For those of you who may not know me, my name is Cassandra Ciarallo and I founded Chic Made Consciously five years ago. Yes, this year is our fifth anniversary, and to be honest, I would have never thought I'd be here.
I started this business as a total passion project and it's led me on a journey to self discovery in ways I never would have thought possible.
Entrepreneurship is freaking hard. Especially as a solo-founder. Oftentimes, I still feel like a failure, but I am learning to be very grateful for every step of the way.
So, thank you for being here today, for stopping by and taking your time to read my story. My hope for you is that you can relate, learn and perhaps realize that no matter what path you choose, life is a journey of ups and downs. We have all shared triumph, we have all shared failures, and even though my life might look quite different from yours, we experience very similar feelings.
What sparked the inspiration for writing this blog was the question I often get asked at any pop up event or trade show:
"How the heck did you start this business?"
Honestly, I used to get a sinking feeling in my stomach every time I heard this question. I guess it was because I was put on the spot, trying to put the last number of years of my life into a quick sentence.
I usually answered something along the lines of...
"I started this business after my travels to Bali, meeting an artisan collective who were up-cycling tires."
While this is a very true answer, there is truly so much more to the story..That answer makes my life seem very glamorized, very picture perfect, perhaps what is only visible on our social media page.
So today, I am writing this journal to you, pulling out the deepest parts of me, to be open, to share my truths and to guide you to your own power of what is possible.
Back to the good ol' days...
High school. Where the biggest stresses were whether or not we had enough time to go get Krispy Kreme donuts on lunch break, and wondering if the boys from St. Michael's college were coming by after school (I went to an all girls school).
I'll never forget my favourite course, International Business. Definitely what influenced me to pursue a business degree in university. My best friend Francesca and I did a project on Finland, we actually imported lollipops and flower notebooks and sold them in our cafeteria on lunch. I remember the excitement pouring out of me and my willingness to try something new.
It seemed I was an entrepreneur in the making.
As a mere 16 year old being told to choose a career path, I didn't actually know "entrepreneur" was a future career I could choose. Being a confused teenage girl, who excelled at math and accounting, I decided I would be an accountant. Entering university, that quickly faded after my first semester accounting midterm. I had a serious awakening when I barely passed with a 51%. I learned that studying 1 or 2 nights before the exam didn't work like it did in high school... some things never change.
So, my "dream" of being an accountant quickly faded.
Four years of my undergrad degree was spent attending the University of Toronto, Scarborough campus, which felt like high school except with more boys and much more freedom. That "dream" of being an accountant was what helped me choose the Business path as my university education. I was so grateful and happy that my high school marks and co-op placement at BMO Nesbitt burns landed me into one of the best University co-op programs.
First year university was filled with it's own ups and downs: pulling all nighters writing papers, partying and studying last minute for midterms just so I could pass.. still, some things never change.
I was kicked out of the co-op program after first year because my marks sucked. I pretty much hated myself for being stupid and not taking first year seriously, but luckily I was still able to stay in the business program. After getting over the novelty and distraction of first year, I actually chose courses that were far more interesting than accounting, what teenage girl wants to take accounting?!
So after a four year journey of building amazing friendships, (shoutout to my bestie Ida who is still by my side today), growing further as an individual, and learning that I never want to pull another all nighter again...I graduated (with honours!) with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
Off to the "real world" I go...
Working full time was something I always thought everyone did, wasn't it? My entire family worked 9 to 5 jobs, my mom a teacher, my dad a store manager; most of my aunts and uncles teachers, and bankers themselves. I was always taught at a young age to "save your money and put it in the bank" classic words of my late grandfather. So, I always figured I would get a 9 to 5 job after university and naturally, save my money like the good girl that I was.
However, I had other plans first. I had saved up money to celebrate myself and my university graduation (to which my grandfather would definitely not approve). I worked 3 part-time jobs to have enough for a 2-month backpacking trip across Europe, I was dying to travel and explore. My saving grace was that I scored a full-time position at BMO Nesbitt Burns for when the trip was over.
A girl needs to live it up before giving away her freedom right?
Off I went frolicking across Europe, experiencing one of the most magical adventures of my life. Two of my girlfriends and I couch surfed our way through 7 countries in 2 months: UK, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Spain and Greece.
Travel has a sweet romanticism to it.
It's like that glass of full-bodied red wine I would drink on the patio of a Parisian restaurant, with the colourful sun set and people walking by; I just never wanted it to end.
What I loved most was how alive it made me feel: the history and architecture, the delectable food, the scenic views, the culture, I was literally obsessed.
I came back from my trip feeling like I was on cloud 9, I couldn't stop thinking about where in the world I wanted to go next...when reality reared its ugly head and I realized that I was a "real" job. A part of me was happy to be settling into a new routine of work, but the other was already longing for the adventure that now resides in my photo gallery on my iPhone...
oh well, gotta grow up sometime right?
Quite quickly the job became dull and boring. My days were filled with entering data, filing account closures and listening to people I hardly knew complain about other people I hardly knew, uplifting stuff. But, like the good girl that I am, I continued to show up everyday.
I somehow began climbing the greasy rungs of the banking system, and after a few short months, I landed a full-time contract with salary, benefits, and the opportunity to work in a different role. This position was one in the administration department, or what was known as "the cage". It was called that because of the immense confidentiality, but behind the pass-code door of doom only lied sadness and more filing.
Anyways, I took that full-time position, again happy to try something new and of course, listen to my grandfather and be the good girl who saves her money and puts it in the bank. The job was so monotonous, draining even, and it seemed like there was always some sort of gossip or office politics that I didn't even care to bother with. Not to mention the intense ...corporate ...masculinity.
However, I still continued to show up, did my job, but I eagerly awaited my evenings and weekends where I chose to enjoy, or rather escape my boring work-life with my friends, drinking myself into oblivion, and partying my face off at raves.