Hi, welcome to this week’s program. By the time you hear this we will all know who won the 2016 Oscars. But more importantly we will know who got the thumbs up and who got the thumbs down on the red carpet. Well, who is better to know about this and somebody that’s actually there? And that would be my guest this week, Lisa Drader-Murphy. Lisa is the Hollywood editor of Story of Fashion Magazine, a very unique magazine covering in the most beautiful form designed in fashion, in furniture, artisans, you name it in eight luxury markets from New York, China, France, Italy, Dubai, London, Japan and of course Canada. But more importantly Lisa is the owner and operator of Turbine and Lisa Drader-Murphy labels.
Turbine can be found at T-U-R-B-I-N-E.ca. You will be blown away by the elegance of her fashion, and even further by the functionality of how she goes from day to night with her business attire. Lisa is one of the rare breeds of Canadian fashion. Not only has she been in business for 20 years and sustained growth over that period, she has done it from end-to-end. In other words she not only designs, she cuts, produces and retails all of her collections. What an incredible feat that is, not only in the Canadian fashion industry but frankly for any fashion industry to have such control over the quality of your label, and she has produced a hundred thousand pieces in this manner.
Well, I was able to catch Lisa just before she got on the plane to head to Hollywood. Let’s find out more about this incredible woman and her story of success.
Lesley: Well, Lisa, I can’t thank you enough for joining me today as you head off on Sunday for Hollywood. And I just want to start by asking you, tell me what’s taking you to Hollywood for the Oscars?
Lisa: Thank you for having me. It’s always a pleasure to you. Hollywood is calling because I have just taken on a post as Hollywood editor for a new international magazine that’ll be on new stands at chapters, and around the world and available on itunes. So I’ll be interviewing luminaries and covering some of the pretty Oscars event that we don’t really hear about because we just watch the Oscars on TV. But there’s a lot of stuff going on that I think people would be interested in reading about they’re hearing about.
Lesley: Well I know that I tuned in… So, if you’re here right there with me on what you’re doing but this is not your first time at the Oscars. You’ve been there before, my dear.
Lisa: I’ve covered these events before for refined magazine which previously that’s called fine lifestyles. I’m their national style and celebrity columnist, and I’ve also been there presenting my own collections at celebrity gifting lounges. So I sort of have navigated it on both sides of the fence at somebody who has been there to present and to market my business, but now I am the conduit for people to market their own business, their own events.
Lesley: Well, you know what; I mean I first of all wish that my audience and they should directly head over to your facebook page and to Turbine’s web presence because this is one hell of a glorious vow. You look like the day that you started the business in 1997 in Calgary, so it’s insane how much hard work has benefited you. So 1997 you started this business in Calgary, and then you moved to Nova Scotia and then began the whole branding again in Nova Scotia. So “Turbine,” tell me where the name came from.
Lisa: Turbine denotes power clothes for women. And we came up with that name back in 97 in Calgary at the time we were using a lot of unused vintage wall which is still the main standard collection. But as people and brands do over 20 years, we’ve evolved and brought on a lot of different types of product lines and design in different directions, depending on inspiration I guess. We targeted a market of mainly younger entry-level professional women that we’re looking for professional work clothes. They didn’t want to wear what their mother was wearing. They didn’t want to go to some of the best fashion houses and look like they we’re still in Universities. So it’s kind of breaching that gap, so we were providing product for that market essentially. And I’m 27 at the time so I understood that market very well. And over the years, my brand and my market evolved with me as I grew older and as I had had different needs. And one of the main stays of our collection now is our signature Turbine collection, which is a lot of pieces that can be worn a number of different ways and they’re great for travel. So the busy businesswoman or business traveler can pack in an overnight bag and have 20 looks that take them from begging money.
Lesley: Well I know that because you are definitely one of my destination choices in terms of designer clothing and I love my upside down dresses. So, this is a dress that… Just so the audience would know it, converts from a blouse into a dress, depending on which part of it you put over your head. And the materials are exactly what you say. They just can be thrown into your bag and you take them out, and they’re just as fresh as the moment you put them in. So, you obviously do an incredible amount of research on not only the fabric but on the design so that it has multipurpose and it can go wherever the businesswoman’s going.
