The struggle to find a great swimsuit that’s made in Canada is all too real, which is how we stumbled across the latest collection from The Saltwater Collective–a Toronto-based swimwear brand for women. The name and brand seemed familiar, but there was something about the look and feel that just felt a little different. After chatting with the woman behind the brand, Camilla James, we soon learned that she’s the new owner of The Saltwater Collective after taking it over in early 2017. Considering how common it is to see an independent brand come and go within the first few years of its life, it was refreshing (and exciting) to hear about a company that was passed on to a new owner rather than having to go under. Perhaps you yourself are interested in the idea of purchasing a business, or a way to sell your own. Maybe you’re just looking for a dope Canadian-made bathing suit you can live in this summer. Either way, keep reading to meet Camilla James, the new owner of The Saltwater Collective swimwear.
Business Name: The Saltwater Collective
Name & Title: Camilla James, Designer & Owner
Location: Toronto / Vancouver
Education: Queen’s University
Edit Seven: Tell us about your brand, what do you do?
Camilla James: The Saltwater Collective is a sustainable women’s swimwear brand designed with real female figures in mind. We believe that beauty comes from confidence, and encouraging women to embrace what makes them unique is at the core of our brand.
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
CJ: I always knew that I wanted to build something of my own, but wasn’t sure exactly what it would be. I am very motivated by the idea of being responsible for something from start to finish, and I value having meaning behind my work. We are all responsible for putting ourselves in a position to learn, thrive and (hopefully) succeed, and trying the 9-5 corporate life further reinforced that I wanted something different!
A unique circumstance led me to The Saltwater Collective. I adopted the brand in its infancy from two young women who had started it as a side project. Their mission was to support ocean conservation projects and raise awareness through selling apparel. However, they were not able to continue due to personal circumstances, so I took over the brand name and got started on establishing my own vision, inspired by their beginnings.
I have always loved swimwear, and had a passion for design, so in February of 2017 I began creating what you see online and in stores today.
E7: What was the process like to take over another person’s small business?
CJ: My experience in taking over The Saltwater Collective was definitely a unique situation. The brand was very new, but there was a core set of values and a mission statement that I really connected with as a customer.
It had always been a goal of mine to have my own business, and as I was starting to make my own plans, I (serendipitously, in my opinion) came into contact with the owners at the time of The Saltwater Collective. Although starting up this initiative had been a huge passion project of theirs, they were not able to continue with it. I took the opportunity to connect with the owners and after meeting over the course of many months, we worked through the process of transitioning ownership.
The starting point for us was to make sure that my visions, ambitions and goals for the brand aligned with the brand values they had created. It was important to them that the person who took over the brand was passionate about similar causes such as sustainability and local manufacturing. At the same time, it was also important that I felt passionate and invested in what they had built thus far.
After we had established that I was a good fit for taking on the brand, we set out to valuate it. This was a new and challenging process for both sides, and took a lot of research, discussion and negotiation. Apart from some tangible assets, there were many intangibles such as digital assets that had to be accounted for, and attaching numbers to these categories was extremely difficult. We settled on a deal and then made a transition plan to hand over all things Saltwater.
After taking over the business in February of 2017, I was still working my full time job. I started out by focusing primarily on learning about this new industry I had jumped into. I released a summer collection which was in line with what they had done in the past, and meanwhile began establishing my vision for the new The Saltwater Collective.
It felt like I was working on two concepts simultaneously. I was maintaining the current offering while creating my new brand concept. Event though I loved the brand as a customer and I was so aligned with their mission, I definitely underestimated the challenge of taking over someone else’s project. I don’t regret it at all, but it took a lot more work and change than I expected in order to establish my version of what the brand would look like moving forward. The values of the original Saltwater inspired some key aspects of my re-brand, but it did feel like I had to start from square one in many ways in order to make it my own. The Saltwater Collective you see today is still connected to its beginnings, but it is definitely a very different brand!
E7: How did you know that taking over The Saltwater Collective was the right business for you?
CJ: I don’t think I would say that I ‘knew’ it was the right brand for me. It was completely by chance that an opportunity arose that aligned with my goals, and part of that was just deciding to jump in and take a risk!
I had really connected with the brand as a customer, and I felt passionate about their mission so it wasn’t very hard to imagine the possibilities. The brand was also very new which gave me a lot of flexibility in terms of establishing my own direction moving forward.
E7: What advice would you give to another entrepreneur who is interested in taking over a small brand or business and making it their own?
CJ: Most importantly, you need to get to know the brand/product/service as well as you possibly can before going through with an acquisition no matter how small it may be. It is so important that you understand inside and out what it is you will be investing your time and money into.
