Jean L. Price and the
Clews Clothing Design Years
Jean had numerous fashion shoots at Clews and to show that
her designs were for real people she enlisted the help of friends and
clients as models. It was a lot of fun! Above is Jean as she positioned some
sunflowers as props for the shoot.
With her spiky platinum hair and infectious giggle, you
automatically feel Jean’s warmth and energy, but the generous smile belies a
life that hasn’t always been that easy.
Growing up in the Donna Reid era, Jean’s aspirations when she left school
were to get married, have children and live happily ever after, but as we
all know, life isn’t like that. Jean did get married at 18 (not something
she would recommend) but it didn’t work out.
Her first career goal was to become a legal secretary and she did. Working
her way up from file clerk to law clerk in a local lawyer’s office, she
stayed there 12 years until she decided to move to Toronto.
Clews Clothing grew out of classes Jean took at George Brown College. She
and Fred, her partner, started off running the business on the side. Both
worked full time during the day, and at night and at the weekends, would
design and sew the clothes. To launch the business, they held a home party,
inviting family and friends to see and sample their designs.
For three years, they kept up this double life – employees by day,
entrepreneurs by night. It was exhausting. They focused on craft shows and
home parties, and word of their designs spread. At that time, they were
still taking on every aspect of the business but the time came when they had
sufficient work to hire others to do the home parties and to help with the
By now they had to ask themselves whether they were really serious about the
business, and the answer was yes. So Fred quit his job, and eight months
later, Jean joined him. “Our family just shook their heads. One of them
asked “why had I given up a good government job with a pension?” reports
Jean. They just couldn’t understand but by the same token, were willing to
help out financially, as the banks were just not interested. Clews Clothing
was considered too much of a risk factor.
Both were free spirits and determined to make a success of the business and
17 years ago, they purchased their existing building – 6,000 square feet –
in which they live, work and house their retail store.
Like many retail businesses, cash flow was often an issue. However, it was
when the bank phoned on a Friday to call in their line of credit - $30,000 –
and expected payment on the Monday, that Jean realized how vulnerable they
were. She managed to negotiate a deal with the bank, and was determined
never to have the company placed in such a tenuous situation again.
Creativity is clearly an integral part of their success. Jean’s enthusiasm
for the business is very evident. “I love the sewing. It is such a unique
business. Every six months I get to work with new fabrics and designs, so it
is like starting over twice a year.” It also takes a savvy business mind, as
Jean has to calculate how much fabric she needs and how many outfits she can
sell within the 60-90 day turnaround, so the bills get paid on time.
“Keeping your suppliers happy is crucial to your survival” she observes.
When asked why women loved Jean’s clothes, she was quick to tell you that
she made them comfortable. “They’re for real people, not models” she
responded “and we pay attention to detail, always using quality fabric.”
With 75-80% repeat business, clearly Jean was doing something right.
“There’s a sense that the fashion industry is glamorous but it’s hard work.
Few get discovered overnight and many of us put in “sweat equity” to get
ahead.” comments Jean. Yet, Clews Clothing made it and with over 10,000
clients on their database, Jean and Fred take great pride in what they
And so in 2000, it seemed an obvious next step to move to bigger premises in
a nearby town. “We were actually looking at space, ready to take the plunge,
when the accident happened.” shares Jean.
Jean and Fred were hit head on by a car. The other driver died, and Fred was
seriously injured, unable to work in the business for close to 2 ½ years.
You can only begin to imagine the sense of loss and fear that Jean faced as
she carried on alone. “I think it was adrenaline that kept me going, but the
accident really made us reflect on what is important in life. “
Fast forward to 2004, and Fred was back working, but rarely without pain,
and could no longer stand for hours cutting fabric. Jean and Fred had a new
attitude. “There are no guarantees what will happen next week, so they took
the time off now and then. The traveled and took vacations when they could.
We’ve come to realize that our relationship is important – and we need to
invest time in each other.”
With two retail stores, Clews Clothing was a business built on creativity,
hard work and love. Jean survived the ups and downs of 23 years in the
fashion industry which speaks to her tenacity, enthusiasm, and dedication to
the business, to her customers and to her partner, Fred, without whom, to
quote Jean “none of this would have been possible.”
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