Lisa: That’s right. yeah. Now we do pay attention to fabric. And the fabric that’s available to me really does encourage the design direction to, so some of my limited edition collections come from perhaps that I took to Vienna or Italy. So, fabric really leads the way and that our signature collection minutes you just described are wrinkle-free, machine-washable and will out with you forever that you can wash them over, and over and over again. And I believe I have to stand behind the quality of the product we sell. I don’t believe in being a flash in the pan sort of design, or I want people to invest in pieces that they know or going to be around and are not going to be too trendy down the road and will last.
Lesley: Now that it’s most incredible thing about you is that you are from the beginning of the moment of getting that fabric to the design of the piece, to the manufacturing of the piece, to the retail distribution of the piece. I mean, you are an end-to-end operation.
Lisa: Yeah I’m involved. Some call it being a control-freak, but I truly am passionate about every stage of the process. You know, whether it’s doing the conceptual and doing the fabric to spending five hours at a sewing machine in my studio, working on samples or just being part of production. There’s a place for all of that in my personal job I guess within the company. Sometimes you’re very entrepreneurial so you understand that sometimes as an entrepreneur we need to just get of our own hands, and we need to have that time of reflection and de-cluttering our mind in order to move along the next project. That is my 5-6 hours at a sewing machine, so that’s how I do that. Some people will go for a long walk. Some people will do yoga or whatever. My yoga I guess is sitting at a machine and the simpler the task the better. I just have to run a certain part of the process on a machine, it’s good for me. So I did love every part of the process.
Lesley: And you have expanded significantly over these 20 years. We’re going to get to some of your keys to success over this, but you were about to open your first store in Toronto on Queen Street. And for the audience that lives somewhere else in the world than Canada, describe what the Queen Street retail really is.
Lisa: It is the hub of Canada arguably. It was voted by Vogue magazine as the second shopping district in the world next to a district in Japan.
Lesley: So as a second hippest shopping area in the world aside from one that’s in Japan.
Lisa: Yeah. So it’s received a lot of media attention in recent years. It’s very cool. We’re in the heart of it, we were very fortunate to land a spot right next to John Fluevog Shoes hippy store and great stores all around us and amazing restaurants. And I’m looking forward to spending a lot of time there just taking in the rest of the neighborhood.
Lesley: Well, absolutely, it’s also kind of expensive to be in that particular world. But aside from that for our audience to know, you have done this growth debt-free based on retained earnings and an unusual thing for an Atlantic Canadian no government support. Tell me, did you set out with that guideline in mind that you would expand on the basis of retained earnings?
Lisa: I think my father was very influential in that mindset for me. He owned a transport company in Alberta. He passed away now, well, it’s been 12 years. But when he was building his business, I watched him work very, very hard in all aspects and buy one truck, and then buy another truck, and then another truck. And when he passed away he had two books on his bedside table, one was his bible and the other one was his mortgage tables. So he was keenly aware of the value of the dollar and not overextending himself financially. And he could’ve probably grown that business much larger and had more stressful time to doing it, and perhaps met the unfortunate and many businesses end at. But he strongly believe in the retained earnings growth and not letting off more than you can chew and I’ve done it that way and it has worked for me.
Lesley: Well, it’s definitely works for you. And I think that you will do all of your manufacturing onsite, is that correct? So just describe us a little bit about your compound in which you do all of these amazing stuff.
Lisa: Okay. Well, we live on a 4-acre apple orchard in Apple Valley, which is ideal in itself. But behind our home property, we have a commercial property that houses building that we produce everything in. It’s approximately 165-year-old renovated apple barn on two levels. It has the entire; all of our warehouse fabric is in there. We have timetables, industrial machinery, sewing equipment, we have a cutter that will cut approximately 300 layers of months. It’s a family typical manufacturing environment on a smaller scale. We have in total 21staff, and some of them multitask between retail and production, and it’s just a busy little situation.
Lesley: It’s a beehive, man, it’s a beehive. And I’m fascinated because I am sure along the way you’ve had investor interest that people have come to you. I mean, your brand is very well-known, you were very well-known and obviously you’re attractive to other investors. So, what has happened in those discussions that have kept you into the sole proprietary establishment?
