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Interview: Casey James of The Urban Tea Merchant

Bain de Roses Tea

Back in December Bree and I, along with our older kiddos, were invited to High Tea at the elegant and luxurious tea spot The Urban Tea Merchant, deep in downtown Vancouver on West Georgia. We immediately liked Casey James, who was warm, patient, and talked to our kids like they were refined adults. Bree and I nodded to each other that we had to interview Casey for our Hustler series. A new mom, Casey had also embraced the family business and was working hard to incorporate her ideas of branding and outreach into the growing company. Meet Casey below!


P&H: What were you doing before taking on the family business of The Urban Tea Merchant?

CJ: My parents have always been in their own business. My mother had a vision that tea was going to be the next ‘big’ thing in North America. At that time, there was not much to relate to with tea. The vision was to open a retail store with high-end teas. Just before we opened The Urban Tea Merchant 10 years ago, my parents and I went on a four-month world trip. We traveled through Europe, East Africa, India and South East Asia to learn about the different cultures and how each culture experiences tea.

I came back to Vancouver to study Psychology and Marketing/Consumer Business at Simon Fraser University, while working at The Urban Tea Merchant as a Tea Ambassador. Taking the different roles on at once as a family business partner, Tea Ambassador and studying at the same time gave me a deeper understanding of our business and how consumers think when it comes to branding.

P&H: What was your trigger to follow this career path?

CJ: I always had an interest in business, in people and in growing with a company. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, as both my parents are entrepreneurs, I lived the ‘entrepreneurial lifestyle’ growing up; we were never ‘9 to 5′ family (chuckle). I didn’t quite know what I wanted to do with it until The Urban Tea Merchant came about and I began to form my vision around my career path and what I really wanted to do with the business. Starting out as a Tea Ambassador (and yes, I took part in washing dishes when needed), my role developed from the ground up, and has allowed me to evolve into who I am today and the ideas I have to develop our business.

I saw the opportunity to grow with our business and that has been my goal since we opened in 2004.

I love working with my parents and my husband; while there are some intense times, it is also very rewarding at the end of the day.

We are now on a very exciting new growth path with our business. We have recently signed with TWG Tea to be the Exclusive Franchisee for Canada and we will be the first TWG Tea full concept Retail Boutique & Tea Salon in North America. My parents’ vision has always been to pass the business along to me when they retire and I look forward to achieving this over the next ten years through our continued growth.

Tea Salon

P&H: Where do you get your inspiration from for product? For design and packaging?

CJ: TWG Tea does all of the packaging and design for the products. We have chosen to be aligned with them as we share the same values and philosophies when it comes to product and branding. TWG Tea tasters travel thousands of miles across the globe every year, sampling hundreds of teas in search of the most desirable harvests direct from source gardens.

The TWG Tea team take pride in shaping the aesthetic image underpinning all the brand’s products, constantly updating the notion of TWG Tea while respecting the Asian and European traditions of elegance and beauty on which it is based, now spiced with a touch of sensuality and originality.

Tea Party (Mood shot)

On the marketing side and with the North American and specifically the Vancouver market, it has been a journey over the last 10 years to really understand our market. Being in two locations: Park Royal and Downtown Vancouver, has also been a learning process as they are two very different markets in the same city.

Making sure we stay with our concept of the high-end tea business, we like to say that we are in the ‘experience making’ business. We know our brand and concept.

P&H: What role does social media play in your business?

CJ: Social media is very important to us. We have been growing this over the last few years.

Most of our customers who use social media, regularly visit our Tea Salon, taking photos and posting them and sometimes will even write their experiences online to share with their friends. We always take the time to encourage our customers to post and take photos as we believe it is powerful word of mouth. On the other side, one negative comment can be quite damaging. That is why we take great pride in keeping our standards to the highest and do our best in giving a great experience to our customers.

We are hoping to continue growing our social media platforms and create innovative and fun ways to interact with our audience.


P&H: Do you involve your son in your work at all?

CJ: He’s 17 months old now, and already has a love for tea! I started making him iced rooibos tea when he was 8 months old and he loved it! Every time my husband and I make tea and sit down he’s always there with us wanting to join in. We think he will be just as passionate about tea as we are some day.

