They — and by “they,” I mean startup bros who love mansplaining shit they learned in some MBA class two hours earlier — say that you should never mix business with pleasure. That you should keep your personal and work lives as far from each other as you possibly can. But in my experience, that’s not always true. Entrepreneurship and friendship don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
Take LoversLand, for instance. Co-owned by Danielle Gulic and Yvonne Reidy, the Toronto boutique is proof that working with your friends can sometimes lead to both a fulfilling career path and a Bechdel Test-passing, life-affirming bond. Their Ossington Avenue shop is a monument to love, an apartment-goals-decorated alternative to big box bridal stores. Inside, you’ll find a perfectly curated assortment of ready-to-wear—including twobirds Bridesmaid dresses, and other pre- and post-wedding outfits—alongside lingerie and swimwear, decor and apothecary goods.
We sat down with Danielle and Yvonne to talk about what it’s like doing business, together.
Sophomore: What came first - the friendship or the business?
Danielle: Friendship—but I feel like it was more of an acquaintance-type friendship.
Yvonne: Yeah it was simultaneous, like one that happens together at the same time. Backstory is our husbands—our boyfriends at the time—were very close friends and have been for over twenty years. We’d go for dinners and we would spend a lot of time together that way, but then became closer and closer and started to discuss this concept, and you obviously end up spending hours and hours together, so you can’t help but become closer.
D: Yeah, I think, for me, I had a lot of admiration for Yvonne, what she was doing, because she was in the fashion industry, and I was in bridal. It was similar interests, and I loved her work ethic and experience and personality; I think that we were exchanging information and that sort of sparked it.
Y: It was very easy. It was an easy relationship.
S: Did you find you had a similar aesthetic going in, or was it moreso you had the idea that you wanted to open a store together?
Y: I think it was the concept where we came into a common ground, and then the aesthetic and what we wanted to do with that, it was very similar. But I think the concept, we were both like, “Why does this not exist?”
D: We asked a lot of the same questions, I think that’s what sparked this. To give you the backstory of it, I was working, I still had a showroom on Queen West called Twobirds Bridesmaid. I think what really got into the conversation of bridal was a lot of your girlfriends were getting married and were looking for bridesmaids dress options, wedding dress options. You would come in and, I think after two dinners or something, you were like, “Why is bridal such a separate, weird thing?”
Again, with your wholesale experience, she knew the difficulties involved with selling jeans or ready to wear apparel. Women were coming in to my space saying that their bridesmaids experience was better than their bridal experience. We just had a lot of questions. So I think from that, our similar work ethic and drive, that’s what it really was—the drive.
Y: We wanted to do something…
D: …And we said screw it, let’s do it.
Y: Yeah. And I think it was just that we were able to reach a similar ground, then were able to grow from there.
S: Was there an “a-ha!” moment? When you realized that you were going to to start the business?
Y: There were “a-ha!” moments throughout the brainstorming sessions, because we did two years of background research and concept development. And there was a few “a-ha” moments when we realized what it was, what we were going to do. It was very hard for us to put into words what we wanted to see. We wanted something that was more modern, a little more advanced, not so traditional.
But we also wanted it to be a shop about love, and inclusivity of everybody. Those were key points for us and how can we create that space. And then it all came together, and then we were like, “Lifestyle, love lifestyle shop!” And then it was like, “Oh yeah, that’s it!” And then again, when we got the space, how are you going to work that all together? That was another “A-ha!” moment. I just think that the original idea was there, there was just a serious gap, and we didn’t know exactly what that gap was, but eventually, I think we came to it.
D: And I think, too, going back to the whole theme of this, it was our friends. Our friends were a huge inspiration, because neither of us were married at the time and our friends were starting to go through that process. A big part of it is we treat all of our customers like this sisterhood—when they come in, we don’t put them as porcelain dolls, it’s very friendly. It’s real, open and very real, and that was a huge guiding value that we still have today. That’s sort of what makes LoversLand so different, and anyone that works here now, we try and figure out what their goals are and know that it’s a collaborative overall goal as a team, and we learn a lot from each other.
I think, to go back to the starting points, too, is that we have very complementary personalities. I think we have very complementary skill sets as well, and that’s what really got the wheels going.
S: As the concept of the business and the business was growing, how did you go about balancing being both partners and friends?
D: Because of the business, the time that we spent together just obviously became non-stop. And I think that’s how it grew. I got married and then Yvonne got married and then because we spent so much time together, our personal lives became more connected.