Lisa: I relish the safety of my financial situation. As a creator person, if I am concerned about second guessing and pleasing other people who have a vested interest financially, I don’t know that I be able to be creative. I think that it would probably be difficult for me. I also have seen businesses come and go that did give into that temptation to take the half a million dollars, million-dollar investment. And then when times got tough they couldn’t manage it. And, you know, I make sure that I have capital that would support me in a year that might potentially be difficult for Canadian retail which last year was. We lost a lot of retailers, huge national icons as well as a lot of local independent stores. So, we were in a fortunate position that I could turn on a dime. You know, if I started seeing traffic weighing in one of our locations, I could evaluate it and I have the resources that I could move from one into downtown to another to be closer to the major hotels, for example, that brought in all of the outside traffic to conferences and business travelers, which helps us make up and slowdown in the local economy. We were in a position that we could take advantage of at least that came up in the prime shopping district in Toronto, where a lot of people are really struggling just to balance debt rate now and trying to figure out what to do. And, you know, we tend to operate in fear when that happens. If you’re not sure if you’re going to make payroll next month, a lot of these stores will start slashing prices and at the expense of their own profit margin will just do what it takes to put a Band-Aid on it. And that’s one of the reasons that I have operated my business the way that I have, because I don’t want to be in that vulnerable position.
Lesley: So tell me about how you’ve built the brand recognition for Turbine, because it clearly is an established brand. What would you say or some of the keys to success that it takes to actually get a brand recognized in the marketplace and built client loyalty around?
Lisa: People ask me for marketing advice all the time, and my response is, “I’m the Forest Gump of marketing.” It just sort of happens. You know, if feels that you’re not going to meet anybody if you don’t work harder. So I deal, and I do things and I’m involved in things whether it’s community events or not for profit which we’re very involved in, or just responding when somebody wants to hear my story. You know, if there’s no magic formula, I think that being authentic plays an important role. And, you know, people often say, “I’ve been following you online and now I get to meet you, and you’re exactly the same person as you are on facebook.” And so I think that creates some loyalty as well. There’s no one thing, it’s just a matter of being out there and engaging.
Lesley: Well you said something very interesting and that is that some of your staff works from both the production area right through the retail. And I’ve always noticed in your stores that your staff really understands what they’re selling. I mean, it’s wonderful when you’re there and when I drop in and I get to have a visit with you, but you are replaceable in the sense that the people that are selling your brand, your merchandise are very much owning that fabric, that design. How do you do that? How do you develop these folks into that kind of representation?
Lisa: You know, I think it’s less about developing that as recognizing that in the people that come to me, and knowing how to make those great selections I have an incredible team.
Lesley: Yes you do.
Lisa: One of my team members brought me flowers the other day, and the card said, “Thank you for all you do.” I could go, “Wow” that’s pretty awesome when a team member is thanking you. And that’s what I tend to surround myself with are very grateful people, people that like people so they know how to treat our clientele with respect and they establish relationships with them but it’s just who they are.
Lesley: And they’re attracted to the energy that you bring and that creates the kind of homing pigeon kind of reality in terms of the people. So, you’ve been in business for 20 years and obviously with a sustained growth capability over those 20 years, but did you have any bad years?
Lisa: Bad years? I don’t consider any of them bad. There were years of transition where I had to rethink maybe what I was doing. Or perhaps there were times when emotionally I was in a different stage and had to navigate that, and that will certainly affect my commitment to the daily routine of my business. Losing my father had huge impact on me and that entire year was a bit of a blur and it wasn’t a year of business growth. But because I have been very careful with the retained earnings growth, my business could afford for me to stop and take care of myself and my emotional needs for a period of time and mourn. I would say when the economy took a downturn in 2008, things potentially could’ve become worse and I just reinvented. And I found new ways of reaching a broader clientele as with 2013 when we started seeing a lot of our Nova Scotian retailers closing the doors, we just continued to find a way to differentiate and to expand beyond this market.
Lesley: And so, what was your major expansion outside of the Nova Scotian downtown shop?
Lisa: Well, our biggest expansion was when we were in Calgary and we we’re negotiating our third store there prior to moving here. And then here, I have taken 10 years of establishing myself namely with the studio. I ran a restaurant there for a number of years and my dedication to making sure that my children had their mom at home, because one of my curses –I guess—is that I see opportunity everywhere. So I had to isolate myself a little bit in order to make sure that my priorities were making sure that they had an idyllic childhood that they could come home after school. And I may be working but I’m in the building behind the house and they can come out, and have a hot chocolate and sit on the table and color. So, beyond that, the biggest growth has been in the last two years, I guess, opening my second Nova Scotian store. Currently after that, we opened Cavendish then we moved our Bishop’s landing store to Sunnyside Mall in Bedford. We’ve launched a mobile boutique that we’re taking across the country for a number of reasons to do popup shops across the country but to suss out new locations potentially. And then I see Toronto as the biggest expansion that’s a little out of the comfort zone which is always a good thing. It’s a little further away; I can’t just hop in the car and be there in 20 minutes.