P&H: How important is it that your children take on or play a part in the business when they’re older?

CJ: I would love to engage him in our business as he gets older – if he’s interested. While I was raised by parents who were in business together, i was given the freedom to choose my career path and I will do the same with my son. I would not want him to be pressured to do anything he is not interested in. If he is interested though, it would be a great journey to share with him.


P&H: What has been your biggest challenge running your own business?

CJ: Running a family business is not always easy. There are many dynamics to balance and sometimes, if we’re not careful, we can damage the focus and growth of the business. Having said that, it is rewarding and is a huge learning opportunity working with my parents and my husband. Each of us has something special to offer and we try to allow time to observe and learn from each other.

It is always challenging to set “boundaries” with myself and my family. We have been doing much better with this as a family over the last few years, and I actually think having my son had helped dramatically. Allowing us all to stop and be more present. You are always “on” when you own your business. There is not much ‘down-time’ nor many opportunities to just shut everything off. Because of this, I believe it is so important to take time out each day for myself.

Whether it is a 5 minute meditation, exercise or a walk with a friend, it helps me to refresh my body and spirit and put everything back into perspective again.

One thing that I continue to work on are setting personal boundaries. It’s important to set boundaries in all aspects of your life including your personal life. I find this helps me find a type of “balance”. If we are having dinner with my parents one night, we all make an intention to not focus our dinner conversation on the business. We of course will talk about the business at some point in the night, but it is not consuming our time we are spending as a family.

P&H: What is the hardest part of maintaining your work/life balance?

CJ: Work/life balance can be very tricky. Sometimes I wonder if there is such a thing. Now that there are so many more women choosing to have a full-time career and having families, I think our view on creating a work/life balance is much more dynamic these days.

It’s been a huge learning process over this past year, with a growing business and a very busy toddler at home.

This past year has also taught me about being much more present. Both in my work and at home with my husband and son. There are a lot of things going on with the business and emails and phone calls can be coming in after I come home from work. I try to ‘shut off’ my computer and email for a couple of hours and give my attention to my family. That also goes with with when I am working. Since coming back to work from maternity leave, my role continues to evolve. Learning how to focus in on one item at a time isn’t always easy, but it is necessary at times.

I needed to travel for our business a few weeks ago and had to leave my son at home with my husband. Once I arrived at the hotel, I checked in at home, I found out that my son had developed a fever and stomach flu. It was very tough for me knowing I needed to focus on my work and I also needed to check in every hour to see how he was. At the same time, it has made me much stronger and confident.

P&H: What does success look like to you? How will you know when you have achieved it?

CJ: Success stands for different things to different people. It doesn’t always have to be materialistic or monetary. It also doesn’t come into your life all at once. It is multi-faceted.

For me, success includes having a strong family life, personal health and friendships, working within the community on something meaningful to me while running a successful business.

I believe we have built a successful business over the past decade. We have built special relationships with our customers and the community over the last 10 years. Understanding the community you are living in and running your business is a key to continuing your business success.

With the growth of our business this year, there will be a new form of success we hope to achieve. My goal will be to continue to strengthen our brand awareness in Vancouver and Canada, as well as strengthen our ongoing relationships within Canada. We have the exclusive rights for Canada and are working on the Western States with TWG Tea. Our goal is to have Canadians and eventually Americans know the brand TWG Tea as well as they know top luxury brands in North America.

P&H: What advice would you have wanted to know 5 or 10 years ago?

CJ: At the end of the day, I continue to remind myself that I’m not perfect. Instead I try to focus on what I am grateful for in life by writing down what I am grateful for every once in a while. I find it really humbling and it allows me to connect with my purpose and inner goals.

It is important to soak in the experiences you are having at the time and to be present. Things change so quickly and the next things you know, what you thought was once one of the biggest stressors, turns out wasn’t even half as important as you thought it was.


Interview: Melissa from Old Joy Gift Boxes!