I would also say that it isn’t necessarily ‘easier’ to take over the idea of another person – this was totally an unforeseen obstacle for me. Once I got in the driver’s seat I realized that what I wanted to create was actually quite different from what had already been done. I would advise others to be prepared to essentially start from scratch in order to build a business that reflects your long-term vision, rather than the vision of the previous owners. Even if your vision is inspired by the previous values or ideas, there will be a long process of reconciling what the evolution of the brand will look like.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
CJ: I LOVE what I do because I have the opportunity to work on bringing my own vision to life every day. I am constantly creating, reshaping and improving my product and brand in order to try and achieve what I don’t even know is possible yet.
I learn something new every day, and the most important thing for me is believing that there is no limit to what is possible – and nobody can challenge that belief when you are your own boss!
E7: What makes your business special?
CJ: It’s all about our customer. We understand that shopping for swimwear can be a tedious process, but our objective is to create a positive experience by encouraging women to embrace what makes them unique. The way that women feel about their bodies really matters to us. Our focus is on making our customers feel strong and confident and to associate our swimwear with that feeling. Beauty exists in many forms, and is about so much more than just our physical appearance.
E7: What makes your product special?
CJ: Our products are made from ECONYL® yarn which is regenerated from pre- and post-consumer Nylon waste, that would otherwise be abandoned in nature or dumped in landfills. Our fabric producers have set up recovery programs around the world to recover waste and repurpose it. We believe that sustainable fabrics are the way of the future, and we are proud to be a part of a manufacturing process that helps clean up the environment.
We also manufacture all of our products in Toronto! We work with a team of skilled seamstresses who help us bring our designs to life, and we are thrilled to support local business.
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business?
CJ: You are your own #1 supporter and nothing works if you don’t. There are endless lessons that come along with trying to start and run your own business, but the biggest one for me is that nobody believes in you or your business as much as you do. You are your own support system when it comes to your business.
E7: What have been some of the pros and cons of building your business in Canada/Toronto?
CJ: There is so much positive energy around new ideas and small businesses in Toronto. The start-up and creative community is growing so much, and I think the city is an amazing place to be building a business.
For my business specifically it has been difficult to find manufacturers in Toronto and Canada in general. The fashion industry here is small compared to other parts of the world, so that was quite challenging at first, and felt like a barrier to success because I was very committed to have my products be made in Canada.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
CJ: Success does not happen overnight. I think this is very important for starting a business in today’s age of social media. It often seems from an outsider’s perspective that things just ‘happen’ or that there is a quick formula for success, but the reality is that 99.9% of truly successful businesses and brands have put in an incredible amount of work that most people will never see or even be aware of. It is very hard work, but if you believe in your business, you should keep pushing.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
CJ: It is normal to feel like you are on a rollercoaster every day, week, month!
E7: What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the swimwear and design business to prepare for?
CJ: There is not a huge community of people in swimwear design in Canada (at least to my knowledge). This is a good thing because it is an untapped market, but can also be tough as there isn’t a ton of opportunity to ask for advice or guidance.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
CJ: My motivation is the reason I am here today. I am lucky to be working towards my own goals and nothing keeps me more motivated than proving to myself that this matters and can become something bigger than what it is today.
Staying balanced has been a learning process for me. I am not sure if I will ever strike a perfect balance, but I believe that staying connected to the things outside of work that really matter is essential to my happiness, and in turn my ability to be the best I can be at work.
E7: Who are some of your mentors/role models?
CJ: My family! My parents and grandparents have always been very entrepreneurial. They’ve taught me that mindset is key and to just dive in and push forward even if I don’t feel ready.
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
CJ: I am not a very routine-oriented person, but I do have one that I love! Every morning I make breakfast and listen to ‘The Daily’ (The New York Times podcast) while NOT answering emails. I have made this my rule each morning. I only open my laptop after I have taken those 20 minutes to start my day.
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
CJ: Vintage fashion really inspires me, as well as Danish design. My family is Danish, so whenever I am in Copenhagen, I look for inspiration there and bring back a pile of design magazines.
E7: As a company based in Canada, do you have international goals and if so why?
CJ: Yes I do! We currently have some representation internationally already, and we also ship worldwide. I think it’s incredible that we have the ability to be so easily connected to the world around us, and I don’t plan on putting any limitations on where my business could go in the future.
E7: Who is the Saltwater Collective customer and where can your designs be purchased?
CJ: Our customers are mostly young women between the ages of 18-35, but we encourage everybody to get involved and try our swimwear! Saltwater Collective swimwear can be purchased online through our website or via our wonderful stockists.
Click HERE for all of The Saltwater Collective stockists!
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)