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Joanna Griffiths, founder and president of Knix, says her community has been a critical driver of her brand’s exponential growth.SUPPLIED

When Toronto-based underwear brand Knix needed models recently for a swimsuit marketing campaign, it bypassed modelling agencies and instead put out a casting call to its online community of customers and supporters.

More than 25,000 responded.

“It’s amazing when you give folks the opportunity and create a space where they feel safe, how many will want to step outside of their comfort zone,” says Joanna Griffiths, founder & president of Knix, which launched in 2013 with first-of-its kind leakproof underwear for menstrual periods and incontinence and has since expanded to include bras, swimwear, sleepwear and athleisure apparel.

“We always look for new ways to engage with our community and create an encouraging, safe and unapologetic space for them.”

In the highly competitive and always-evolving markets where female entrepreneurs like Ms. Griffiths work hard to grow their business, the power of community has become more important than ever. Strong communities provide platforms where brands can engage with their audiences, and where consumers can share experiences and offer businesses feedback on how to improve their products or services.

For Shivani Sen, founder of Rise Arts Company in Vancouver and past recipient of the Mastercard x Pier Five Small Business Fund, the community she had built over many years of teaching dance for various studios and working in children’s recreation and program development provided an instant network she could turn to as she started her arts education business in 2020.

“I already had relationships with some of the families that signed up their children to my programs,” Ms. Sen recalls. “They knew the kind of work I had done in the past and were happy to support when I decided to launch my own business.”

As Rise Arts grew from a one-person operation offering ceramics classes to a team of 18 instructors teaching kids painting, drama, clay sculpture and dance, Ms. Sen’s community also expanded. This created a virtuous loop: A bigger community brought in more students and led to more schools asking Ms. Sen to bring her programs to their campus, and in turn these boosts to the business fed back and further grew the community.

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Shivani Sen had built a network of support over years of teaching dance, when she took the leap into starting her own studio, Rise Arts Company in Vancouver.SUPPLIED

At the same time, Ms. Sen has expanded her brand’s reach online by forging relationships with mommy bloggers and other social media influencers.

“We’re currently focusing on Vancouver-area bloggers and parent groups but as we grow and expand into other areas – maybe even other provinces – we’ll also start looking beyond local influencers,” Ms. Sen says.

The power of community to influence and shape public opinion has also been a critical driver of vision and growth at Knix, Ms. Griffiths says.

This ability to celebrate people as their most authentic selves, and to bring them together in a community that’s diverse yet has so many shared experiences and ideas is key to success in any business – whether it’s one that focused on intimate apparel or art.

Recent research from Mastercard shows building a network pays dividends for women-owned small businesses. Forty-one per cent of women entrepreneurs surveyed in September 2023, said their communities help them build confidence, while 39 per cent tap their communities to share insights, and 36 per cent do so to collect feedback on ideas.

“We understand the immense benefits and impact that being part of a community can provide women small business owners,” says Nishant Raina, Small & Medium Enterprises Lead at Mastercard Canada.

“Through our Mastercard x Pier Five Small Business Fund, we are connecting women small business owners across Canada to valuable mentorship opportunities,” he continues. “By connecting them with their peers and experts, Mastercard is connecting communities to unlocking possibilities for entrepreneurs to share their experiences and gain insights.”

Ms. Sen shares a similar appreciation for the value of peer support. In her community of parents, children, instructors and school leaders, she sees her strongest supporters and brand ambassadors and feels reassured that the business that started with one small class has a future that could be as great as the community that powers it.

“Rise has become a place where kids are really excited to come and where families come together,” she says. “That’s community in its truest sense and that’s how we’ll continue to grow.”

Joanna Griffiths is a paid partner of Mastercard.

Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Mastercard. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.

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