Ashley Bensoussan and Emilyn Laurio make up the boss-lady team at Monday Muse, an online fashion shop headquartered in Toronto. Monday Muse sells clothes and accessories targeted to women who continue inspire, empower and keep others motivated, even on the toughest days of the week. Ashley and Emilyn call themselves the Tall and Small Boss Ladies, respectively.
We met at the Parkdale Flea market in Toronto’s west end, where I was drawn to the Monday Muse booth because of the display of sparkly necklaces and hand-crafted kimonos. Inspired by their passion to create and drive a successful business, I had to learn more.
Here is the Monday Muse story:
- How did the two of you meet?
We both happened to have an extremely rough day at our jobs and a mutual friend invited both of us over to her condo to vent over wine and pizza. We spent the whole evening speaking in a cookie monster voice and singing along to Ja Rule songs (they basically sound the same). We instantly clicked, and the rest was history!
- Did you each know you wanted to run your own business one day?
Independently, yes. It has been a lifelong dream to have a venture to call our own, one we are proud of and involved in every aspect, from production to design, to sales and marketing. Emilyn used to run her own Etsy shop a few years back and Ashley has wanted to own her a storefront for years. However, the online platform is much more ideal now, along with the pop ups we now attend a few times per month.
- When did you realize you wanted to launch Monday Muse, together?
We had drinks one evening and began to talk about ambitions, goals and what we would like to achieve for ourselves. After a few rounds, Monday Muse came into fruition so quickly. The next day Ashley texted Emilyn to make sure this was for real and it wasn’t just the wine talking the night before. From there, it made so much sense to begin this venture. Ashley has a background in business and buying, Emilyn is the creative type and she designs and produces most of our pieces, so it has been the perfect relationship.
- When we met at the Parkdale Flea market, you told me the story of how the name “Monday Muse” was coined. Can you describe this special moment for our readers?
As with most of our great ideas, this one started over a glass of wine too. We loved associating our brand with the positive connotation that is “Motivation Monday” and wanted to dedicate our brand to our customers. We love featuring our customers on our social media channels because they are our Muses. Also, what day of the week do we all need the most motivation from whoever we consider our muses? Monday!
- With an online shop, you also attend events like the aforementioned flea market regularly. How do these community shopping events and pop-up shops impact Monday Muse’s success?
Markets have contributed a great deal of success to our brand. We realized very quickly that the best way to build and maintain relationships with our client-base is to get involved in independent markets/events and support fellow vendors and artisans in Toronto. We want our clients to trust us and know us and to meet them is the best way to do this.
- When did Monday Muse launch? What was the initial reaction to the brand from your audiences?
We launched in June 2016, the initial reaction was great but our first few months were an extremely humbling experience for us. It became more of an experimental time for us, this meant that every aspect of our business – the products, our website, what works, what doesn’t work, had to be tested. We used the first couple of months to truly determine our brand identity and since then we have found our sweet spot and have continued to grow ever since.
- From the moment a business launches to every other moment in an entrepreneurial journey, so many things change, including initial vision and goals. What’s one major change Monday Muse has gone through since your virtual doors opened?
We learned that everyone won’t fall in love instantly with what you sell, which was difficult for us, because we loved everything we carried in our store! Instead of determining what we think people want, we began asking what our customers and our friends and family would like to see from Monday Muse. From there, we were able to focus on specific products that work best for us.
- In mapping out these goals and aspirations, which method did you find the most effective and why?
With every decision we make we generally think of two main things first – 1: What is our gut telling us? 2: What is the right financial move? We don’t always agree on everything so when this happens, we both basically plead our cases and then come to a compromise. We tend to think very similarly for the most part, so this rarely has to happen.
- There are dresses, handmade jewellery, kimonos, purses and jeans on the Monday Muse website. Where do you source your products from?
Some of the clothing and accessories are sourced from brands and various vendors that we have built relationships with that are based in Toronto and Montreal. Our kimonos and some of our jewellery are handmade with sass, by us – the materials are sourced in Toronto and New York.
- The two of you also make some of the jewellery that you sell online. When did you start making jewellery? What about this art appealed to you?
We made jewellery from the beginning and even prior to the launch of Monday Muse. We realized very quickly that if we want something that is exactly what we are looking for and affordable for our customers, we have to create and produce in-house. We both love jewelry and having our own brand was always the goal.
