Ladies we’ve all been there.
Walking into a lingerie store at the mall, surrounded by loud pop music and giant images of curvy (but always skinny) women, and bins of underwear, all of which we’re meant to believe will make us look like the models on the posters. But they never do. And instead, we leave with an overpriced bra that is scratchy and doesn’t even fit, but the 18-year-old salesgirl assured you looks ‘amazing on you’.
For Amy Pearson and Ashley Holden, this experience was all too familiar, and it was the frustration that led them to open their own lingerie boutique, Stole My Heart. Opened in November 2016 and located on Toronto’s Dundas West strip, Stole My Heart is a gorgeous space that is as much about beautiful quality lingerie as it is about body positivity. Emblazoned across the wall is their motto ‘Take Your Own Breath Away”, and on the racks you’ll find everything from lacy Fleur of England bras to cheeky Naja knickers, Mary Young cotton bras to special-occasion luxe lingerie by Petit Trou.
But for two women who dreamed of opening their own boutique but had never worked in lingerie, how did the idea even come to fruition? “For six months, we’d throw ideas around and it kept coming back to lingerie – building a brand around self love and body positivity, but in a way that was fun and that you enjoy, and in a space where you feel safe,” says Amy.
Keep reading to find out how these two renegades left their high-profile jobs to start their own business, and how they’re going against the status quo to empower Toronto women to fall in love with their bodies one great-fitting bra at a time.
You guys have only been open for a few months, but it’s clear from how you finish each other’s sentences that you’ve known each other a long time…
Ashley: Yeah, we’ve actually been friends since we were 16. We went to high school together in North Toronto, then a tiny university in Lennoxville, Quebec called Bishop’s, which had only a few thousand students. I studied sociology and criminology and Amy studied theatre. So, nothing to do with what we’re doing now – haha!
Ahhh, that’s always the case. Did you dip your toes in those fields once you graduated though?
Amy: For me, yes. Theatre was my passion and I dreamed of moving to Stratford to play Lady Macbeth and just living the romantic life of an actor. I pounded the pavement for 3 years in Toronto, then moved to England and went to the Royal Academy for Shakespeare. When I moved home, it was just a totally different world – I found it hard to adjust. I had an agent and tried to keep acting, but I couldn’t get anywhere and couldn’t get to the level I was at in London, and I just lost the passion for it. I knew I had to make a decision to continue or try something else.
I was working in sales at Tiffany & Co. at the time, and a marketing job became available, so I went for it. It ended up being the most intense three years of my life – I was travelling 2-3 times a month and organized 60 events in one year across Canada. It was a great education and experience, but I was exhausted and at the end of those three years, knew it was time for me to move on to work for myself.
Ashley: I actually didn’t go into my field of study at all. After university I started working in interior design and architecture – it was meant to be a one-year job, but my boss was great, so I grew at that company and got the opportunity to do events for them, which I really loved. I then moved into a job at WedLuxe, and managed a team of 8 lovely women there, planning the WedLuxe Show amongst other things, which is a huge, beautiful production, but also really intense. When Amy said she was moving on and wanted to do her own thing, I knew it was an opportunity for me to do the same and if I didn’t do it then, who knows if I ever would.
Amy: There’s something to be said for working in big jobs like we did. They’re great and teach you so much, but also there’s a part of you that’s like, “I’m working so hard… why am I not working this hard for me?”
Preach, girl. But quitting your job can be super scary – what was that feeling like?
Ashley: I’d never actually quit a job without having another one to go to before, so that was kinda scary. But my husband was totally on board and that helped a lot. My mum was super excited, too – she would’ve loved to do it herself, but it wasn’t really an option available to women at that time, so she was really supportive of me living out my dream.
Amy: Everyone in my life was very supportive as well – they recognized that I had reached the point of not being able to give any more of myself. My mum and my friends were all there for me, plus I had Ashley to lean on, too.
But actually quitting? Most terrifying thing I’ve ever done. I was shaking and sweating and had to break the news to three bosses separately!
And then the Stole My Heart brand was born. You’d never worked in the lingerie industry before, so how did the idea for the brand even come about?
Amy: Well, It started with a love for lingerie. I was a chubby kid and was teased, and I had begged my mum for this peach, silk nightgown for Christmas. My mum didn’t want to get it for me because she thought it was weird, but I was unrelenting – haha! She secretly bought it for me, and when I put it on, I just felt so good about myself. I put my flannel pyjamas back on over top, but I knew it was underneath and I felt so pretty. It was my first moment of self love and appreciation.
Ashley: Yeah, there’s the long-time love for lingerie, but also the lack of options available for women. You can go to chain stores like Victoria’s Secret or La Senza, but the imagery is airbrushed, all the bras are insanely padded, and it’s just not a feel-good environment. They only show one version of what’s sexy, and we wanted to show that there are many versions of sexy and have women feel comfortable in their own bodies rather than get disheartened that they don’t look like the models on the posters.
