Linda Lundstrom has just advised that a handbag should never be placed on the floor.
“It’s bad luck,” the Canadian fashion design icon explains. “All your money will go down the drain.”
Superstition aside, it’s a telling indication that Ms. Lundstrom is focused on her financial well-being. It was just over two years ago that her Toronto-based namesake apparel brand filed for bankruptcy protection on a $1.9-million bank loan. In April, 2008, Toronto manufacturer Eleventh Floor Apparel purchased the company and all of its assets, and installed Ms. Lundstrom as chief creative officer, a position from which she resigned in June last year.
Fast forward to the present, and Ms. Lundstrom has reserved for this interview one of the colourful meeting rooms at Verity, a networking and lifestyle club for women in downtown Toronto. Since launching her own consulting business earlier this year, Linda Lundstrom Works, these well-appointed, members-only spaces serve as her office. She has six clients, she says, mostly through word of mouth.
Broadly speaking, the niche Ms. Lundstrom has entered is referred to as fashion consulting. The term can be misleading, however, primarily because it gets confused with image or wardrobe consulting, in which experts help people decide what to wear. Nor does Ms. Lundstrom plan to do retail consulting, an area well served by many bigger companies that help businesses understand consumer behaviour, store operations and merchandising.
In many ways, her career move represents the arc of the industry: the most viable option – aside from a book deal, perhaps – available to those who, for one reason or another, are no longer in a position of creative or corporate authority but have a wealth of knowledge to share and aren’t quite ready to hang up their hats. But as retail powerhouse and Club Monaco co-founder Joe Mimran points out, consulting can also be code for “unemployed.”
“There are some people who are very active and really love the business, and for others, they just haven’t found the right thing that they can dive into,” says Mr. Mimran, who launched his own consulting business, Joe Mimran and Associates, shortly after Ralph Lauren acquired Club Monaco in 1999.
Since then, his biggest client has been Loblaw Cos. Ltd., launching the PC Home Collection and Joe Fresh, the cheap-chic clothing line that bears his name. “There are also people who like a variety of work and like to go from project to project and make their own time and develop their own calendars and work on the projects they like to work on,” he adds.
Ms. Lundstrom’s biggest asset is her 30-plus years of experience in apparel manufacturing and she sees this as an area underserved by consultants. Since converting her factory in 2001, she has been a practitioner and champion of Lean Manufacturing, the same efficiency-based system adopted by Toyota in the 1980s. She conducts Lean workshops that show clients how to increase output and cut turnaround time and reduce the need for more space, and believes this specialization, combined with her fashion savvy, bridges many spheres of business.
“I’m a hybrid, really,” says the 59-year-old. “I know there might be a small audience that appreciates my peculiar combination of skills but I have to believe that there is an audience out there that would be interested in my services.”
If Wanda Berk’s consulting business is any indication, there is. Based in Toronto, she often works with private-label fashion clients and emerging designers to help source fabric, facilitate introductions with local manufacturers and help build and edit collections. She calls herself a “design and marketing consultant for the fashion industry” and has no website, saying she’s in a position to be selective with the clients she takes on.
“I think every company is realizing that they can’t afford a person with 30 years of experience [full-time]but they can certainly utilize them and bring them in and can have them involved for short periods of time,” says Ms. Berk who is in her early 50s. “I think every type of business is finding that this type of outsourcing is a requirement now, in order to keep up with what’s going on; it could be very costly otherwise.”
Like consultants in other fields, these experts typically work behind the scenes. “I think [businesses]prefer people don’t know I’m there,” Ms. Berk says. “I had the days of ego, thank you very much. For me, it works perfectly.”