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Shirley Meisels | Toronto | Dive Deep!!

Since a very young age I knew I was meant to be a designer. I still have my drawings which were always focused on fashion and decor. I was unwavering over the years and eventually went to Ryerson University for fashion design. After graduating I began by assisting a wardrobe stylist and very quickly became a freelance stylist myself. One of my first big clients was Avon. They produced a monthly catalogue that became by bread and butter. The models were mostly selling cosmetics and fashion items but often needing a room set with a sofa or chair for ambience in the shot. The art director asked me to prop the shoot and thus began my career as a prop stylist. I very quickly began building a client based that called upon me exclusively for room sets and decor. One of these clients was Style at Home magazine, who not only hired me for their pages as a freelancer but shot my first home. This was key to launching my new career as a residential designer.

What ignited the spark in you to start a new business venture or to make significant changes in an existing business? How did the idea for your business come about?

It was around this time, after 12 years as a stylist that I became pregnant. Most people don't realize the demanding schedule of film and photography but deadlines are critical and hours long and unpredictable. I realized I wouldn't be able to manage my career and a newborn as well so I thought, "..people seem to like what I did with the house and I'm getting great response to the article in Style at Home. Perhaps I'll transfer my skills as a stylist for set decorating to designing real homes." My first client was a friend whose home I did for free. Then someone saw that work and reached out and ever so slowly (before the age of social media) people became interested in what I was doing. For the first several years I worked on both small editorial photo shoots and residential design. Eventually the design business took off and I was able to focus 100% of time on my residential clients.

What were the biggest initial hurdles to building your business and how did you overcome them?

I would say self-doubt. While I had a creative-based education I wasn't formally trained as an Interior Designer. I had some background from Ryerson, a very keen eye and a thirst for absorbing anything and everything that I could (which I did). There was a huge learning curve. Designing for temporary room sets is in the ballpark but not even close to the same skill sets you need to design a home that is meant to actually work and function for years to come.

How did I overcome? I would swallow my fear and turn the voice in my head away from the negative towards helpful thinking. Things like "I'll just ask the right people the right questions, learn and then I"ll know. If I fail the worst that can happen is it has to be redone and I'll learn for the next time...." To this day I practice that kind of thinking, there's always a new challenge around the corner that stretches my boundaries and gets me out of my comfort zone!

What books are you currently reading? And your recommendation for entrepreneurs to read?

I'm so busy that I very rarely actually get a chance to sit down and focus on any one book. I tend to pour over magazine and social media posts. I search for resources, suppliers and trades that can help me with my business. I'm constantly absorbing. Before social media I used to drive around town looking for little cool shops off the beaten path, now it's all at your fingertips! When I finally do have some down time I like to totally tune out and clear my mind with light and entertaining reads. I recently read and enjoyed The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein.

Did you ever deal with contention from your family and friends concerning your entrepreneurial pursuits?

How did you handle it? What would you do differently in hindsight?

My mother simply couldn't wrap her head around the idea of not getting a regular paycheck! Especially when I was starting out. Even years later, when I was well established and thriving as a stylist she would say "why don't you become a nice buyer for a department store, you have such a good eye. Then you can count on a regular salary". Never mind by then I was making double a buyer's salary! I would just shrug the comments off and focus on my path. I often think about the ups and downs, and the struggles in getting to where I am now. I have wondered if I wouldn't have been better off going to Ryerson for Interior Design rather than Fashion. I have realized that while although my path may not have built the technical skills taught in school it did help build other critical skills. As a stylist I developed a keen understanding of listening to the client's needs and delivering on time and on budget. I learned that "no" is not an option. Nobody is tougher than a director or a finicky photographer so taking emotion out of tough feedback has helped me build a resilience and an understanding of service and client relationships. I think these are all key factors in my success. My formative years as a stylist in the design industry has absolutely built a strong foundation for my business today. I don't think I would have had it any other way.

What would you say was the single most influential factor in your business success?

Tenacity. I have an unwavering sense of making things happen no matter what. If I can't get there this way, I'll find another. No is not an option. I'm always thinking of alternatives, ways to make it happen weather it's a small detail or a large life changing decision. I like to get what I want, and this translates to delivering to my clients.

What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started as an entrepreneur?

I know my own self worth. We all have to pay our dues but I know now that I have something special to offer that is artistic and unique. I was a bit shaky with that concept in the beginning.

What advice would you give to an upcoming entrepreneur locally and internationally?

The best advice I can give to anyone in any industry is to dive deep. Eat, breathe, sleep wherever your passion lies. Learn everything you can, reach out to whomever you can and always keep your eyes and ears open. Being an entrepreneur is not a 9-5 endeavor. It becomes part of you, like your own child so be prepared to put as much energy as you can into your business.


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