- Growing up, did you have any creative inspiration? Who/what and why?
Ashley – I have been in love with the fashion industry since I was young and was given a clothing designer drawing kit. I basically thought I was going to grow up to be the biggest fashion designer on the planet (I was eight…). Then, I got older and realized I am actually not crafty AT ALL, so I settled for the idea of becoming a boss and running my own company, which I have wanted to do since I was about 10. For inspiration, I had a subscription to basically any and every fashion related magazine and I watched every show of FashionTelevision.
Emilyn – Yes! I was always “artsy” growing up and was inspired by so many things: music, art, magazines and obviously TLC, Britney Spears and JLO (because I’m a child of the 90s/00s).
- Where were you before you launched Monday Muse?
Ashley – I was working in e-commerce and prior to that in buying.
Emilyn – I currently work at a private equity firm based in Toronto.
- What was your first job and how do you think it impacted the businesswoman you are today?
Ashley – My first job was teaching modelling and acting classes at Mode Elle, an agency back in my hometown of Belleville, ON. Being a part of that agency as well as working there helped build confidence in myself, which I definitely needed at that time in my life. Mode Elle is run by the owner, Audra Anderson and at the time her right hand woman, Amie. Seeing such a successful business being run by women was super inspirational for me and reinforced my love for wanting to be in the position I am in today.
Emilyn – My first job was at a hosiery store for six hours (haha). I was young, naïve, timid and the manager was such a bully! In that very little time that I was employed there, I have learned that I have a strong distaste for hosiery. Actually though, I learned you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar. Be kind! You can be a strong business-person by speaking your mind, voicing your opinion, make smart decisions without being mean! Being a bully will not get you anywhere – this is especially important being a small business owner.
- What has been the toughest part of owning and operating the brand since you embarked on this journey?
The toughest part is that there is no one to tell you to get off your butt and make you design, create, sell, market and so on. You really are in a league of your own and have to find self-motivation to work, work and work. You also have to exude and be your brand by literally becoming a walking advertisement because you never know if you will meet a new customer! Ashley has made sales while in line renewing her driver’s license!
- Do you have a business mentor? If yes, how has this benefited you? If no or not yet, what type of person are you looking for to help guide your business decisions?
We don’t necessarily have a set mentor but we have a couple of people in our lives who we look to for advice and ideas. One of Ashley’s past professors from Seneca College has always been a great supporter and resource as well as Ashley’s husband, Eric. Eric has been an entrepreneur in the retail industry for nearly a decade, so when we are dealing with the business side of Monday Muse, Ashley frequently runs things by Eric for advice or to play devil’s advocate, ensuring we are making informed decisions.
- Your website implies that the purpose of Monday Muse is to sell clothes and accessories to women who live in major cities. How do you think Monday Muse will continue to adapt and change to appeal to a wider demographic?
We’ve already started to hit the stride of appealing to demographics of all kinds! Since meeting our customers at different markets and events, we have come to realize that our customer base can really be anyone! We have had some fabulous men and women of all ages fall in love with our pieces and we love that about Monday Muse! We have had customers that range in age from seven-years-old to 75-years-young, from school kids, to new moms (our kimonos work perfectly as chic breastfeeding covers too!) to great-grandmas. We seriously have something for everyone.
- What makes Monday Muse different from the countless other online boutique shops North Americans can access?
We’ve really taken our customer’s suggestions into account on what they are looking for. This has determined and inspired a lot of our pieces. Our customers tell us that we have the range they are looking for and it’s so exciting because they walk away knowing that they are part of our process. One thing that also sets us apart from countless other boutiques is that we don’t mark up our products as much as most other retailers. When we get a deal from our suppliers we genuinely pass it along to our customers.
- If there’s one piece of advice you have for an emerging entrepreneur, what would it be?
Making a crap ton of mistakes is perfectly okay and that having a successful business does not happen overnight! It takes a lot of time and experience to determine what works best for your business and your clientele, so keep experimenting and persisting through the blood, sweat and tears, because it’s all worth it.
Many thanks to Ashley and Emilyn for taking the time to answer our questions and for sharing their journey with the A Quarter Young community!