Written by The Strategy
It’s time for the world to realize that the future is female. There are so many female entrepreneurs who inspire us and we wanted to know more about how they got their companies off the ground. Welcome to our series: The Future Is Female, where we sit down with inspiring female entrepreneurs and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of how their companies operate.
Whether you work from home or are back in the office, work wear can be hard to navigate. From choosing cohesive, put-together looks, to figuring out what you’re comfortable in for an 8-10 hour day, staring in your closet on a workday morning can be daunting. Founder, Michelle Shemilt aims to take away some of that struggle with Numi, a brand of ‘consciously created products that make life a little easier.’
Counting Kelly Ripa as a fan, Numi is a line of sustainable basics for the working women. With aims to solve the struggle of large dry-cleaning bills and dreaded sweat stains (we’ve all been there), Numi has become a closet staple – working woman or not. In 2022, the brand has plans to expand their popular “sustainable silk’ collection, and for those who are Toronto-based, you can pop by their first ever physical store in Toronto’s Yorkville Village.
Meet Michelle Shemilt.
What made you start Numi?
My first job out of university was as an equity trader at a large bank. Transitioning from school, I had to invest in a whole new work wardrobe. One day, I realized I was never wearing my favourite pieces because they were either expensive to dry clean, or prone to embarrassing sweat stains. When I looked on the market for something I could comfortably and invisibly wear under my clothes I realized there was nothing available. The options for women’s base layers were either sleeveless (camis & tanks) which didn’t help keep the underarm area clean, or bulky and were visible under my clothes. When I started discussing this with my women friends, colleagues and clients, I realized this was a major pain point for most women. Whether it was an everyday problem or an issue with certain fabrics or situations (like a big presentation or job interview), it was clear there was a need for a new solution in the market.
How did you come up with the name?
I wish I had a better story but the name, Numi, came to me during a nap! I wanted something that was 3-4 letters and had a soft, but strong sound, and as soon as I thought of ‘Numi’ it just felt so right.
What was the biggest struggle or hurdle when you first started?
I had no experience in manufacturing or the fashion industry, so I really was starting from scratch. I didn’t even have any other friends who were entrepreneurs! I took it little step by little step and asked a lot of questions along the way. I also focused on building my network of mentors and advisors who helped me as I figured out each step. There is a lot to learn when starting a business, but you definitely don’t need to do it alone. I was also not only creating a new brand, but creating a new product. We were the first undershirt for women in the market, so we had to educate our customers on the benefits of wearing an undershirt, such as saving on dry cleaning, extending the life of your clothes and preventing unwanted sweat stains.
What inspires Numi the most?
Our customers. Our mission is to make high-performance clothes that solve life’s little problems, so I am always listening to our customers to understand where the pain points are in her life and thinking of ways we can solve them in ways that are beautiful, functional and sustainable.
What did your career look like before you started Numi and how did you get to where you are today?
Before starting Numi, I was an equity trader at a Canadian bank. That’s where I came up with the concept for our ‘Essential Undershirt’ collection. When I left that role, I was interviewing for another position in finance when I decided to see what it would take to pursue this idea I had. It all started with a simple Google to find apparel factories. I cold-called about 20 of them and showed up to ask what it would take to make a prototype of my idea. Most of them thought I was crazy because I didn’t even have a company name yet. But I found one who wanted to work with me and together we made the first sample and production run.
Has there been a moment when you realized you were making it?
When Kelly Ripa talked about our ‘Sustainable Silk’ blouses on Live! With Kelly and Ryan for a full two minutes! Since then, she’s worn our blouses over 20 times on air. I’m a big Kelly fan, so that has been pretty surreal and I still get super excited every time she has a Numi blouse on.
Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
You can’t do it alone. Build a network of mentors, advisors and peers in the start-up community. Having people you can bounce ideas off of and brainstorm with are so important. When you are ready/able to make your first hire, look for a role that compliments your strengths. For me, that was someone in marketing. My strengths were in product development and building our supply chain, so I needed someone who could own and manage our marketing strategy.