Fresh from a new studio makeover, our Senior Economic Development Officer had an opportunity to have a one-on-one with local entrepreneur, Jay Hiltz, Owner of Nor' easter Apparel. Jay shares his story with us.
Q: How did Nor'easter Apparel start?
A: E-commerce was not a business model I had tried in the past but always wondered how it could be. I feel like self-employed people are often chasing a dream: What business model will let me make money while sitting on a beach? E-commerce seemed as likely as any. Let it be known, I haven't sat on any beaches yet - it all takes a lot of work.
I'm on a mission to prove to myself and anyone who will listen that you can build the life you want without compromising where you live to do it. I hoped that Nor'easter could become an example of that—growing something big (starting with nothing)
out of a small town. I did not receive grants or loans; I invested 5K of my own money. Every penny earned went right back into the business, buying more products, selling more products, etc. It went from there to where we are now.
Q: What makes Nor'easter Apparel unique?
A: I have been very inspired and influenced by Zita Cobb founder of Fogo Island Inn) and her ethos of having a strong sense of ' place'. I 110% love where I live. Ok, the % is probably higher than that.
I love Nova Scotia and the many things that define our unique culture. All of the little nuances, born out of hard-working Maritimers working the land, fishing the seas, and building entire industries that had not existed before. I know that Maritimers have a deep connection to home' where ever they go. I thought, how can I celebrate that sense of 'place' in a funny and meaningful way? Slang catchphrases are where I landed. We put them on clothing and on tea towels and our customers love it! I think that is what makes us unique right now in the marketplace amidst a very large body of young startup clothing lines. (The pandemic has influenced 100s of Canadians to start their own clothing line, haha).
All the quirky East Coast slang expressions are very well known but no one has seen them before on products they can buy, wear or give away as gifts. And these expressions instantly remind people of 'home'. I hear repeatedly: Your clothing line is
SO East Coast... without saying 'East Coast'. I love that.
The second thing that probably makes us unique is our soft fabrics. I mean, they're really really soft. ha. I'm dedicated to quality and when I was first creating our brand, I came up with two hashtags that I thought would reflect what I wanted our apparel to stand for: #ferociouslycomfortable and # wildlystylish
Q: Why do you love Martins Point as the location for your business?
A: I love operating out of Martins Point. It's my home town. My great grandparents were church planters and settled here in the early 1900s. They were movers and shakers and built the first Pentecostal Church in Nova Scotia. Now our business operates out of the very church that they built. While it's sad seeing one era end, it's very important to me to honour their legacy by creating something new with what they built. I'm not exactly hosting church services, but I'm keeping the lights on and filling their space with dreams and we're serving the community in a different way! Creating jobs in my hometown has become very important to me and it's been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. My hope is that no matter how big we get, Martins Point will always be our home and headquarters!
Q: What is your favourite part of the new shop makeover?
A: In February 2020 we ended up buying Small Town Ink, who had been printing our merchandise for us. That was an unexpected purchase. Then Covid hit which was also unexpected. We moved into the church that February and the goal had always been to give it a fresh coat of paint but things happen. Covid was a huge catalyst for launching our brand to the next level, so honestly, we just didn't have the time to stop for DIY projects.
I'm a perfectionist and have lots of visions. So it was always irking me that our space never matched the vision I had for it.
Customers would say: oh this place is cool. And I'd think, ugh, it could look so much cooler!!
January 2022, we finally paused long enough to paint the studio and bring it a bit closer to matching my vision. It feels much more ' Jay' —I'm excited to have customers come into the space because it is now a better reflection of the Nor' easter brand. But this makeover is also a sign of growth. We're making plans for where the next printing press is going to fit, and how we're going to configure the back storage rooms for our "stock room". And that is what's most exciting about the makeover... knowing that it's the next step, towards the next step!
Q: What's next for Nor'easter Apparel?
A: So many things are in the very near future for us. We bought a building in Halifax and it's going to be the home of our first brick and mortar—but don't worry, we're going to be expanding on the South Shore too. Halifax just made the most sense for a list of reasons too long to explain. But it's going to be a lot of fun! We're opening an espresso bar within the space as well, which hasn't been announced yet, so you're hearing it here first. 2021 we also launched the Martins Point Pop-up Market, which is not technically part of Nor'easter but they are very closely knit. They have been so successful and we have plans to grow the market experience for our customers in 2022. So you can expect to see more from us on that front!
For more about Nor'easter Apparel visit them online: www.noreasterapparel.com