Taking Your Business Seriously Without Taking Yourself Too Seriously 

From corporate to freelance to side hustle to small, energetic company, Steph Hoff has experienced just about every type of workplace culture through her career. Her innate sense of style and a savvy awareness of street culture give her a unique lens that she uses to filter and focus corporate initiatives into provocative campaigns. 

Through it all Hoff has stayed true to herself by making career decisions based on her personal interests. She’s worked across Canada and the US with companies including Aritzia, Topshop, M5 Showroom, Hudson’s Bay Company, and The Creator Class, and moved between both coasts, urban areas and rural organic farms. She founded her own homeware collections under the brand name of Credo, creating handmade quilts on commission. Today Hoff lives in New York and works as Creative Director for Canadian outerwear brand Moose Knuckles, and occasionally taking a quilt commission on the side.

We sat down with Hoff to get a run-through of her career, and along the way learned some valuable lessons about maintaining your own individuality while working in any type of environment.

How did you get your start in the fashion industry?

Steph Hoff with a few of her quilts from the Credo collection (photo credit Luis Mora)

When I was first starting out, I fantasized about working for Aritzia, which is a women’s fashion brand based in Vancouver. I thought that working for them might be a good opportunity for me to get a foothold in the fashion industry. This was in the early days of blogging, where you needed to know a little bit of coding to blog. I made a video, and a mix tape, and some photo content, all using skillsets that I had taught myself. I put together all of this multimedia content around working for Aritzia, trend forecasting for them, posts about their product, just lots of different stories, all in the form of a blog. Then I sent it over to them, and they loved it.

They invited me to meet with their VP of sales, and their VP of marketing in Toronto. I was about 23 at the time, and I was super intimidated. I met with them at the Four Seasons, and the interview went really well. They ended up hiring me as the marketing manager, and relocating me to Vancouver. It was a really hard transition. Being that young in that big of a role is a lot of responsibility. You have to really come in and act professional. You can’t really be yourself entirely, because you have to act a little bit older and more mature.

I didn’t necessarily fit in there very well. There were a lot of women who were a little bit older, and a little bit more fashion savvy than me. I was bumpkin compared to them. I was there for about a year, and I really liked the brand and it was a great learning experience. Then I got an opportunity to work with someone who had left the company and started working with another brand in Vancouver. He hired me on as marketing director, and even though I was still pretty young I just thought “Okay, let’s boss up, let’s go.” I did that for some time, and then moved to New York, and then back to Toronto and started working for the Hudson’s Bay Company.

At this point I’m a little older, a little more established in my career, and I got an opportunity to lead Top Shop Top Man for Canada across 14 concessions at Hudson’s Bay stores. It was really cool working for Top Shop—they have just really innovating marketing, and they are a very digital-savvy company. There are a lot of really cool women at the top there, it’s not a bunch of old guys in suits. It really is young, cool, interesting women that are calling the shots. I worked there for two years, while spending a lot of time in London. After that I decided I was ready to work on my own for a while, so I started doing freelance work, using a platform called Creator Class.

Is this when Credo started?

A quilt from Credo

Growing up I lived in inner city housing project, with my mom who was a single mother. We didn’t have a lot of money. But about 10 years ago my mom remarried, to a man who was an organic farmer, and they lived on a farm. I was interested in that life, so I decided to take some time off work, move out and live on the farm, which was fascinating and super exotic to me. That is when I launched Credo, which is my quilt brand.

I got quite a bit of press around the brand, and even though I haven’t yet done a full collection, the publicity led to a lot of commissions with really interesting clients. People approached me asking for custom quilts for special occasions, sometimes incorporating older blankets and materials. I was taking those fabrics and reworked them into new quilts. Many times it was a very emotional experience I was having with the clients.

How did you get the idea to work with quilts?

I grew up with quilts, and when I moved out to the farm and I met a lot of Mennonite and Amish women out there, and just kinda jammed with them. If you look at me you wouldn’t think I could get along with Amish women. But they’re some of the least judgmental, most open minded people that I’ve ever met in my life. I’m heavily tattooed, and I have my hands tattooed, and the top of my neck, and my ear, you know? I feel like I look like a city person. And they just welcomed me with open arms, definitely judged me based on my spirit, and my interactions with them, and not at all how I looked.

