Agent 99, Three Boutique, and Blueprint are all stores we’ve surely passed by on Princess Street, but many of us perhaps know little of the owner, a blonde sociable Kingston local who possess an unspoken for youth beyond her age. Established fashion entrepreneur, successful small boutique owner, philanthropic supporter, and member of city council’s retail committee – Cyndy Gibson is all of this, but at the end of the day, she stresses that she’s a business owner.
At only 21 years old and straight out of McGill University, Cyndy Gibson knew little of what she wanted to pursue, only that she wanted to remain a while in her hometown: “You know when you leave and finish your undergrad and sometimes don’t know what to do? You go back to your home town. Some people do that. I did that.”
Cyndy admits that “there were many hurdles ahead… but, to stay that there was a big grand plan? There wasn’t.”
Certainly most admirable about her early venture into fashion retail is the go getter spirit that Cindy seized upon. Would you have started a store with little start-up money or savings? Most of us perhaps wouldn’t take such a headlong risk. However, Cyndy emphasizes that this was a long time ago, back in the 90s. She explains that 21 year olds make decisions very differently and it was really for fun.
Part-time student DJ and undergraduate student to independent store owner – the transition was hardly smooth. Cyndy describes the hectic nature of her initial experience at her first store on King Street. She recalls selling things and then having to go to Montreal on the Monday because of an immediate need for stock. She optimistically reflects that it was a great way to learn and says, “If you’re willing to be humble at times then you learn great lessons.”
Despite the fact that Cyndy may have started her journey as a fashion retailer on a whim at a young age, her ability to thrive three decades later and move from King Street to Princess Street, to expand from one to three stores, speaks of her entrepreneurial skills and perseverance.
She understands that being a retail owner involves far more than just being caught up in the latest trends and in taking pleasure in styling others. Largely underemphasized is the more serious business management side of owning fashion boutiques, the significant financial accountability and risks that threaten a business’s permanency. She says with a hint of humour that people “assume I go to fashion shows in New York and that it is fashion all the time, when it’s a business.”
Though Cyndy stresses the practical side of maintaining a successful business, she has every right to take an authoritative stance: She’s seen many stores lay their premature claim on Princess Street, only to struggle to carve a permanent niche and unfortunately having to close within a few months’ time. Even with nearly three decades of experience behind her, she admits that, “it’s hard out there right now. I see a lot of great stores – and restaurants – not succeeding. So you’re constantly having to keep your eye on the business side of things in the beginning.”
Another contributing factor to Cyndy’s longevity on Princess is her involvement with the city. As the youngster on the board of directors for the downtown Kingston business association, she strongly believes a sense of community and inclusivity amongst retailers would allow for a lot of creativity, even getting the chains involved.
As for maintaining a tight knit community, Cyndy wholeheartedly says “if we’re all strong, then it’s better for everyone”. Creating a support network for others in a small town environment seems essential to survival on Princess Street. Cyndy admits that “of course, competition is there,” but says, “We all have to stay on top of our game, but I’m never going to be that person whose going to hate other stores in my neighbourhood and feel negatively towards them.”
What is Cyndy’s advice to those girls who want to start a fashion boutique of their own? With a lot of resolve, she says, “Remember it is a business. Don’t go into it thinking it’s Project Runway or anything you’ve seen on television. It’s still a business. So, get those fundamentals underway. Know how to handle your numbers because you might have a great eye for buying, you might be one of the most stylish people at your school, but if you do not know how to run a business – you will not succeed. You will have to be careful with money. You have to be extremely careful and I don’t care what you’re doing, whether it’s setting up a yogurt stand in the summer or opening an engineering firm or having a fashion boutique – those fundamentals are always what’s going to make you succeed, being very savvy as a business person.”
Cyndy’s progressive thinking inarguably is the reason her stores have become a valuable part of the Kingston downtown core, even building a fandom of clients that travel solely to Kingston with the prospects of finding unique pieces from her stores. She constantly maps out the future trajectory of her store and forecasts fashion trends that will sell in her stores. She explains that “a lot of people get stuck in what they once were and they can get very bitter – they don’t change and evolve. I think that’s very important.”
She also prides herself in hosting trunk shows with authentic, real Canadian designers. She adds, “That’s a real special – special and rare – thing now so we still believe in those events”. As for unique lines exclusive to her stores? Check out the brand Lola’s Room. Cyndy says, “You won’t see it anywhere else. We have one other friend with an Indie boutique in Ontario – but, that’s it.”
Though Cyndy still possesses the same hopes, fears, and wishes as many retail owners, she has formed a confidence in knowing her own town and traffic flow. She adds, “we’re dialed into the local scene too…I’m really tied into the music community and the town has so much Indie spirit. Our tie-ins help us out in many ways”.
Her continual support of student-run charitable organizations such as Project Red, Vogue, and Synergy really helps as a source of free advertising, profile-building, and a way of branding her stores to the student demographic. I would argue that very few stores are as synced in and deeply invested in helping out both the Queen’s and Kingston community.
In addition to helping the student community, last fall Cyndy supported Dress for Success, an event which helps women get jobs through professional clothing donations, and just as well, she is a big supporter of the upcoming Crystal Ball event. Even Cyndy’s trunk shows involve a food bank donation. Cyndy explains her open inclination to helping others, whether it be through clothing sponsorship or gift certificate donations, she says, “We take that cue from the community and give whenever we can.”
Even Cyndy’s trunk shows Cyndy explains her open inclination to helping others, whether it be through clothing sponsorship or gift certificate donations, she says, “We take that cue from the community and give whenever we can.”
Cyndy’s story definitely exposes us to another realm of fashion boutiques, a toned down and relatable version that contrasts with the high-end posh boutiques of New York. What started out as just a fun and hardly lucrative business became much more of a thriving enterprise and rewarding life-long project. Cyndy loves being her own boss, and in an university town, overflowing with creative and fashion-conscious students, Cyndy inarguably will act as a source of inspiration for all of us fashion-inclined dream getters.
Jessica Chong, Online Contributor