This past year has been a bit of whirlwind for everyone and Jena Renwick is no exception.
The Nelson based entrepreneur saw a big lift in her clothing company, LYDA Collective – Live Your Dreams Actively -- thanks in part to a sale she put on at the beginning of COVID-19.
“It was a huge success," Renwick explains.
"I think I sold 100 pairs of jeans in one day. It was crazy. And I was shipping out orders too, but it was mostly locals taking part in this sale.”
Before that sale, Renwick’s wares were mostly destined for locations across BC and Canada, with the exception of a few people who knew her in Nelson — including professional mountain bike rider Kurt Sorge — who were happy to represent her brand.
All those locals wearing LYDA denim started to catch the eye of a local clothing store owner who invited Renwick to have a space in his store to sell her fashionable yet functional designs.
In 2020, the Kootenay Outdoor Recreation Enterprise, or KORE, was established to support the local makers within the Kootenay region.
Their mission is to bring together the local makers whose focus is on participating in their own communities, leveraging the local knowledge. Through KORE, Renwick has had access to mentorship, has learned what she needs to scale her business as it grows and is working on integrating more fully into the community.
Through monthly ZOOM meetings, Renwick has tapped into a wealth of knowledge from those entrepreneurs who are successfully running their own businesses. In fact, KORE teamed Renwick up with David Harley, president of Valhalla Pure Outfitters.
“We connected in December and he’s in the middle of helping me reposition and relaunch the brand,” said Renwick, a graduate of L.V. Rogers High School in Nelson.
Prior to her KORE alliance, Renwick found networking difficult being so isolated in the Kootenay region. She wasn’t able to travel to Vancouver as the time away from her business and the cost of the trip made it nearly impossible. With Harley’s help and KORE’s support, Renwick grew her network without the need to leave the region, which, in 2021 is a blessing.
And now Renwick and Harley have come up with is to launch LYDA 2.0 adding in additional pieces of men’s and women’s denim, hoodies and headwear to round the brand out into a collection of items that tells more of a story.
Renwick is also opening up her idea of where her collection should be sold. In the beginning, she was focussed on skate and bike shops, angling to get her gear on to the mountain bikers and skateboarders it was designed for.
In the beginning, Jenna Renwich focused on the skateboarding and mountain bike market. — Photo courtesy Tamarack Media
It turned out, though, that trusted brands were the better sellers and taking a chance on an unknown, new designer and label was not as palatable to those specialty shops as she had hoped.
The Nelson native has also learned a lot from her first launch. Initially, she placed what she now calls a “massive order” of inventory with the expectations that she was going to sell all of the product within the first year in business. Looking back and laughing, she explains that that was a very high hope. (If you’re wondering, the answer is No, she did not sell all that inventory.)
At the time, Renwick’s intention was to leverage influencers and utilize online sales platforms and marketing to get her brand out there. Her dream has never been to have her company name emblazoned on a brick-and-mortar store front.
“I just feel that there is a better way to spend that money than having a physical location,” says Renwick.
Her ideas for how she would spend that money are diverse while being wholly community focussed. She’d rather see programs developed within the brand to support the communities they’re in and help others to succeed in living their dreams.
Renwick started her foray in to the apparel industry right out of high school.
A graduate of the Fashion Design program at Kwantlen College, Renwick can’t say enough good things about the experience.
“There are a lot of programs out there, I went to Kwantlen and it set me up to start a business," Renwick said. "Not every program talks about the actual business part of fashion.”
To get immersed in the mountain bike culture, Renwick began working at Sombrio, a North Vancouver gear shop, before eventually leaving for Arc’teryx.
“You hear a lot about the apparel industry and how people aren’t treated well overseas, but it’s also happening here,” she explains.
While it’s not the cramped quarters, low pay and hazardous conditions that the overseas production facilities are infamous for, the expectations that persist on the domestic side of these companies are similar; Renwick often found herself working for no pay, with outdated equipment and freezing warehouse conditions.
She also found herself left to her own devices to figure out what needed to happen without the support of a management team; that was the perfect recipe for burnout.
That burnout, coupled with some personal and emotional turmoil, sent the then 24-year-old Nelsonite back to her roots. She returned to Nelson to figure out her next step which led her to the ECCE program as an upgrade to her Master of Counselling and Psychology.
“I was coaching kids bike camps on the coast. I loved working with the kids – on top of my full-time job at Arc’teryx," said Renwick, who felt a connection to those little people who needed support to develop healthy patterns to set them up for future success.
"I would have kids in my bike camps who came from rough homes or who had emotional challenges.”
After nine months of hands-on work in the ECCE program, Renwick was accepted into a Master of Arts Counselling and Psychology course.
It was a remote course offered wholly online, which allowed her to complete her program from anywhere. She began working with a little boy in Foster Care, an experience she describes as “just really sad”.
It was that experience that helped Renwick realize that working with kids was going to be more of an emotional drain than she had originally thought. Her next assignment would be with a woman with MS. Renwick wound up travelling to the United States with her new client, where she spent the winters.
It was through this time – and with the guidance of a life coach – that Renwick realized her passion was not in Counselling and Psychology, and that her creative side was craving a chance to design. She made the decision to leave her masters program and focus on bringing her vision for functional fashion to life.
“The support [from my life coach] made the transition less scary, I guess,” Renwick recanted, before beginning to develop her idea for LYDA starting with jeans.
“I couldn’t find jeans personally, for myself, that fit what I needed them to do,” said Renwick, who was staying in the US at the time.
She had the opportunity to look around at a lot of different bike and skate shops. Research began in earnest as Renwick looked into her target market, emailing as many people as possible to get an idea of what her market was going to be.
Live Your Dreams Actively is about persevering through thick and thin, living your dreams.
For Renwick, Live Your Dreams Actively is about persevering through thick and thin, living your dreams despite the setbacks and being determined to actively follow that which strikes a chord in your soul.
It’s about living a balanced lifestyle and inspiring people to do the same. While the road hasn’t been easy, Renwick is thankful for all the difficulties she’s encountered as each one has made it possible for her to overcome the next.
Her initial launch didn’t go as planned, her Kickstarter campaigns weren’t as successful as she had hoped but each one of those attempts got her to where she is today, making it possible for her to actively live her dream of designing her own clothing line.
It’s a testament to her designs that Bia Boro owner, Orang Momtazian, saw Renwick’s jeans on the locals in the community and reached out to her to get her designs in to his store.
It’s a partnership that Renwick could only dream about, having grown up in Nelson and shopped at Bia Boro for her time here.
“I bought my grad stuff from Bia Boro and it feels unbelievable that I get to be a designer in the shop I’ve idolized for so long,” she said.
Renwick is gearing up for a big year in 2021 after a string of self-described failures. Her website is getting an upgrade, leveraging technology that is coming available to help people shop successfully online: the goal is to have customers enter in their measurements to see what her clothes will look like on each person.
If there’s one thing Renwick has learned from her venture into the apparel industry, it’s that failure is part of the process.
“It’s the only way I knew how to do it,” she laughs.
You can find LYDA Collective gear online at www.lydacollective.com or head into Bia Boro at the end of February to find an exclusive, custom pair of LYDA jeans.