Catherine Choi overcame her addiction — and it inspired her to create… – Women of Influence

By Sarah Kelsey

In 2011, when Catherine Choi first launched her sustainable and stylish lifestyle business, So younghis biggest goal was to see its products on the shelves of key retailers like Indigo, Whole Foods Markets and Anthropologie.

Today, not only do lunch bags, backpacks and travel cases grace the shelves of its Goal stores, they can be found in some of the world’s trendiest boutiques and are available online across international. They were also covered by teen vogue, Today, Squire, Oprah’s Magazine, and others.

“Everything snowballed in 2019 — when Anthropologie noticed, others did, too,” she says. “We didn’t realize how much attention was on the trends spotted by the retailer. It was a blessing for our company.

If you ask Catherine about her journey to success with SoYoung, she points to a time long before they made it Anthropologie, more than a decade before she founded the brand.

Having been raised in an abusive environment that led her to feel deeply anxious and unworthy in Montreal, and a series of bad choices led her to become addicted to heroin. She spent four years living with an addiction before going through medical rehab in 1997. What followed, Catherine says, was the start of her “personal healing journey”.

“I lived a lot of my life believing in my own inadequacies, that I wasn’t good enough,” she says. As part of her recovery, she began studying shiatsu massage and found that she was unfulfilled by her current career path. “I was not passionate about my role in the financial software and banking industry. My husband at the time was much more free-spirited than me and kept encouraging me to quit. But I didn’t know what I wanted to do. »

“I had lived much of my own life believing in my own shortcomings, that I wasn’t good enough.”

Fast forward a few years, and Catherine had “a moment of epiphany.”

Following the birth of her son, she began to spend a lot of time researching baby products. She looked at the bag options she had to carry all her necessities and thought, I can do better, “So that’s what I decided to do.” Catherine set her sights on creating a diaper bag, pushing through the lingering voice within her that said she “couldn’t do this.”

It took nearly three years to bring his first product to market, and although it was a flop – “People liked the bag, but it was too niche!” — the experience led Catherine to design and create a range of children’s lunch bags and backpacks made from natural and eco-friendly materials and featuring simple and elegant designs. In 2018, they expanded into the adult category with a stylish lunch box called Lunch Poche (French for “pocket”), and continued to grow the line from there.

There have been ups and downs, but it’s all part of Catherine’s journey. “I now view my very difficult struggle with addiction as a gift that allowed me to experience the power I have within, and I have no regrets about my life..”

Catherine says she received a lot of support throughout the creation of her business. Beyond family support (her husband handled all of SoYoung’s digital marketing, for example) and initial investment in product development, it was support from ecosystem partners. Canadian business, including TD Bank, Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC), which helped propel his business forward.

“I was very lucky to have formed a strong friendship with my BDC rep,” says Catherine, “so I relied on them for just about everything.

BDC helps create and grow strong Canadian businesses through financing, advisory services and capital. But when it came time to expand her business beyond Canada’s borders, her BDC representative put her in touch with Export Development Canada (EDC). The Crown corporation helps Canadian businesses succeed on the world stage by offering business knowledge, financing solutions, equity, insurance and the connections needed to grow their business. The impact of exporting has made a huge difference to Catherine’s business

Exporting to the United States and internationally has been instrumental in brand recognition and overall business growth. »

In collaboration with her financial institution, Catherine took advantage of EDC Export Guarantee Program (EGP) to extend its line of credit. This has supported the company’s growth and allowed it to say yes to new opportunities.

Exporting to the United States and internationally has been instrumental in brand recognition and overall business growth,” says Catherine. “Growth opportunities in the United States in particular are greater, and increased volume lends itself to production cost savings as well as significant media and public relations exposure.”

Given the success of the business and the ongoing pandemic, Catherine says she is currently spending time reassessing what comes next for the organization.

“Instead of growing mindlessly, I want to assess opportunities, which takes a lot of patience and strength. I could keep striving to hit a certain number of sales, but I don’t want to do that,” notes she said. Before the pandemic, Catherine had planned to vertically deepen the SoYoung product offering by coordinating lunch containers and snack accessories, but strategically decided to branch out into other categories in order to weather the global crisis.

Along with reassessing the direction of her business, Catherine says she’s taking time to focus on her family and giving back. SoYoung actively supports organizations across Canada that help empower women and youth, and those that provide mental health supports – and in particular, a strong meditation practice – who helped her through very difficult times. The current beneficiaries are the Give to Give Foundation, Good to be good Foundation, The right challenge, Youth Initiative Trails, Yonge Street Missionand Canada helps.

Reflecting on her entrepreneurial journey, Catherine says SoYoung has helped her thrive — and not just professionally. “I don’t feel like a born entrepreneur,” she says. “It takes every ounce of belief in yourself and the resilience you have, especially if you have an idea you want to push forward. My business has helped me push myself and do things I never thought possible.

Aware of the importance of lessons to be learned from a company impacted her life, Catherine has the same hope for everyone to whom his message is directed, from employees to customers. “I hope my products will inspire and empower people. If I do that, that’s all I can ask for.

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