Writing this piece was really special for me. Sharon Lockwood is a Toronto-based designer, business woman extraordinaire, and –simply put — a creative genius. She is also my wonderful mum! Sharon has founded not just one but two businesses in her lifetime and we at If She Dreams have wanted to pick at her boss-lady brain for a long time now. I can easily say that my own entrepreneurial spirit was ignited by her example. Running my own business was never an impossibility and success was not off limits – she proved it. Interestingly, at around the same time that I took the plunge and started my own business(es), Sharon did the same for the second time! She expanded her graphic design firm Line of Sight Design with a new adventure in textiles called ZayZay, an exotic brand of luxury linens. Read on as The Boss shares her insight and wisdom as an entrepreneur, a mother, and a woman of colour.
So, tell us about your empire.
My first business was Line of Sight Design
, a graphic design firm that I founded in 1985, which has been growing and creating ever since. Our expertise is in branding that includes marketing and promotional materials, websites, signage, multimedia exhibits, packaging, and event promotions. We even design wedding invitations!
In 2015, I launched ZayZay
– a vibrant collection of luxury duvet covers and bed linens. We have 25 limited edition designs, all my original paintings and creations, printed onto the highest quality 100% Egyptian cotton. ZayZay linens transform a neutral space, the bedroom, into living art.
Why did you start ZayZay at this point in your career? You already had a super successful design firm going!
I have run Line of Sight for 30 years and have enjoyed every second of it. But I have been working primarily in the corporate realm all this time, which is consistent with revenue but a bit of a straight jacket in terms of creativity. Well, not always, though it is true that corporate graphic design is not generally very spontaneous or fun. What I longed for (and suppose what I got in small doses when I taught at Ryerson and OCAD) was an injection of spontaneity and joy from the creative aspects of design. I wanted to blend my business knowledge with something that would go back to my initial attraction to art college in the beginning: textiles. I spent several years thinking about how to leverage my experience and find an avenue to apply my creativity legitimately.
Eventually it came to me to create and design duvet covers – a duvet cover is essentially an 8-foot canvas for your bed! There is a lot of room for creativity there. From a business standpoint, I thought this would garner more revenue in a way that was very different from the billable hour model of graphic design.
I put in about three years of intense research before launching ZayZay in October 2015. Skin health and the planet matter to me. Central to the philosophy of ZayZay is adherence and certified eco-integrity in the manufacturing, for example water recycling, no chemical additives, and fair and safe labour practices.
What have you learned on this new path from graphic design to textiles and retail?
I am learning so much, honestly. I realized I had been so ignorant to many things about this new world we live in terms of communication. But I also realized that I would have had to learn it with Line of Sight as well, even if ZayZay didn’t come about. Communication has changed drastically. There has been a profound shift in the way people talk to each other. So design, marketing, must change, too.
Why did you start your own business in the first place and what do you like about it?
I love the flexibility. When I say flexibility, it’s a little bit delusional, but when you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission – to pick up something or delay your arrival if needed. Not to say you can do this too often because you can’t (if you do, you won’t have a business). But you have the choice. That totally changes your relationship with work. Could I ever work for anyone else now? No, never. It’s the sense of freedom on a moment by moment basis that keeps me going.
When you say you are your own boss it means you don’t have to ask permission
When I was working for someone else in my early days as a designer, I made a lot of money for other people. I realized I could be the one to benefit financially from my own hard work. This was a huge, huge incentive for me to go off on my own.
Accommodating a family was also a big factor. Having my own business, I could be flexible as a mum – I could even have my kids in my office (and I did at times). I don’t believe I would have held a job having three children within the space of four years because I was perpetually pregnant that whole time. The downside to being a small business owner while a mother was not being able to take maternity leave. On the other hand, the ability to say “I’m taking my kids to the doctor” or “I’m looking after my sick child today” without asking permission of anyone was huge. Mind you, you do have clients. In this sense, instead of having one boss, you have several people to answer to!
What advice do you have to other entrepreneurial women?
Being really good at what you do, really really good, and knowing you are good is a necessity when you have your own business. And you also can’t underestimate getting experience working for someone else because, in the end, it can be very costly learning lessons on your own.
Managing people well is also enormously important; that’s going to make or break your business. You have to have a policy for how you want people to behave, how your business should function, have a set of rules in place before you start, even before you have a staff. Lay down the game rules, make a wish list of exactly what each role entails and who you’d like to hire. So that you know before you’re in a position of panic what type of person you can and want to work with.
However, none of this I knew when I started. When I started off on my own with Line of Sight, it was out of fury and rage because someone told me I couldn’t and I was determined. When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
With my second company [ZayZay], it started very differently. I am older now but I am not ready to stop working. I wanted to change how I worked and have reason to be out of the office, exercise my creativity, travel, and put my signature on something. Design is often very anonymous and you create something beautiful on behalf of someone else. But ZayZay is mine, it’s my project. And, of course, I want to get really rich and indulge myself (and my children). Make money first and then go for the bohemian lifestyle 😉
When people tell me I can’t, that propels me.
Looking back, anything you’d do differently?
Would I change anything? No, I wouldn’t. Not at all. Even the last 12 months which have been very challenging, I have learned so much. And I’m grateful for that.
Pssst….ZayZay is having a massive sale for Valentine’s Day! Check out http://www.zayzayshop.com to see the deals – 40% off until February 14th! If you want to feel and see these beauties in real life, check out their pop-up shop at 216 Ossington Ave (just south of Dundas) from February 10-12th!