Amanda Langley knows she is riding all of the hip marketing trends to make her small-business dream come true. Inside a refitted shipping container on Halifax’s waterfront, Langley, a self-described “mompreneur,” is selling organic, recycled baby and toddler clothing that she handcrafts with love.
In early June she opened her flagship store, Twice Upon a Time, inside a converted shipping container. Owned by Murphy’s Cable Wharf, the seasonal kiosk housed a variety of businesses in the past and was a place to buy Murphy’s tour boat tickets. Partnering with the family-owned business, Langley will continue to sell Murphy’s tickets, as well as some of their gifts and books in her store. “I’m trying to be their higher-end boutique,” says Langley.
Inside the bright harbour side space decorated with a beach theme, complete with a sand and wooden deck chair, Langley has been working day and night cutting patterns, sewing and affixing her trademark designs, made from reclaimed materials, in preparation for the opening of her store. Her white embroidery machine hums quietly in the background on a desk near the front window; people walking by can see her creating her unique designs. “When something sells I just replenish it on the spot,” says Langley. If she’s not too busy, she’ll even put a baby’s initials on a onesie while the customer waits.
For her clothes, Langley uses fabrics she finds at Frenchy’s or Value Village stores. She combs the men’s section for interesting patterned shirts and the household area for drapes, pillow cases, blankets, buttons and interesting trim. Using the fabric, she creates one-of-a-kind bowties, personalized cupcakes, sausage on a bun and other cute designs for her clothing. With the pillow cases, she adds bows and shabby, chic flowers to make beautiful dresses for toddlers.
“My stuff is made from the heart. It tells a story,” says Langley. “I can tell you where that piece of fabric comes from and when I made it. You’ll never be wearing the same onesie that another kid is.”
The idea for the clothing line blossomed when Langley, an experienced sewer and keen vintage and second-hand shopper, looked for ways be creative and stay home with her daughter and son, now ages two and four. “This is my third baby,” she says of her business. “My fourth, if you count my husband.”
Langley has taken a one-year leave from her marketing job at the Nova Scotia Department of Agriculture to devote herself to the business. “After I had kids my whole priorities shifted,” says Langley. “I wanted to be more flexible with my work, not work less.”
As a new mom, she discovered options for buying unique, local and organic baby clothes were limited. She began selling some of her creations on www.etsy.com, a popular website selling handmade or vintage items, and had buyers as far away as England and Australia. Since starting Twice Upon a Time in January 2011 as a small online shop, her products are now sold in seven stores, including Fiddleheads Kids Shop, P’lovers, the Highland Drive Storehouse and Toronto’s Baby on the Hip. Recently, she worked around the clock for two weeks out of her home basement to fill an order for 150 onesies in three different styles for the Toronto store.
Langley’s goal is to be selling in at least one store in each province; something she’ll get to work on after the busy summer season. She credits Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) seed funding and her mentor, Nancy Rector, co-owner of Fiddleheads, for helping to get her products into stores. She also thanks the East Coast Mama Collective, a group of talented “mompreneurs,” for their encouragement. “Me opening this store is an inspiration for a lot of moms,” says Langley.
With her new boutique open seven days a week, Langley has hired one full time and one part time employee to allow her to spend more time with her kids. She hopes to keep the unheated container open until late fall to catch some of the early holiday shoppers. While her products aren’t cheap, her customers know they are getting one-of-a-kind. “The customers coming to me are more about quality than quantity,” says Langley.
Having found her reliable target market, she plans to stay put, and perhaps venture into chic maternity clothing in the future. “People are always going to have babies,” says Langley.