responds “and we pay attention to detail, always using quality fabric.” With 75-80% repeat business, clearly Jean is doing something right.
“There’s a sense that the fashion industry is glamorous but it’s hard work. Few get discovered overnight and many of us put in “sweat equity” to get ahead.” comments Jean. Yet, Clews Clothing has made it and today with over 10,000 people on their database, Jean and Fred take great pride in what they have achieved.
And so in 2000, it seemed an obvious next step to move to bigger premises in a nearby town. “We were actually looking at space, ready to take the plunge, when the accident happened.” shares Jean.
Jean and Fred were hit head on by a car. The other driver died, and Fred was seriously injured, unable to work in the business for close to 2 ½ years. You can only begin to imagine the sense of loss and fear that Jean faced as she carried on alone. “I think it was adrenaline that kept me going, but the accident really made us reflect on what is important in life. “
Fast forward to 2004, and Fred is back working, but he’s rarely without pain, and can no longer stand for hours cutting fabric. But Jean and Fred have a new attitude. “There are no guarantees what will happen next week, so we take the time off now. We travel and take vacations when we can. We’ve come to realize that our relationship is important – and we need to invest time in each other.”
With two retail stores, Clews Clothing is a business built on creativity, hard work and love. Jean has survived the ups and downs of 23 years in the fashion industry which speaks to her tenacity, enthusiasm, and dedication to the business, to her customers and to her partner, Fred, without whom, to quote Jean “none of this would have been possible.”
In the fall of 2006, Jean decided to move on to another chapter in the life of Clews, and the retail stores have been closed. She is now focusing her energy in helping discover their true self. Using Energy Profiling and Dressing Your Truth by Carol Tuttle, she assists women in discovering what design lines, shapes, textures, fabrics and colours are in harmony with their personality.