Y: Even now, when we find ourselves in serious work mode, we’ll have to turn to each other and be like, “We’re going for dinner. And we’re going to have a glass of wine, and we’re going to just enjoy this!” because a lot of the time we forget to.
D: And it’s always the opposite. Yvonne will be like, “We need to stop and enjoy this moment.” And then when she’s in it, I’ll be like, “No, no, no, we need to stop and enjoy this moment,” because we do forget a lot. You know what it’s like, it’s sort of like, “Goal, goal, goal! Let’s get all these things accomplished!”
S: Thinking about tokens of friendship, the quintessential friendship bracelet or necklace comes to mind, especially with girlhood. If you could give each other a token of friendship or some sort of gift to symbolize your friendship, what would that be?
Y: That’s a tough question. I think, for me, it would be just a great book that brings you back to a great story of sisterhood on a mission to achieve a certain goal, so we could relate our relationship back to it. I think that would be a nice token.
But, I mean, if we were to talk about the shop, we have products in the shop that would represent that. Like exactly what you’re saying, something a little more modern and mature—a necklace, or something that you know is going to help them in their day-to-day that takes the stress off. So even like a trip to the spa together.
D: I was going to say diamonds, just because of our conversation the other day. Especially with what we do, we always look at each other’s rings when we got engaged, or wedding bands, because we helped each other with all these processes. I even said, I think yesterday on the airplane on the way home, “We should just get each other LoversLand diamonds.”
That’s funny that you asked that question, because last night I remember being on the airplane like, “I can’t wait to buy you a diamond.”
Y: I can’t wait to buy you a trip to Joshua Tree so we can chill out and hike and relax.
D: Do a girl trip, yeah. A book I think we have exchanged, we’ve done those tokens, which is great. But time, too, with each other’s significant others, because I think that’s something that we both did gift each other with our honeymoon, that was a big gift. It was like, “Go away for two weeks and enjoy yourself and don’t worry about this, I got it.” I remember when you said, “It’s cool, we got this”—that was the best gift ever, because you have this baby that you put so much time and energy in, being the magazine, or LoversLand.
Y: And with the nature of the business being so sensitive, women are spending a lot of their own money on this time in their lives, and you have to take it seriously. They’re investing, they’re trusting in you that the money that they’re giving you is going to provide the dress for their special day. So you take a lot of that pressure on yourself. When you leave, it’s very hard to trust that that dress will be there, she’s coming to pick it up that day, she’s getting married next week. You know, a lot of it’s very time sensitive and emotional, so to leave sometimes is very hard.
S: Bridesmaids bracelets and gifts that act as “Will you be my bridesmaid, or my maid of honour?” brought me back to the womanhood version of the friendship bracelet.
D: Totally. We have some beautiful silk ones and I remember gifting one to my sister. It brings you back to childhood, for sure. It is really great.
Y: Yeah, it’s a special time, you know. But also I find that sometimes, with our women, because they are sometimes older, these gifts mean a lot more and they have a lot more meaning to them. They’re not just giving you a gift to give you a gift, there’s a lot more to the background in that relationship, because as you get older and the women around you, it becomes more and more important—if you start having kids and all that kind of stuff.
S: If you got up and dressed in each other’s clothes for the day, what would you be wearing? What’s a quintessential look for each of you?
D: I’d be wearing those shoes! *points to Yvonne’s black Gucci loafer slides*
We both love vintage denim, so I feel like that would be easy.
Y: That’s probably what we would do. Danielle actually has some tomboy stuff, and I probably would throw on a Thrasher T-shirt and a pair of Vans. We both kind of have that. You’d probably do all black if you were me, I wear a lot of black.
D: You do. And you have really great wool pants. That’s one thing, too. Winter pants are really great. I don’t know why, I struggle with pants, and whenever I think of the perfect pants, you have those.
Y: Danielle’s got a really good ‘70s vibe to her, she’s got a lot of vintage pieces. I would have fun in there.
D: Yeah, I would love to see you in one of my jumpsuits.
S: Weddings and bridalwear and bridesmaids dresses are all centred around milestones in your life and change and growth and love. I find people who love and admire fashion attribute meaning to clothing and objects. Keeping those feelings in mind, how do you go about buying for the store?
D: I feel like we do a very friendly approach to it. We follow our gut, a lot.
Y: When you’re buying for something like this, you have to eventually remove yourself from it. You can’t be like, “I love this!” because a lot of the time, the thing that you love, the regular consumer may not appreciate it or see it the same way you do.