Working with them is a very collaborative process. We would visit farms, traveling in their all-black cars, driving out rural dirt roads about 2 and-a-half hours outside Toronto. We’re looking at fabrics that are in the basement of a barn. Only Amish and Mennonite people have access to this fabric store that’s on a farm. And I’m sourcing fabrics from them, and just sitting at this woman’s house, Harriet. We have this really collaborative relationship creating these quilts. That whole process was wildly transformative for me.

How did you end up at Moose Knuckles?

While I was working on the farm, a recruiter contacted me about the creative director role at Moose Knuckles. I knew about the brand, and I wasn’t actually very keen on it. I didn’t really love a lot of the marketing that I had seen. But when I met with Al and Noah, the owners, they were just totally different than anyone I had ever met in the corporate world.

They were anti-establishment, energetic, fun-loving, and open to ideas. Just really authentic people. And they were not talking about money, they were not talking about growing, distribution, or sales, or the bottom line. It was all about the spirit of the brand. That really excited me. They said they really wanted me to take it in my own direction and go with it. At that point I realized what an incredible opportunity this was. If I didn’t love the marketing before it didn’t matter because I could make it into what I wanted to make it into.

I met the design director also, Tu Ly. He is a brilliant designer, and had worked for Ports, and Hudson Bay, and had helped design the Vancouver Olympics collection. I thought, “What a really cool team. There’s a lot of opportunity to grow this.” So I moved to Montreal to work for Moose Knuckles, and put Credo on the back burner.

What is like to work at Moose Knuckles?

We really try to have fun with everything that we do. Al and Noah are childhood friends, and they grew it into what it is now. That friendship, and that sort of family sensibility, really comes through. It makes for a pretty enjoyable community of people that we all have a lot of fun with.

We’ve grown our distribution, launching in Japan and Hong Kong and Shanghai this year. And we’ve expanded into Neiman’s and Breuninger in Germany, and just a lot of incredible retailers. We’ve had this real success with the contemporary hip hop market. I mean, it’s jiggy shit. It’s 14 Karat gold logos with cookie monster blue fox fur. It’s made for the rap market. We’ve had everyone from Chief Keef, to 21 Savage, to Cardi B, to Tiana Taylor, either worn us or they’ve tagged us on Instagram, or they’ve come through one of our parties.

Has that helped a lot with sales?

Definitely. And it’s so fun to work for these guys, because they give us such freedom. Like, for the Future Party People campaign, I was like, “Okay so it’s a post-apocalyptic future, and these party kids, they’re out of drugs, they don’t know where to go…” You know what I mean? They’re in search of euphoria and the next epic party. And there’s this party at the end of the earth, and they’ve heard about the prophecies, and they’re traveling great distances to find it, it’s so ridiculous.

The more ridiculous and juvenile we get, the more our audience loves it. I feel like other fashion companies wanna push it to that level but they can’t. It’s like fashion is so precious, and so serious. And I’m like, why? It’s just coats. Fashion should be for everybody. We have very high price point pieces, but our marketing is for everybody.

And especially too, I feel like similar to Louboutin’s, or a Birkin Bag, it’s status to have a luxury parka on. So if you spend $1,000 on a parka this season, it’s the only thing you spend money on, you’re wearing that to everything. So I feel like it’s a good investment. I’m blue collar, I’m a working class kind of person. I’ve been shaped by my blue collar upbringing. And despite the fact that we’re a luxury brand, that accessibility, and that blue collar sensibility is important to me. It’s about taking the piss out of fashion, because it’s not so serious, and just opening it up and being like, “Okay, whatever, it’s just coats. Stop.” You know what I mean?