Lesley: So, when you decided to put the shop in the whole compound into the Naples Valley, was that impart because you wanted to still have like a family location for growing up the kids?
Lisa: Yes. That was almost exclusively why we did that. In Calgary I have a nanny raising the kids. And there was one day that I came home after a business trip away, because I also have done consulting for the garment manufacturing industry on top of everything. I came home from 12 days away and my daughter met me at the door, and she was about 18-months-old… And I looked to the German nanny, and I said, “Is she saying something?” “Yes she’s speaking German.” I said, “Really? Does she speak English?” It was a big wakeup call. I had a lot going on in Calgary very, very quickly. And I knew that I had to remove myself from that vortex of opportunity and focus on the family that I had chosen to have. And once they were at a certain age, I gave myself to my daughter, she was in middle school and that’s when I opened the Bishop’s landing store and we haven’t slowed down since.
Lesley: Unbelievable. Now I just think this is interesting. We had somebody on this show last week, we talked about that leaders today have to have the mind of a scientist. And what that means is that they have to be constantly in experimentation, and that’s exactly what your tour across the country is, isn’t it?
Lesley: So you’re going to show up in different cities, stop up and see if there’s a kind of appetite for the designs that you’re not suggesting that there will be. You’re going to find out if there is.
Lisa: yeah. I mean, and we’ve been fortunate because our location downtown draws a lot of business travelers and a lot of vacationers, just because of where it is and the size of the big windows. We have two storeys of windows on three sides of the building and some great visibility, and we’ve been able to put together databases in pretty much every major city in Canada. So I have a clientele that I can already reach out to, and say, “Here is our mobile boutique schedule for summer of 2016, we’re going to be in Vancouver on this state. Spread the word. Let us know if there’s a location you’d like to see us. Give us some input, be part of this journey with us.” And engaging those clients that have been asking us to be different places, you know, “How come you’re only in Halifax?” because I’m all the time and this is a great way to experiment. I like that scientist to know it…
Lesley: Yeah. So, what I’m going is that you have stayed really true to the value base of retained earnings growth go as far as that will let you go, stay a year at least ahead in terms of retained earnings. So if anything in the market or in your own life goes a little alright, you have that padding to support you through. Grow in the same way as your children are growing in the sense that has to be simpatico with the role that you’ve chosen to be as a mother. And as you’d take these leaps, it’s with knowing what your risk capability is going to be, so that you’re not taking any out-of-boundary risk. You’re taking it all within the envelope that has created the success to this date.
Lisa: I would say that’s a good description of it, yes.
Lesley: So aside from your dad, were there other role models, or other people or other places from which this wisdom has come?
Lisa: I wouldn’t say… You know, people ask me, “Who were your mentors?” My mentors weren’t officially mentors. I have drawn inspiration from so many people throughout my entire journey. I had bosses when I was an emerging fashion designer working in the industry, who doesn’t even realize probably that they were mentoring me but I learned so much from them. Sometimes it could’ve been a negative thing that I would sit back, reflect on and go, “Wow that was a great lesson. I’m going to carry that forward.” And I refer back to those lessons over and over again. A lot of my clients I consider mentors, people that have engaged giving feedback helped to support my business by spreading the word and by bringing people to my door. My kids, my son is 24-years-old and he is now my operations manager.
Lesley: Oh he is?
Lisa: And this is the little boy who came to me when he was 5-years-old after I have worked some very, very long days. And he climbed out of bed because it was late at night, stood at the top of the stairs and cried, “I wish Turbine would burn down.”
Lesley: Yeah. That’s another wake up call, right? Like okay.
Lisa: And the time that my daughter was speaking German. So it was all kind of converging on me.
Lesley: The cards all got placed on the table. So, as we wrap up because this is to terrible that this time goes so quickly, just tell us in one thing about how you went from being a fashion designer, retailer and then started to get your name out into the media, and started to get the kinds of gigs that you’ve got in terms of writing and in terms of exposure to Hollywood. What would you say to women out there that are tingling in that thought process but just don’t know how to go about it?