We show each other things that we may not have looked at, which is really great, because I’m sometimes like, “No! This is what we’re doing!” and Danielle sees things in a different way. I think we complement each other. I think for the store, we just really try to stay focused on what it is that we’re doing here. Everything in the shop comes back to love, to ceremony, to a celebration that comes around love. So everything we carry in here has to work with that. Sometimes we’ll go off the beaten track and we’ll say things like, “That’s so great, oh my God,” and I’m like, “But does it make sense,” you know?
In that way I think we hold each other back or open each other’s eyes into looking at it a different way, and I think it’s helped us keep the place cohesive. You could easily start being the same store down the street. For me, coming from fashion wholesale, I know how important it is to respect your neighbours and the other shops, and not to step on what they’re doing, and to stick to what you’re doing.
D: I would 100% agree with everything you just said. The other fun aspect to bridal specific, though, I would say we get the opportunity to dream and have a little bit more fun. The biggest hurdle for most women, when buying their wedding dresses, is that they could buy five. It’s very difficult to narrow it down to one, so for us I think, especially buying bridal, we get the best option because we’re like, “OK, if I was getting married this year, this is what I would wear.” So I think that that’s a lot of fun, too, and with our bridal selections, I think we do look at it differently, which I love. And I think the sales reps get a kick out of it, too, because we’re very open and vocal.
S: Being a shop dedicated to both romantic and platonic love, what artists or songs do you usually have on rotation?
D: Yvonne’s playlist, she’s been developing with her husband for the last two years.
Y: Well, we curated the whole list of our wedding, like every single song that was played, we had hand picked, like literally from beginning to the absolute end. We had chosen each single song in a specific order.
D: For the last three years anytime a good song would come on, Yvonne would be like, “Wait a second!”, and screen-grab it or write it down, and then be like, “OK, back to regularly scheduled programming.” It was really fascinating to watch it grow.
Y: Well, for me, this is off-subject, but just in general, the most important was the dancing and that everyone was up—like everybody. We didn’t even have a DJ. I think we have a lot of Otis Redding, we have a lot of Charles Bradley.
D: I love Motown, anything Motown is my favourite.
Y: A lot of it’s about love, you know? First Aid Kit, a lot of bluegrass, country…we like when people come in here and feel the atmosphere. For sure we’ll do Kendrick sometimes.
D: Also love Boyz II Men.
Y: D’Angelo if you’re feeling sexy.
D: It’s funny, as a kid a lot of those songs were popular, and now I love them even more.
Y: We just try to keep it so that when people walk in, there’s an emotional connection—try to keep good vibes. That’s the main thing.
S: What’s your favourite thing about being both friends and business partners?
Y: My favourite thing is that we’re able to do it. It’s an amazing experience to be able to share it with somebody and have the support system that you know that you have in order to do it. Especially with me when I had my other business, and being confident that Danielle wasn’t going to be peeved that I wasn’t here and that she was able to take care of everything, but also just knowing that we are doing something positive and it is working out, is such a nice feeling.
We’re really open with each other. There’s always days where you’re not having a good day. You just have to be able to learn how to communicate with each other, and I think we’ve done that. It’s, overall, a really great experience, and I’m happy that, as women—because people try to put these stereotypes on strong women and how they behave—I think that there’s a multitude of emotions that go into owning a business. I think we’re able to push each other, and calm each other down, whenever those situations come up.
D: I think we have a huge respect for one another. I also think that we have one of the most unique relationships—in my life, at least. I never thought that work would bring me a sister, essentially. It’s a wild experience.
Y: Which is crazy because I was born on the exact same day and year as her real sister, which is kind of wild. We are the exact same age, same day, everything.
D: But it is a relationship that, aside from my husband, the most important relationship I have, because we spend so much time together. We actually don’t fight traditionally. We’ve obviously peeved each other off and gotten under each other’s skin, and that’s a natural thing. Yvonne’s really great at being like, “OK, we need to talk this out right now. How are you feeling?” and I’m not so good at that, so again, having those complementary innate skill sets or characteristics are really great.
We get excited when the other does really great things. For example, this past week, there was a brand meeting and you asked, “Ugh, how come it’s not on the schedule?” and I said, “I didn’t have time to schedule it, I didn’t think it was that important!”. And Yvonne responded, “No, we’re going to go.” And then when we left, I thought, “Good job on making us go to that!” because those are two sets of eyes and two brains that are stronger than one.
If you know that you have a partner, that if, forbid, all this got taken away from me, I think this is the relationship that I get to walk away with being the most proud of—that’s pretty fucking cool.