It’s the same thing for my work with Credo too. I am creating high price point blankets, but they’re modern heirlooms, they’ll last your whole life. They’re meant to be washed, slept on, carried around, thrown on a floor to have a picnic on, you know what I mean? Making blanket forts with them. They’re meant to be roughed up. And at the same time, you’ll never hear me talk about my artistry like it’s so sophisticated, or vanguard, you know? And doing that out on a farm with my mom, you know? And just sitting there with a couple ladies who have never been in a high-end fashion store, that’s my people, you know? Honest, hard working, salt of the earth type of people. And I really hope that I infuse that into all of the outlets that I have creatively.

How do buyers react to your product?

Buyers don’t really like us. They’re like, “We don’t like the name” or “Your marketing is too aggressive” or “It’s tasteless.” But then they see all these celebrities and influencers wearing the product, and they don’t have it in store.

Do they end up coming back?

Yeah, they come back. They’re usually like, “I don’t know why this is popping, but it is, and let’s do this buy.” Sometimes even celebrities and influencers feel the same way. We’ll be like, “Hey, we’d love to give you a coat, we love what you’re creating.” And they’re like, “No, I don’t know if it aligns with my personal brand.” But once they see that other people in their community are rocking with us, then they’re like, “Okay maybe I like that now.” Part of being this brand is being bold, and being sure of yourself, and just not being defined by society’s ideals. So when people don’t embody that spirit, we’re kinda like, “Okay, pass. Bye.” You know?

Why the name Moose Knuckles?

It has this double entendre where we all know what it means, but they always say the Moose Knuckle in the logo is a moose paw print in the snow. The knuckles are the brass knuckles in a hockey fight. The founder named the brand that, and I don’t think he thought it would be the success that it was. It did amazingly right out the gate, and then it was sold at all the best stores in Canada. Then they thought “Oh maybe we should change the name, ’cause that was kind of a joke.” They actually did try and change the name for one season, I think it was the second season the brand was out, they changed it to I believe M Knuckles, and there was a backlash in the marketplace. People were coming in and saying “We want Moose Knuckles. Why is this not Moose Knuckles? Is this fake?” And they had to change it back, they swapped out all the labels.

When you have a name like Moose Knuckles, and it’s so ridiculous, that leads you as a brand too, where we have to be ridiculous and fun loving about it. Because what are we gonna do, take ourselves seriously? Our name’s Moose Knuckles, we’re from Canada. You know what I mean? Like what the fuck right do we have in the fashion industry? So because of that, it’s given it this whole air of irreverence that has kinda worked well for us actually.

When you joined the team, what was the first change you made?

Initially some of the marketing felt jock-y, and I’m not a jock. I grew up in punk and hardcore, and I’m a female. I like sports okay, but I’m not really a sports fan for sure. Jock mentality is the most opposite of what I am. But what I liked about the jock attitude is how there is this I-don’t-give-a-fuck that’s there, and that actually is kind of punk rock. So I pushed it more in that direction, more toward rebellion and anti-establishment, instead of it feeling kinda bro-y. And that worked out really well, because part of the brand DNA is that candidness, that authenticity, living life to the maximum and giving no fucks. That was always there, and I just altered it slightly.

I think what’s interesting about this brand, and especially how much we’ve leveled up in New York, and in the US market in the last year, it’s like building a community of people that you rock with. Keeping it authentic, and making genuine connections with people. And having them over and breaking bread with them, and ordering pizza, and putting on music that we all like and having some Prosecco. Not just saying we’re a party culture brand, but actually being a party culture brand. Having fun, coming into work and being a little bit hungover but ready to roll up your sleeves and get to work, you know? It’s not about saying it, it’s about being it. And it’s about actually having fun.

The people involved in the company are the most important thing. They are authentically building out the brand. You can’t be successful by getting a bunch of A-team salespeople here. If people here aren’t funny, and they don’t have a sense of humor, they just wouldn’t work. You have to genuinely be that to work here. Because every single inch of everything that we do from our emails, to our phone conversations, to the in personal relationships that we build with people, to the way that we put together our sales documents, to the way that our website functions to our Twitter account, all of it is the same because we’re all cut from the same fabric, you know?

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Interested in listening to more start-up stories? #IMakeaLiving Powered by FreshBooks will be hosting their next event on April 25th in New York City. Learn more and register here, and in the meantime you can listen to the #IMakeaLiving podcast here.


Source: core77

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