When Precedent set out to find some exciting, lawyer-made goodies for the magazine’s new regular feature, The Docket, we found ourselves inundated with all of the awesome things Ontario lawyers are doing — far too many to fit on one page. As a special bonus to celebrate our new feature, here’s a Q&A with Anita Huntley, a former Fasken Martineau Dumoulin LLP partner who left Bay Street for the Fashion District and founded Peepboo, a line of clothing for breastfeeding moms.
Precedent: First and foremost, how did you go from big time lawyer to clothing designer?
Anita: So the story goes back to high school, and I was gearing up for fashion design, so I was taking things like drafting classes and sewing all my own clothes, and towards graduation, I just decided to completely change courses, and go the university route, and then that became law school and that became a great job at a big firm and that became partnership. For the last couple of years I was at Faskens, I was feeling like I wanted to do something more creative, and was sort of mad at myself for not having continued with fashion design. I was advising all of these people in business ventures, and I got this feeling like I wanted to be on their side of the table, actually taking those risks myself.
P: What was it that made you finally jump in?
A: When I took mat leave, I was one of the first partners to take 12 months, but I was still trying to go to meetings and do client development, so I did have occasions where I was either bringing my baby places where I had to be dressed more professionally, or I was running from baby to business, and I just became aware that there was nothing out there that would help me do that. My office clothes were totally not accessible for breastfeeding, and my other things were great, but not if I had to be in a place where I had to look reasonably sophisticated. Finally, I decided to pursue this very specific idea of fashion in this specific context. It took some confidence mongering, but finally in the summer of 2009, I took a deep breath and took the leap. I went in the next day and gave my notice.
P: What was the reaction like from your colleagues?
A: The most common reaction from people at Faskens was very positive. There were a couple of exceptions, but mostly, people were very supportive.
P: What’s it been like to shift gears from corporate lawyer to businesswoman?
A: It’s been really eye opening. What I thought was just me acting on a creative whim turned out to be about two percent creation and 98 percent business, and I didn’t anticipate that!
P: What were some of the challenges you faced in changing that mindset?
A: The way I’d trained myself to be a lawyer was a real impediment to my moving along with my business. I’ve been so trained to notice risk, and it’s been really crippling from time to time, because I was just astounded by the level of risk. There were moments where I had to go back into my comfort zone of being a lawyer before I took Peepboo to the next level. Someone told me that I’d become really adept at realizing the one percent of things that could go wrong, and for this new venture, I had to instead focus on the 99 percent of things that can go right. Now, I realize that he was completely right!
P: Are you still practicing law?
A: Yes. I’m a corporate commercial lawyer. I have my own firm I started up after I left Faskens last summer, to pursue this idea and by virtue of partnership agreements, you’re not supposed to have other things taking up your time.
P: What’s something that’s surprised you about the way the business has shaped?
A: Because I’m an e-commerce lawyer, my background is in technology, so I take it for granted that everybody buys online. It was a big eye opener for me, realizing that I had this great feedback on the product, but people wanted to see it in person. I think I underestimated people’s need to see it and feel the texture.
P: What do you see for the future of Peepboo?
A: Because this is all so new to me, I really want to get my bearings in Toronto. Obviously, I want to get into the U.S. as fast as I can, but I really want to do it effectively, so I want to use Toronto as a bit of an experimenting ground, and make sure the feedback is really good. The pop-up boutiques will be at least quarterly for now. I’ve had offers to go into other people’s stores, but I’m trying to abstain from that. There’s a certain formula to how different people share the price, which seems a bit disproportionate to me. I’d rather see myself trying to get a boutique of my own.