Still North Design Co. is a small business success story in Williams Lake that’s barely past its first chapter, and growing by the minute.
“It’s been a weird journey,” said Still North Design Co. founder, 29-year-old Courtney Vreeman, smiling and shaking her head in amazement as she presses one of her wildly popular designs on a hoodie in her retail shop on North Broadway Avenue. “It was a side hobby that turned good.”
Vreeman grew up in Abbotsford but always had a family connection in Williams Lake, and even attended school here for a few years in grades 3 and 4. As a high school graduate and young adult Vreeman moved to back to Cariboo in 2012 at age 22 to “try to small-town life.”
Vreeman worked in retail in the lakecity and met her partner, Clay Bremner, and the couple had two children together, Cache, 5, and Charlie, 4.
“I was a stay at home mom and I was bored so I decided to start a small business.”
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Vreeman launched a home-based crafting business in 2016 named Creatively Courtney, printing designs onto wine glasses and decorative boards, when customers started requesting designs on T-shirts.
Armed with just a vinyl printer and computer in her home, Vreeman was quickly becoming a self-taught designer when the 2017 wildfires hit. It was then that the community-minded Vreeman jumped into action, starting a local T-shirt fundraiser with the design #bcstrong that ended up raising $3,300 for a Williams Lake family and $1,000 for a Riske Creek family who lost their homes in the fires.
After that fundraiser was over, Vreeman found herself missing the process of clothing production and set about rebranding her business and giving it a completely new focus creating her own designs for a line of T-shirts and hoodies and a new name, Still North Design Co.
“I wanted to make what I wanted and not what others wanted me to make.”
Vreeman launched her new business in November of 2017 from her home and within 30 days sold enough product to be able to secure her 1,400-square-foot retail space along Highway 97 on the main corridor through Williams Lake.
Since then, Vreeman, working 16 to 17 hours per day, has grown her business to a staff of four women, is quickly outgrowing her retail space, has surpassed 50,000 likes on Facebook and is shipping her product literally across Canada and around the world.
Not only does Vreeman create her own designs, which are proving very popular with outdoor enthusiasts, she has also created her own website and Facebook page, manages all her own marketing and marketing strategies and finds models who fit her look and photographs them herself at outdoor locations in the Cariboo.
“It’s pretty surreal,” she said of Still North Design Co.’s growth, noting she can’t say exactly why people love her designs so much.
“I’m not sure to be honest – we live in such a beautiful part of B.C. – I just wanted designs that would speak to people who enjoy the beauty of the outdoors,” she said. “I [also] think people love to support local small business and that plays a big role into my journey.”
Customers — and big business — are definitely taking notice.
This summer Vreeman was contacted by Below the Belt and the company has already placed their second order for Still North Design Co. hoodies and T-shirts.
“They e-mailed me and I started to cry,” she said.
All told, Vreeman said her products are being sold in 36 businesses across Canada and they have customers stopping in at their Williams Lake store just to see it in person. She said she and her staff can hardly keep up with shipments.
“Everything is flying off the shelves. I can’t take anything more right now. We’re already pushed to the max.”
Vreeman and her staff print and hand-press each design onto their clothing and personally package and ship each order.
“Every single shirt gets handmade by us. That’s why our orders take a little longer.”
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Employee Heather Judd takes care of all the growing wholesale orders, while Devon Elliott tries to keep up with individual orders and retail demands.
“She’s just such an inspiration because she’s local and this never happens to someone you know,” Elliott said of Vreeman and her success. The close-knit staff all work together filling orders and sometimes watching Vreeman’s youngest Charlie in the store while his brother Cache is starting Kindergarten.
“It’s going to go crazy. I can see [Still North Design Co.] is going to go really far.”
Vreeman said she was always naturally drawn to the thought of one day owning her own business and working with staff, she just wasn’t sure what business that would be. As for a mentor, Vreeman said she draws inspiration from “a collection of people.”
“My grandfather was an entrepreneur – my dad is an entrepreneur. My sister-in-law and brother are local entrepreneurs and I am surrounded by friends who are, as well. When I look for inspiration I don’t have to look far.”
When asked about the key to her success, Vreeman said persistence and hard work.
“Don’t take no for an answer. Learn from your mistakes, and don’t quit.”
Now that she’s been successful in moving her business out of her home, Vreeman is dreaming of building her own warehouse which will consist of 80 per cent manufacturing and 20 per cent retail and storefront.
“I want to grow.”