As I hurried alongside Melissa Mills of Old Joy Gift Boxes one evening a couple of weeks ago, giggling together while scurrying in and out of awnings to escape the rain, I knew that I immediately liked her. At a table in Mount Pleasant’s The Whip, we draped our coats at a table, and ordered a couple of bourbon cocktails as my friend Katie arrived shortly after us. It was as if we had all known each other for years. The conversation flowed, the laughter came easily, and I think we all found ourselves gleefully sharing TMI on more than one occasion.

As talk turned towards Melissa’s business, Old Joy Gift Boxes, I was surprised to find out that she’s been doing this for only a young four months! With packaging that will turn any designer’s eye, and a media savviness that assumes years of insider know-how – it is clear that loads of thoughtful planning and careful consideration has gone into the launch of Melissa’s business baby. She has managed to transformed her passion for locally and sustainably made goods into a beautifully curated platform for spreading generosity and kindness. Her gift boxes are pieces of art brought to your front door, that you are – almost – sad to tear into. Here, Melissa shares with us her path to bringing all those late-night thoughts to fruition, so read on and enjoy!


P&H: What were you doing before establishing Old Joy Gift Boxes?

Melissa: I was housing a human!  The year before I got pregnant my girlfriend and I opened a “Healthy” concession in Langley at an equestrian show ground.  I worked there up until I was 8 months pregnant, running all things front of house.  I have been in the service industry for what seems like lifetimes 🙂

P&H: What was your trigger to follow this career path?

Melissa: After having Daphne I decided that 7 years was far too long to harbour a dream. I figured, hey, if I can give birth, maintain a life lovingly and succeed, I then very well could allow myself the opportunity to do the same for my career.

P&H: Where do you get your inspiration from for product?

Melissa: Basically every product is one I’ve lived with, shared, and integrated into my everyday routines.  I adore well-made, unique, ingredient conscious goods.  I love when a product balances branding, integrity and function.  Necessity is also a factor as gifting items that serve purpose is a key component.

P&H: What role does social media play in your business?
Melissa: A HUGE role, actually I was pretty much discovered through Instagram.  Before I had even constructed a website I had people emailing me in hopes of obtaining one of my gift boxes.  It’s time-consuming but I feel completely grateful for these outlets.  Spending money on advertising is tough when you’re just starting out, so having a platform like social media is an absolute gift.

P&H: Do you involve your daughter in your work at all (or hope to since she’s such a little one)?

Melissa: So far Daphne hasn’t really left my 9-5 side.  She’s accompanied me to every meeting, delivery and pickup.  I actually really love the company and adore that she’s able to interact with all the wonderful makers we encounter.

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P&H: How important is it that your daughter take on or play a part in the business when she`s older?

Melissa: There’s absolutely no pressure to follow in her mother’s footsteps.  I only wish that she be keen to acknowledge the fundamentals of hard work, creativity, and working with passion.  And considering my husband, her father, is one of the owners of a brewery, I’m banking on that being a desirable environment for her when she’s ready to enter the workforce.

P&H: What has been your biggest challenge running your own business?

Melissa: Balance!!!  I have to constantly remind myself when delivering, curating, ordering or picking up…that I chose to fulfill my dream job because it would allow me more time with my sweet sweet babe.  Some days I feel like I’m running an obstacle course, except I’m running through one with a tot on my hip.  Knowing my limitations and not taking on more than the two of us can handle is an absolute work-in-progress.


P&H: What is the hardest part in maintaining the work/life balance?

Melissa: I guess it would be knowing when work can wait and when it can’t.  Knowing when to take those moments to yourself and when to share them with your family.  I feel like I have always been the type of person who craves balance. I place it very high on my priority list, thus carry its intentions with me daily.

P&H: What does success look like to you? How will you know when you have achieved it?

Melissa: Personally, I feel like success is a tough one to define.  Honestly, it feels as if I’m living it.  I don’t base success on society’s definition.  I don’t believe it comes in the form of degrees, assets, or the thickness of your wallet.  When you no longer yearn for your present moment to feel any different than it does, that to me comes close to defining success.

