Scout and Catalogue is a brand I've been following since I first discovered them over five years ago. Bre Musgrove's beautifully dyed fabrics have caught my attention season after season (I own two of her scarves), but it wasn't until she recently launched a series of blog posts, - #SCbusiness, where she dives into the inner workings of a small label - that I really took notice to the maker behind it all. Bre is as dedicated to her craft as they come, and as far as businesses go, she's stood the test of time (see: that awful 5 year statistic people like to throw around). This year, Bre will be entering her seventh year in business, and I couldn't be more excited to continue to watch the growth of S&C unfold.
"After high school I attended Emily Carr and did a degree in communication design which set me up to do graphic design, and brand strategy. My first job was at an ad agency where I quickly realized that I did not love traditional advertising – sometimes learning about what you don’t love is more valuable than learning about what you do love. From there I was given the opportunity to work for Aritzia – a women’s fashion retailer – which offered great insight into the behind-the-scenes of running a successful retail venture. I spent about five years with them working as the Creative Director of the Marketing Department and during that time my job brought me into different worlds within the retail industry that I wouldn’t have had a chance to be a part of any other way.
Onto The Next
Around 2008 I had the idea that I’d like to leave Vancouver, the city I was born and raised, and that there really was no time like the present. The man I was dating at the time is originally from Mexico and it seemed like the obvious choice for us.
I’ve always been somebody who makes things or experiments with creative projects and since I wasn’t legally able to work in Mexico I began to look for a creative outlet. The women down there still sew clothing for their families so there are tons of fabric and trim stores everywhere. I started poking around in these fabric stores and quickly realized the Mexican culture has a brighter sensibility than I do (laughs). They were selling fabrics that are far more shiny and loud than I usually prefer, but in every store there was always this natural cotton called Manta and I was like, "huh, I wonder if I could dye this?" so that’s when I started experimenting with dyeing fabrics for fun.
During that time my friends and family were emailing me asking about what was happening in Mexico and, while it was great to hear from everyone, I was getting tired of answering the same questions over and over again. I decided to start a blog so that I could send everyone interested to one place for updates on my Mexican adventure. I called the blog Scout & Catalogue because I was scouting a new culture and cataloguing it online.
I started sharing my daily life in Mexico, which included items I’d dyed or sewn and more and more people started to follow along. I think most people have had the dream of leaving the corporate world behind, moving to a tropical climate and living some version of a simple life, so people were really drawn to what I was presenting. At the same time online shopping was becoming commonplace and readers requested to buy some of the pieces I had been experimenting with - Scout & Catalogue the brand was born. It lined up perfectly with the beginning of the handmade, shop small/local movement and the market was wide open.
Back to the Land of the Ice and Snow
Mexico was the best thing ever, but after a couple years we made the decision to move back to Canada and settled in Toronto. I’ve never felt more Canadian. In Vancouver you grow up with all this Canadian mythology that weirdly doesn’t apply to us. We’re like “snow, what?” and “maple syrup, what?” and "I can’t skate!”. Then all of a sudden, I was in this city where people skate in outdoor parks, you can’t live without a parka and French is being spoken around you. I was like, okay I get it now! I really enjoyed Toronto a lot and found that the community there was really supportive of small, creative businesses. After three years, I made the decision to move back to Vancouver where I’m originally from and my family still lives. I moved my business three times in a period of five years, which I don’t recommend. Every time I moved I lost a bit of momentum, but it also allowed me to reorganize and learn from everything I had done previously. It’s been three years now that I’ve been back in Vancouver and I’m in the process of reorganizing again to accommodate room for a manufacturing partner, which is a totally new phase in my business.
After reestablishing the brand in Vancouver I began booking some fairly substantial orders. I was so grateful for the opportunity to step up Scout & Catalogue’s game but after an initial, “YES!" I was immediately like, “Oh my god, how am I going to pull this off?” It was during that time I had the realization that you can’t grow if you try to do everything yourself. This seems like a really obvious thing, but it is a lesson that I consider hard won. There were a lot of long nights in front of a sewing machine that left me wondering what the hell I was doing with my life. I began looking for a manufacturing partner that was aligned with my vision of responsible production. I now do most of my manufacturing in Portland with a factory that upholds all the same principles as I do as a maker. It’s been an interesting transition – where once it was just me, I now have upwards of 20 people helping create S&C – and the product has only benefited from this partnership.
The Next Generation
I always say I started my business by accident, which is a very a self-deprecating way to say that it was a very organic start. The Scout & Catalogue blog also began organically and it drove most of my business for many years. I’ve found that now that social media has so many channels the readership of blogs in general has waned and I have grappled with my blog’s relevance. A few months ago I started to think about what I might offer on the blog platform that could not be offered on any other social media platform. Blogs are such great ways to publish volume of information, more so than other social media platforms, and over the years many people have been in touch asking small business questions. I started doing #SCbusiness posts for other people who are just starting out, or thinking about quitting their day jobs to do what I do. Hopefully the posts are helpful even if that help sometimes means they end up thinking “maybe I shouldn’t do that...” (laughs). My very first intern — we’re friends still— spent 3 months with me and she was like “you’ve inspired me to never do anything like this” (laughs). I think it's interesting how businesses work, and I think small business is just as interesting and challenging as big business. So to share my experiences – my wins and losses – of running S&C has been really fun and I love how people have responded to it. It makes me feel like my blog has some purpose to it again.
Being in business, still being here…it’s crazy. In all honesty, I don’t know if I will still be in business next year, in 5 years in 10 years as it is such a gong show to run a small business. It often feels like you’re just running around doing everything poorly (laughs). Over the last 6 years I’ve seen my competition grow and my market close in around me. Now I have to produce better quality goods, with more sophisticated marketing, for the same price point and in a market where everyone else is doing the same thing. It’s becoming increasingly harder to be seen, and be known.
What It Takes
In both my business and personal life, I have learned to a small degree, to let go. In business, a few years ago I got to a place where interest in my line was steady and consistent enough to be destroying my body physically. I was no longer able to manufacture everything myself from start to finish. Carpal-tunnel is real and I was too young to be suffering from it (laughs). I had to look for a different way to make my business profitable and my life happy. As I mentioned earlier, I found a manufacturing partner to help produce my line which was a substantial financial investment. I’m very fiscally conservative, so the idea that I would have to invest in something that I didn’t know every aspect of was terrifying. But, that’s what business is.
There’s no guarantees that anything is going to work out and you just can’t know. All you can do is your best and then take a deep breath and see what happens. Letting go is about not having an attachment to the outcome, which is f-ing hard, but it turns out, pretty crucial. If I end up losing S&C through a risk that I feel is the best risk to take in the moment, and it doesn’t work out then that is just how the cookie crumbles. My business might fail, but me as a person, I’m going to be fine. Letting go was the lesson of 2015. In growing the company, I ponied up and I played bigger than I’ve ever played before and it meant that I succeeded bigger in some cases, but I have also failed bigger too and both of those things are important. I would never go back to the way things used to run. There’s no part of me that’s willing to take on that amount of physical struggle to accommodate someone’s desire for a bag (laughs). So yeah, 2015 was a big learning curve."
Interviewed and photographed by Tianna Grey on 01.15.2016; photo's otherwise marked.