- Words by TessVan StraatenPhotography by Lia Crowe
Devon Bird never thought of herself as an entrepreneur, but after launching a successful clothing store in Sidney two years ago, she’s now preparing to open another boutique next door—and she couldn’t be happier.
“Building this business and being connected with what I love to do—it’s not a job,” says the 31-year-old owner of Moden Boutique. “It’s entirely consuming in the best possible way. I’m doing exactly what I want and what I should be doing.”
Devon started working in retail when she was just 16 years old—it was her first job—but despite her love of fashion, she didn’t think it would be her career.
“I always worked in retail because I liked the discount, and it was somewhere I felt comfortable,” she says. “I got my degree in sociology with a concentration in health and aging, and I thought I was going to run an assisted living facility for independent seniors.”
But after getting into merchandising a few years ago, Devon found her passion and decided to push herself out of her comfort zone. She packed up her life in Vancouver and moved back to her hometown of Victoria to open up Moden, which means “mature” in Norwegian (a nod to her grandmother who came to Canada after the Second World War and had a unique fashion sense).
“It’s not an age to me, it’s a mental space,” Devon explains. “I don’t really relate to my millennial generation much, so mature was a state of being, a state of mind, a comfort in oneself—a mature place to be. You know who you are and you’re living that truth and that’s what Moden meant to me.”
That philosophy, of being true to oneself, is also how Devon is running her business. But it’s a lesson she had to learn the hard way.
“Whenyou start a business, you don’t have somebody telling you what’s right or wrong, and I think I started trying to be everything to all people,” she admits. “After I opened, people would say, ‘Oh, the store is too empty’ or ‘you need to carry this’ or ‘you need to carry that’ or ‘why don’t you carry skirts?’ and I would think, ‘Oh gosh, I need to carry more skirts and dresses, I need to do more evening stuff,’ and it started to impact the vision I had for the store, which is everyday comfortable dressing.”
Devon felt like she was being pulled in too many directions and had to stop, re-evaluate, and learn to trust her gut.
“You can’t let people tell you who you are,” she says. “You need to know what your business is about. And it’s a reflection of you, so you have to be true to that, and everything—from how you decorate to what you have in the store—has to come from that vision, or the message is totally lost.”
For Devon, who says she always thought she’d make a better employee than employer, learning to run a business has come with a steep learning curve. But she says the key is not being afraid to ask questions.
“I think what you learn is that you have to be quite shameless and ask questions and not be afraid to look silly,” she advises. “I had to really get over not looking qualified, which was a very humbling experience. But it was also encouraging to see how willing people are to help you when you do ask.”
The advent of the COVID-19 pandemic just 15 months after she opened the store posed a unexpected and unique challenge—one that many new businesses struggled to survive. But it’s also been a valuable learning experience.
“It’s made us more nimble and one of the positives out of COVID-19 is that people’s habits are broken up,” she says. “Nobody wants to go to a big mall full of people now, so they’re looking for their outdoor shopping centres; they’re looking for their local, independent boutiques.I’ve been so encouraged to see people coming back, people really worried about my business and buying gift cards or shopping online for the first time just to support me.”
Devon’s so encouraged, she’s planning to expand and open a new store—Moden Essentials, which will carry lingerie, loungewear and basics—in March.
“Opening a business at anytime is a risk, but you mitigate that risk by being really clear,” she says. “Are you offering something that people need? I want to continue to do what Moden did, which is offer what’s missing and I think the next space that could really be elevated is lingerie and lounge.”
It all comes back to Devon’s approach to business and life—knowing who you are and being authentic.
”If you’re doing exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, you’re using your skills and your heart is in it. So it’s really difficult to fail because you’re using all of your strengths and putting that out there,” Devon says. “That’s really the key to success.”