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P&H: What advice would you have wanted to know 5 or 10 years ago?
Melissa: Only, that if you go through life without faith in yourself, neglecting your absolute ability to achieve whatever it is that you desire, then there is no way to take back those years you wasted telling yourself you couldn’t.  Trust your instincts, all while living authentically with as much integrity as you can offer.
You can follow Old Joy Gift Boxes on:

Interview: Sarah Savoy of Much & Little


3PYBd0Xl1bduUAa_yPfqnbRBh9ymUb8fbcJtzfrRhB4When Sarah opened up Much & Little in the Fall of 2011, I was inside her doors before the paint had dried. It was a shop where time slowed down and the world of busyness quieted as soon as you stepped in. It’s difficult to walk around the carefully curated shop without stopping to look, to touch, to smell each item you come upon – from Pendleton Blankets to the Sydney Hale Co. Candles, it’s like visiting a home filled with the things you wish you had.

And then there’s Sarah. Always bright, always cheery. Much & Little had soon become my go-to spot for gifts: a Japanese Iron knife for my brother-in-law, a handmade woollen sheep for my cousin’s newborn in Sweden, locally made earrings by Kara Yoo for my mother. I began to stop and chat longer and longer with Sarah about the wonders and challenges of her beautiful shop, her son, and her focus on small, independent businesses. Last year, Sarah expanded into the space next door to house her growing collection of women’s clothing and accessories, all timeless, and all made in North America. She was an obvious choice for our first Hustler in 2015, and we’re so excited to share with you her inspiring thoughts on business and that ever-elusive work/home life balance.


P&H – What were you doing before establishing Much & Little?

SS – Before M&L I had several incarnations over many years: I worked as an interior designer, then a full-time yoga teacher, then as a part-time consultant in a gallery/custom frame shop.

P&H – What was your trigger to follow this career path?

SS – When my son was old enough to go to school full-time I knew that I needed to make a shift career-wise. I was looking for work and there was nothing that really jumped out at me. I decided that if I wanted to do something rewarding and challenging I was going to have to create it. I’ve always loved good design, clothing, nice objects, etc… and there wasn’t a shop in Vancouver that had the type of stuff I gravitated to. So I decided to open one! It wasn’t easy though… there was months and months of intense research, planning and preparing. I had never even worked in retail before so there was a lot to figure out. It was a huge leap (and still feels like one!).

P&H – Where do you get your inspiration from for product?

SS – I love things that have a handmade, imperfect quality to them. Things with soul. I care about supporting independent designers and other small businesses because they work so hard to hone their craft or create a product. There are so many young people out there that are creative, imaginative, passionate about what they do and I love to connect with and promote them. I gravitate towards things that are tactile, warm and inviting; have a nostalgic element to them, or an interesting story about how it was made, or are just really useful. For me, it’s as much about the product as it is about the process. But of course I also have to like how it looks and functions. And it also helps if customers like it too, and buy it. Afterall, it is a business.


P&H – What role does social media play in your business?

SS – Social media is very important to the business – more so than I realized. I never have time to keep up with it. I love instagram because it’s so immediate and easy and seems to be the best way to connect with the most people. It’s also convenient that I can link it to my FB and Twitter accounts. I need to make more time to update my blog, it’s sorely neglected…. and the website needs an overhaul. That is another big project to tackle in the near future.

P&H – Do you involve your son in your work at all?

SS – I don’t consciously involve him. He’s 9 so he has lots of other interests (like Minecraft and goofing around with friends). He likes to hear stories about what happens at the shop though (oh, the gossip!) and he often stops by with my husband (who has been absolutely indispensable behind the scenes of the shop) and loves to do tasks like labeling or organizing shelves, etc. He’s a very enthusiastic helper when I need it.


P&H – How important is it that your son take on or play a part in the business when he`s older?

SS – If he naturally gravitates towards it that would be great but I’m not going to push anything on him.

P&H – What has been your biggest challenge running your own business?

SS – OMG where do I start? The main challenge (but I guess it can also be a blessing) is that I’m the sole owner, so everything rests on my shoulders. By nature I’m a collaborative person so doing it on my own and finding the confidence in myself to forge ahead has been a growth area. I’m big on surrounding myself with supportive people and I have nothing against taking someone out for coffee to pick their brain on how to handle a certain situation, etc.. and of course I’m more than happy to share my thoughts with other people. We’re all in it together!