Lisa: I would say step out of your comfort zone, and that is exactly what I did the first time I was called on to keynote an event. I was terrified and at first said “no.” They called me back, and said, “Listen, give it a try, what do you have to lose? They know you’re a real person and just tell your business story” and that was about 15 years ago now. And because I did took that terrifying move, others called on me. And then eventually people wanted to pay me to tell my story, and then the media wanted me to tell. There are people wanted me to mentor. And then a magazine came to me, and said, “We like you to tell from your perspective the stories of people in fashion and your opinion as a I guess a sort of a celebrity journalist.” I often say, “I’m not a real journalist. I just play one of the magazine.” But I think it all started with that initial terrifying moment that I stood up in front of 400 people and started to talk for an hour. That’s what I would recommend.
Lesley: Well that’s a fantastic advice, but the thing that you’re saying underneath all of this although you’re too humble to say it is that you had street cred. I mean, you know, you have to have a story of your own to be able to see the story of other people, I mean I think that that becomes something of a foundation that’s really important.
Lisa: I guess maybe. Like I said, I really thought of that way. I just do what I do when I do my very best at it, and I hope that it resonates with people. And I just learned a little bit more every time, and I love telling people stories. I’ve written about some famous people and been able to sit down with the table with them and hear about their personal lives. And they seem to enjoy opening up which I’m told is not always the easiest thing for a mainstream journalist to have happened, and I get so much out of it talking at my mentors. Some of the people I’ve interviewed are like mentors to me.
Lesley: So who are a couple that come to mind?
Lisa: I adore Guzman, the office star, and she was just so down to earth and lovely to talk to, George Bloodwell who is very, very famous stylist in Hollywood, who has been the stylist for Elton John. For the Beatles, George Harrison hobnobs with everybody but he does a people for the red carpet and otherwise. And he’s been a main figure in Hollywood and throughout Europe for about 45 years now, and he’s lovely. He just opened up to me and told me about how he spent seven years in an ashram, and then stumbled his way into this fashion business. And before he knew it he was flown all over and sitting in the front rows at fashion shows and writing for Vogue Italia and this very cool people.
Lesley: Well you’re definitely one of them, my love. And I want to say, may next week rock and roll for you. I’m sure that, you know, if I would’ve done this interview after Hollywood week, we would have so much of new stories to tell. But I’m glad I caught you before you went because my guess is that you will be one exhausted chick when you come back.
Lisa: I always am. It’s very exhausting attending 7 or 8 red carpet events.
Lesley: But somebody has to do it right? Thanks for taking the time, Lisa.
Lisa: Thank you. It’s always a pleasure.
Well what a fascinating woman, many, many thoughts to reflect on. The one thing that I found stood out for me however was how Lisa dedicated her life to a focus of raising her children and growing her business. Keep the order in mind because that’s what she did. But what she proves is that it’s not a matter of either/or, it’s a matter of how we find the intricate relationship between the two and how we find balance in that. Let’s not forget, it doesn’t happen by chance. It happens by really knowing what you value in the first, second and third because we value in a set of priorities and then living by them. What we didn’t talk about was Turbine’s dedication to empowering women through education support and example. Turbine donates TicketNet processed seats from its annual fall showcase which is significant to women’s charities, and to women’s charities that are less known in the mainstream. When Lisa went to India and she talked at the success vocational college, she discovered in a very disorderly manner how women of the slums and poor villages were not able to access education. And so since returning to Canada, she has raised funds for 54 College bursaries for women in India.
Now this is just a part of the story, and I urge you to head over to www.turbine.ca that’s T-U-R-B-I-N-E.ca. There you will discover not only the values but the incredible design of turbine. As well, if you want to find out more about what happened in Hollywood during the Oscars, head over to www.storyoffashion.com that’s S-T-O-R-Y-O-F-F-A-S-H-I-O-N. You could find Lisa also on facebook and it’s Lisa L-I-S-A Drader-Murphy D-R-A-D-E-R hyphen M-U-R-P-H-Y. Of course you know where to find me at lesleysouthwicktrask.com and at womenwholead.co. Of course I’m on facebook “Women Who Lead Radio Show” and I want to hear from you. But if not, check out the posts especially this week because we profile some of Turbine’s fashion. And you must always remember, this is your show, I am your host Lesley Southwick-Trask. See you next time.