It takes optimism and a lot of hard work to get your own business off the ground. The owner of this Queen East boutique shares the lessons she’s learned.
Five months ago, Katelyn Joliat opened Far Away Eyes, a tiny boutique featuring a tightly-edited collection of women’s clothing, jewellery and assorted sundries. Settling in on a stretch of Queen East with something of a gritty reputation and not much in the way of commercial foot traffic, Joliat sees change on the horizon and nothing but potential for her new neighbourhood.
Getting started: Before making the move to open her own business, Joliat initially focused on finding a job in the film industry. “I tried to get into that world for a while,” she says. “The whole time I was working in retail at small independents like Jet Rag, Delphic and Klaxon Howl. It became more like that was my family and my industry and here I was trying to tap into something that wasn’t. I was feeling low about myself, thinking I’m not doing the right thing, meanwhile I was being a sponge in this industry.”
Joliat spent five years playing with the idea of owning her own shop, creating a name and logo long before ever opening. “Finally, I was like, I have to do it,” she says. “I keep on talking about it, I need to do my own thing now.”
Location, location, location: Finding the space came easily. “This was the first space I saw, and I was immediately attracted to it,” says Joliat. “I think the landlady and I connected—I gave her my pitch and she said that she had a couple of other people up for it as well. A month later she called me and was like, ‘Okay kiddo, I’m going to pick you,’ even though I had no credentials or anything.”
While the neighbourhood might be off the beaten path for some, Joliat had no reservations. “I would bike past here every day, so I was super familiar with the area,” she says. “I was watching it grow, with the condos and stores like Haven—I knew that it was good real estate if I could open now and wait it out. So now is the waiting game, hoping that people make an effort to come.”
Although Queen and Parliament might not have the same level of foot traffic as Joliat’s previous places of employment in the west end, experience has taught her that a high volume of window shoppers doesn’t always translate into sales. “In the west end on weekends it’s craziness,” she says. “You can’t even walk down Queen sometimes. But it doesn’t actually mean those people are going to be shoppers, it’s just a destination.”
Setting up shop: As a first-time business owner, Joliat had to rely on delivering a solid pitch to prospective lines. “I knew my lines, it was just a matter of approaching them,” she says. “I’m just trying to buy exclusives, lines that aren’t sold in the city. But they really pick their stockists [carefully]. So that’s hard, because you’re nobody in this industry that they know of. Luckily I got a lot of the lines I wanted—I didn’t get them all, but most. Now that I’ve been around for a few months, I’ve gotten more.”
Despite her extensive experience in retail and confidence in the lines she was carrying, Joliat found herself intimidated by the process of setting up her own store. “I was always really bad with merchandising,” she says. “Horrible. But this all came naturally. It was the night before opening and I had to set everything up and I was just kind of scared—I think I was putting it off. But I guess when it’s your own baby, you love all the lines, and you’ve picked them yourself, it just comes naturally. That was an awesome surprise!”
What’s next: Joliat plans to bring in a number of new product lines in the coming months. “I have these big beautiful dream catchers that are coming,” she says. “All handmade, from New York. They’re quite expensive, but they’re big beautiful pieces for the house. We’ll get a couple in and then we’ll offer custom pieces—it’s a great line.”