The other challenge is just keeping all the balls in the air, constantly. I’m pulled in many directions all the time and I wear multiple hats, so there’s often no continuity in my workflow and it feels like I have ADD. But I tell you, learning how to delegate is a skill I am working on!

P&H – What is the hardest part in maintaining the work/life balance?

SS – It’s an ongoing challenge. But when I started the business I said to myself that work would not take over family life. My husband works Monday to Friday, so I try my utmost not to schedule myself on weekends too often, as that is sacred time. Of course certain times of year (like Christmas) I work around the clock, but we’re prepared for it. I really try to keep work at the shop, but it’s difficult, I have to take it home sometimes.


P&H – What does success look like to you? How will you know when you have achieved it?

SS – It’s so difficult to measure success as I think it’s really a matter of one’s own values and perceptions. From a straightforward business point of view, of course you want it to be profitable and have enough to reinvest into the business and pay yourself at the end of the day. The shop is only a little over 3 years old and I expanded fairly early so from that perspective I’m still learning and evolving, and trying to ride the crazy waves of the ever changing cash flow. But from a broader perspective of success, for me it’s about having a sense of ease and contentment in whatever I’m doing – whether it’s work, family, life in general. I want to put in a honest day’s work and feel good about trying my best.

It’s really important for me to stay grounded and present. I’m a perfectionist and I’m very particular about things so I do get stressed out/worked up sometimes. I’m also a people pleaser, so I always want my customers and my staff to be happy… sometimes to my own detriment. So I often need to step back and see the big picture… take a breath (or a bath, or a massage) … remind myself that everything is okay, and to be grateful for even having the opportunity to build this business! If I can remember to stay in that open, grounded space then I think I will have achieved a level of personal success.

P&H – What advice would you have wanted to know 5 or 10 years ago?

SS – Okay maybe this is the tougher question. Can I twist the question to make it what advice I would give to someone? I feel awkward giving business advice because there is still so much to learn on my part, but there are some things I know:

– It is really important to surround yourself with a supportive community

– Don’t be afraid to reach out to people, or to give back. The mutual rewards will be great.

– Take time to step back and get away from the business – it will keep the mind fresh and in perspective.

– Be kind. A simple please and thank you make a big difference. And I don’t mean this in a glib way! I tell this to my son a lot: nobody wants to deal with a rude person.

– Don’t be afraid to take chances, but back it up with some thorough research.

// all images by Ron Yue

How inspiring is this woman?! Thank you Sarah for your openness to sharing your experiences with our community. It really is incredible how many women are out there working hard (Hustlin!) to follow their passions and carve them into a fulfilling career that also supports their families. It’s tough work to make those sacrifices, but Bree and I truly believe that being able to share these stories with each other can connect and help us get over those big and small humps, and keep us moving forward. Now everyone get down to Much & Little if you haven’t already and check out this incredible shop – and don’t forget to say hi to Sarah!



Photographer Bethany Schiedel

Local, Vancouver photographer Bethany Schiedel was an easy pick for Peaks and Harbours next HUSTLER feature. Our crush on this stylish, warm, and down-to-earth mama developed quickly after Bree and I got to share some time (and adventures) with her during our respective photo shoots with this lovely lady.


Bethany is a family portrait photographer with a beautifully curated boutique studio in the heart of Chinatown. She is a wife, and a mother, and has made her passion for photography into a bustling career that just keeps on getting busier as families young and old jostle to have her take their pictures. We wanted to know where she came from and how she’s gotten here, so follow along in our interview with Bethany below:

Carina: What were you doing before establishing Images by Bethany?

Bethany: I was working at a coffee shop which shall remain nameless. I had already gone to photography school and was trying to make a go of it on the side, while working the coffee shop gig to, you know, pay the bills! When we found out that we were pregnant with our daughter, I decided to give the ol’ coffee shop the boot and dive into portrait and wedding business full-time.


Bree: What was your trigger? Why did you decide to switch gears career-wise?

Bethany: Oops. See above answer? It really wasn’t a career shift…but definitely a kick in the pants to give this passion of mine the space and time needed to grow.

Carina: Out of all the career paths you could have chosen, why did you choose photography?