We’ve had so many repeat customers in our first few months already, because it’s more than lingerie. It’s an experience and it’s about empowering women to feel good in their bodies.
Would you say that’s the main difference between Stole My Heart and a chain store?
Ashley: That and the offering we have – we currently have 17 brands, 12 of which are new to Canada. The majority are designed by women and a few are start-ups, just like us. We did a research survey about lingerie and one of the main bits of feedback was that there wasn’t enough variety of price points, sizes and styles, so we aimed to correct that. We have everything from cotton sports bras to beautiful lace nighties. As much as we defined who our target is, we would like any woman to be able to walk off the street and feel amazing in our store.
Another huge difference is Amy and I being here – we try to make everyone feel super at ease because that was something that was really lacking for us. I mean, you’re taking your clothes off and that can be really intimate and vulnerable, so you need to feel comfortable. We’ve had so many repeat customers in our first few months already, because it’s more than lingerie. It’s an experience and it’s about empowering women to feel good in their bodies.
Yeah, walking in, it feels like you’re entering a girlfriend’s house – it’s a very body positive, safe space you’ve created. Which is pretty rare for lingerie stores…
Amy: And that was exactly our intention. Some people think, “You’re gonna make women feel good about themselves by stripping them naked?” But it works, because you have to look at your body in that way and accept it and learn to love it. We do not play on anyone’s perceived flaws – we just go right for the positive. If someone starts talking about what they dislike about their body, we redirect and talk about what’s unique and beautiful about them, but it’s entirely genuine – and that’s where the difference lies. We’d rather people not buy anything than bullshit them and have them spend money on something they don’t feel great in.
Ashley: We also set up the Stole My Heart changerooms to be conducive for parties and get-togethers with girlfriends. We find that whenever you get a bunch of women together, you bring each other up. You come out of your changeroom to a group of other women raving about how amazing you look. Because when you’re alone in a changeroom, you tend to focus on the negative – we’re here for it to be a collaborative experience that has you focus on the positive. We try to be those girlfriends for you.
We’d rather people not buy anything than bullshit them and have them spend money on something they don’t feel great in.
What’s been the hardest part of owning your own business so far?
Amy: I didn’t plan for how emotional it is. People always said, “It’s gonna be the hardest thing you’ve ever done and the most rewarding and you’re never gonna be as tired as in the first year”, and people tell you that you’ll be emotional, but you’re like, “About what?” But it’s this all-encompassing feeling of being overwhelmed and all the emotion just hits the surface and you don’t know what to do with it.
Ashley: Also, you never shut off. Like ever. Even when we take a day off! And I wouldn’t have it any other way, because we’re passionate and that’s why we started this, but I didn’t prepare myself for the reality that I would be waking up everyday thinking about the store or having dreams about fitting people into bras.
Amy: The other thing was learning about buying and sizing and the quantities you order. There are 47 size options for one bra – how do you know how many to order?? Originally we ordered what we had researched to be the most common sizes, but our biggest sellers have actually been the off-sizes – because you can’t find them anywhere else!
Hahaha, you were clearly born to do this! On the flip side, what’s been the most rewarding part of Stole My Heart so far?
Amy: I think it’s when we have events in the store – similar to when you and your friends came in for a morning of champagne and shopping – and they start off all shy because they sometimes don’t really know each other that well, and then they have to get naked. But then someone comes out in their new bra, and it all comes together – like when your sister came out! She just had a baby and so she was super aware of her body, but everyone was gushing and you could see in her face that she just felt good. It’s when someone realizes that they don’t just look good but they feel good – that is SO rewarding for us. I get goosebumps just thinking about it.
Ashley: Also, being able to dispel women’s fears about buying lingerie and seeing that look on their face when they discover that we carry small A’s or large G’s. It’s awesome. They feel comfortable and leave knowing that our store is a safe space that respects that the fact that women come in all shapes and sizes, and there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all when it comes to lingerie.
You guys are truly inspiring + proof that where you start in your career doesn’t need to be where you end up. What advice do you have for aspiring renegades?
Ashley: Talk to as many people who will talk to you and soak in as much as you can. Ask questions, even if you feel stupid, and just admit when you don’t know something and LEARN. When we started, we reached out to a handful of women who have their own boutiques in the city and they were happy to share their knowledge, which was amazing. People are much more inclined to help you than you would think, because they’ve been there themselves and know how difficult it can be on your own.
Amy: And if you’re starting a business, make sure it’s something you’re passionate about. It shouldn’t be all about the money. Because when you start out, you’re in the red – for awhile. You need to be passionate to actually make the business grow.
If you’re interested in hosting a private event at the store, Stole My Heart offers a Bras + Bubbles package, perfect for bridal showers, birthdays, or just for the hell of it!