Linda Lundstrom: Experience and Embrace Failure

On Thursday, May 9th, 10 of Canada’s most influential individuals graced the stage of the iconic Winter Garden Theatre for the Top Ten Event, hosted by Stewart Knight and in support of autism Ontario. The idea is simple: each speaker had approximately 10 minutes to offer words of advice on the “one thing you should know before you die,” based on their area of expertise. Here’s what Canadian fashion designer Linda Lundström had to share with the audience…

Iconic Canadian fashion designer and George Brown professor Linda Lundström can also add comedienne to her list of credentials. The designer, who had the audience in stitches throughout her speech, opened the chat on a humble, humourous note after host Knight made reference to her signature fragrance, saying that “it only caused me to lose $250 thousand dollars,” and that she had been “spraying it everywhere to use up inventory.” She then jokingly thanked Stewart for mentioning it. 

Lundström was there to discuss “The F word,” something she is “very familiar with.” The word is failure. She offered a candid background into her love for creating fashion and how it began in 1965 in Red Lake, Ontario on a Singer Featherweight sewing machine ordered from Eaton’s catalogue. She revealed that she graduated with a 53 per cent average from high school, and that subsequently, “there were not a lot of options other than being a fashion designer.” Lundström jokingly said she didn’t understand her poor grades when she’d be up all hours the evening before an exam…making an outfit to wear to the exam. She went on to describe her humble beginnings as a young female new to the big city, working from a small apartment in Toronto’s Oakwood and St. Clair neighbourhood, and the obscene calls that resulted from posting her phone number on a sign for the business outside the residence.

By 1999, however, Lundström’s company had moved five times and occupied 150 employees, with “LaParka” winter coat the hot item for any fashion-forward female. The company thrived to exceed sales of over $12 million as Lundström become a household name and award-winning player in the Canadian fashion industry. Life was good for her and her family. In 2000, however, Lundström was met with declining sales, something foreign, as she had “always dealt with an increase of sales – never the opposite.” She kept relentlessly fighting for her company. “There is no fucking way I’m not going to get through this,” she told herself, and became tough and determined. It was with this attitude, coupled with hard work, a loyal staff and community of retailers, which brought Lundström back to profit by 2003.

This didn’t last long and sales once again began to decrease. Lundström says she “started to feel frantic, nothing was working.” She couldn’t pay suppliers. She describes the ensuing guilt and shame and feeling that she had “let so many people down.” An increase in sales wasn’t working, and attempts at a fragrance failed; “I’m sure it’s in some discount fragrance place to this day in some strip mall in Etobicoke,” Lundström laughs. She kept pushing ahead to be met with financial crisis. She refinanced her company, and painfully sold her beautiful home. 

The company was profitable for 30 of 34 years and she thought it would continue forever, until January 2008. It was then that Lundström had to let “f” word become part of her vocabulary. She filed for protection from bankruptcy in January 2008. She quickly lost confidence as a speaker and designer. She sold the beloved brand in 2008 and stopped designing in 2009.

“I experienced failure: a big, terrible freaking failure,” said Lundström. She says, however, that the important thing was to experience failure and embrace it. “When it knocks on your door let it in, it comes bearing gifts,” says Lundström. “It offered me humility and a softer, more empathetic, simpler life.” Now she calls her former (beautiful) summer cabin her home, where she lives without insulation and in nature.

Things appear on the upswing for Lundström, as she emerged last year from a hiatus with her new line L designed by Linda Lundström (she promptly recited the email address and told the audience that she had more cards in her purse). Lundström left the crowd saying she was “ready for some success,” and was hoping it could start that night.