Bethany: At first it allowed me to be at home with my daughter. I had an office (desk in the living room) at home so I could get some work done between feedings and changing and all the other glamorous mom things. I went to photography school initially because I was passionate about travel photography. Getting to explore the world and create images that moved people. I’ve always been drawn to the emotional aspects of photography. I had just come home from an unreal trip to Tibet and decided I wanted to be a national geographic photographer…then I learnt what went into that.


Bree: Where do you get your inspiration from?

Bethany: Steven McCurry was a huge inspiration at the beginning. The way that he created portraits, saw colours and light. I loved that every single image of his I saw, was profound and made my heart squeeze. Today, I get my inspiration from every day life. I like creating images that are real. That remind you of how you felt that day, what it smelt like, what it tasted like. I’m inspired by my clients. Every single person that walks in front of my camera is unique. They have a different story to tell and have their own perspective on life. Selfishly, I love getting to peer into that. I feel like I’m admitting to peering into peoples’ homes while trick-or-treating…which, let’s be honest…who doesn’t like that part of Halloween!?


Carina: What is it like to be a photographer in the age of the iPhone?

Bethany: I like this question! It’s a hot topic and I discuss this often with clients, colleagues, and friends. I use my iPhone EVERY. DAY. to take pictures of my kid, my food, my shoes, whatever is around me! I used to do the same, to a much lesser degree however, with my “real” camera but now I’ve been doing it with the phone…which at one point made me really upset! The quality of images aren’t anywhere near as amazing as what I create with my Nikon D800…however the moments are being captured. To me, what’s important, is documenting life. Photographs give us a voice. They give us a place in history. What I feel deeply about now is making sure that those images don’t get lost! I’m a huge advocate for printing your images, and not just the professional ones! As a kid I would sit for hours looking through family photo albums, I want to make sure my kid has that too. I regularly print my Instagram photos. They cover my fridge (Sticky9) and I just started using Chatbooks! Look it up! It’s rad.


Bree: What role does social media play in your business?

Bethany: Social media has definitely played a large role in my business, even from the early days. Having the ability to easily and quickly post images, gain feedback and exposure, has been priceless! I often will have new clients email me saying they keep seeing my work pop up on friends’ Facebook feeds and just had to book me. I love regularly blogging and I send out a weekly newsletter, but Instagram allows me to be real with my audience. Yeah, I go out for beers on Monday nights. Also Wednesday nights. I don’t discriminate against when to drink beer. I find that my clients appreciate my honesty. It also holds a level of accountability. I share the stuff I’m working on just as much as I share the stuff I’m playing with!

Carina: Do you involve your daughter in your work?

Bethany: YES! I’m seriously  looking forward to the day when I can get her to package product for me or edit for me! She’s always been a huge part of my business. She’s been my number one subject. She helped me get over the learning curve of switching from film to digital. Now she’ll hang out in my studio while I work, drawing pictures to brighten up the studio and occasionally sweeping the floor.


Bree: What has been your biggest challenge in running your own business?

Bethany: Switching gears what feels like a million times a day. From editing, to bookkeeping, to updating social media, to creating an album, to ordering new business cards, to answering the phone, to networking, and the list goes on, I do it all. I’ve hired an accountant and my husband helps with the bookkeeping, but otherwise, it’s all me. Switching back and forth between roles can be quite challenging.


Carina: What does success look like to you?

Bethany: Success is walking home at the end of the day to humans that love you. Success is being a part of a community of like-minded people who support you (and you them) through the hard times and the easy times. Success is knowing who you are and truly being known and I don’t mean in the “famous” way, but in the intimate way. At the end of the day, if I’ve captured a real moment for my clients, I know I’ve been successful at my job.

Bree: What advice would you have wanted to know 5 or 10 years ago?

Bethany: Don’t get caught up in Photoshop actions…it’s a waste of your time!! But seriously, stick with your gut. Do what you love, how you love doing it.

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Thank you Bethany, for being real, sharing your story, and letting us feature you as our second Hustler! We’re excited to feature women that follow their passion and fight hard to make it work. Please visit Bethany’s beautiful website, subscribe to her fantastic newsletter, and show her some love!

