A successful small business requires more than just business savvy
For the owner and creator of the Nelson clothing line and store Lilikoi, it was a combination of her arts background, environmental ethics and intuition.
“We came here, way back when, to work on a farm,” said Barbara Boswell. “We lived in a school bus. I always made clothes, even in a school bus. One thing led to another and we just ended up staying.”
Even though she enjoyed the process of making clothes, she didn’t find it interesting to just buy fabric and make them.
While attending the Kootenay School of the Arts, Boswell learned how to silk screen.
“It just opened up a whole new avenue for me,” she said. “I realized I could have any print and it also differentiates our clothes from others because all of our prints are our own or have a look that you can tell is ours, which I like. It also makes it more interesting for me and more artistic in that way.”
Inspired by nature, Boswell hand draws each design that appears on the clothing.
Even the name of the brand was influenced by nature.
“I’ve been asked thousands and thousands of times what Lilikoi means,” she said with a laugh. “Lilikoi is the Hawaiian passion flower. I went to the University of Hawaii briefly in the midst of going to KSA. I really love it there. That’s probably where a lot of the botanical themes come from. I like it there because things grow all year round. I don’t ski, so sometimes the long, grey, leafless winters don’t do much for me. In places where there are constantly flowers in bloom and lots of colour, that’s fun for me. I decided to stick with that.”
Equipped with what she’d learned at school and a lot of passion, Boswell launched Lilikoi in 2005.
“I didn’t think about wholesaling at first,” she said. “I thought about going from a more arts perspective and making a small line of clothes and going to the big retail craft shows, like the ones we still go to like the One of a Kind show in Toronto and Circle Craft in Vancouver, that was my first plan.”
It wasn’t until storeowners at a show in Ottawa approached her that she began to consider pursuing wholesale.
“People said ‘you should wholesale,’ so I tried it and it really took off,” said Boswell. “We have some stores that have been with us since we started wholesaling and they have bought every single collection since then and they still do.”
Selling wholesale has allowed Lilikoi to keep its retail store front in Nelson — which moved to it’s current location near the old Redfish Grill — and make all of their products locally.
“It’s nice to have that global market because then we can stay in Nelson and do business here and make enough money to employ people and have a nice life and not be dependent on the Nelson retail thing, which from what I’ve gathered from other store owners can be stressful sometimes,” she said.
Boswell decided early on in the creation of her company that she was going to do what ever she could to minimize Lilikoi’s impact on the environment.
“The textile industry is really dirty,” she said. “If you’re going to make things in huge numbers and put them out into the world, it’s important to think about. I mean realistically, all of us buying tons of things isn’t sustainable. The idea is that the clothes are more expensive — it’s true — but they are made here, we employ local people and the idea is that you’ll have them for years.”
Boswell aims to design clothing with classic silhouettes that women of all shapes, sizes and ages can feel comfortable wearing. And if they don’t, Lilikoi has now expanded into selling housewares.
“Housewares are nice if they go in a more organic direction and are made locally,” said Boswell. “It’s all about making your life more beautiful. You can do that in a lot of different ways.”