East Van Jam : Local Entrepreneur, Natalie Ferrari-Morton

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My love affair with East Van Jam began when I picked up a jar of Baron Von Blueberry last January at the East Side Flea. I was impressed by her kick-ass packaging, and dazzled by the fresh spiced blueberry taste – I honestly have never inhaled a condiment so quickly in my life. When Bree and I chatted about the need to feature Vancouver mothers who hustled in their lives as entrepreneurs, artists, businesswomen, and beyond – Natalie came first to both our minds. Our interview with this sharp, warm, and hard-working mama is below:

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Intro by Bree

We met with Natalie at Platform7, a fittingly eclectic environment since Natalie’s own brand, East Van Jam, is a mix of old-world techniques and hip urban-charm. We both found ourselves with children that morning, and they amused themselves for significant periods of time while we interviewed Natalie about her business. Luckily Natalie has two young boys herself, and is able to stop mid-sentance while we put out little fires (figuratively, thank god) and not skip a beat when we are able to pick back up again. Her honesty about the struggles of owning her own business and raising two kids was a welcome treat. It’s too often that we fail to fully recognize and share the hard parts – the guilt and the self-doubt that plague moms who juggle their passion with motherhood. Natalie’s drive for a life/work balance is echoed in so many of us, and she has the keen ability of articulating the challenges and putting them into perspective.

Thankfully, she was up for the task of being interviewed as our first “Hustler,” and we jotted down notes between sips of coffee as she explained her jamming-journey to us.

Carina: What were you doing before East Van Jam?

Natalie: I worked a corporate job in the sign industry as a project manager. It wasn’t a bad job, but it wasn’t a fulfilling career path that I wanted to carry on for the rest of my life.

Bree: What was your trigger? Why did you decide to switch gears career-wise?

Natalie: My boys are getting older, and I decided I didn’t want to pay someone else to raise my kids. I wanted something that was flexible enough that I could be with the kids during the day, and work on my own things in the evenings. I started brainstorming with my good friend Anna of BAAAD ANNA’s Yarn Store, and we started to hold canning classes together when my boys were around 1 and 4 years old.

Bree: Out of all the careers paths you could have chosen, why did you choose food?

Natalie: Both of my parents are gardeners, and I have an Italian background so food has always been a big part of our lives. My husband was the one who taught me canning actually, and it just went from there.

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Carina: Do you involve the kids in your work at all?

Natalie: I feel justified and mostly like its working when my boys can join me for a fruit-picking outing because they get a chance to experience where food comes from. Additionally, they get to experience the various settings in which food grows – some very controlled and some places are very wild. I hope these experiences instill a sense of belonging and understanding about the place we live.

While I don’t feel they can be a part of the jam-making itself, they are certainly aware of the efforts I am making and often tell me “mama, you make the best jam in the world” And in spite of their limited experience of the world, I still take it as a compliment:)

Further, I really and truly believe my boys need to see me work hard – I want them to know busting your ass can get you somewhere in life – even if it’s not a million-dollar affair but rather a journey to happiness through being industrious.

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Bree: What has been your biggest challenge in starting your own business?

Natalie: Finding enough time! It has been a struggle trying to increase production this summer in response to selling out all my product by January of last year. To do so, I am spending a lot of time juggling and acquiring fruit, jamming it, and working through all the other details of actually selling it. Secondarily, I hope to put forth a professional image but really I’m just learning the ropes and making a few mistakes a long the way! So I find it challenging to have the confidence in all areas that I need to manage.

Carina: What does success look like to you?

Natalie: I would feel successful if I’m still working on these projects in 5 years from now and not having been forced to stop because the money just wasn’t enough! I hope to make my passion work for me enough to avoid getting a ‘real’ job!

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Thank you Natalie for being our first “Hustler” interviewee – we are so thrilled to feature you and your amazing work here on Peaks & Harbours. Please check out Natalie’s beautiful website to learn more about East Van Jam and how to connect with her. We will update this post with upcoming shops in Vancouver where you can pick up East Van Jam, in the meantime visit Natalie September 27th at Hawkers Market, and see her product in shops this Fall at Baaad Annas and Odd Society Distillery.


Do you know a Vancouver ‘Hustler’ that’s working hard at running their own business? following their dreams? doing something rad for the community? Let us know!