Before the historic NBA championship win by the Toronto Raptors in 2019, the team made it to the playoffs in 2014 and launched Yanal Dhailieh into the perfect moment to start his lifestyle and community brand, Peace Collective.
By wearing a "Toronto vs. Everybody" t-shirt to a Raptors playoffs game and getting featured in a TSN documentary, Yanal turned that moment into an apparel brand that generates millions in revenue annually and two retail stores.
In this episode of Shopify Masters, you'll hear from Yanal Dhailieh of Peace Collective on how to build a community, grow from viral moments, and create your own virality.
I think telling stories is what allows a smaller company to get an upper hand on the bigger company ’cause the bigger company maybe doesn’t feel the need to do it.
Tune in to learn
- How to create a viral moment
- How to educate your customers on your cause
- Why storytelling is your biggest advantage over bigger companies and how to do it
- Store: Peace Collective
- Social Profiles: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram
- Recommendations: Klaviyo, LoyaltyLion (Shopify app), Shopify POS
Felix: Today we're talking about Yanal from Peace Collective. Peace Collective is a community and lifestyle brand all about showing pride in who you are and what you love while giving back to a good cause. It was started in 2014 and based out of Toronto and has annual revenues of $3 to $5,000,000. Welcome, Yanal.
Yanal: Thanks for having me.
Felix: Yeah, so this all started, well at least the path towards creating success all started with a viral shirt. Tell us about that. What was the viral shirt? What happened?
Yanal: Yeah so it all started in 2014 with a shirt that said "Toronto Vs. Everybody." At the time I was working in sales, in business development, at a software company and it was a shirt that was, you know, something that I always wanted to do. I always wanted to start my own business, do something in the lifestyle and clothing space and one day I was waiting for a friend to go watch a Raptors game, it was the first Raptors game in the playoffs in maybe more than 10 years. We were playing the Brooklyn Mets. In 2014 I was in front of a print shop, I decided I had the file on my computer, I was just going to go in and print it. I was waiting for my friend, printed the shirt for me and him, wore it to the game.
Yanal: When I was at the game, picked up on a little documentary that somebody was doing, I think it was TSN on Toronto becoming a Toronto Raptors city so as soon as that happened people were asking for it, asking where the shirt came from. Then I'd been waiting for this moment. I've always wanted to start my own business so that night I decided, "Okay, I'm going to figure out how to sell T-shirts and I'm going to figure out how to sell it online."
Felix: Okay so people saw this on TV but did you have it for sale yet? What happened next after it was on TV?
Yanal: Yeah it started super instantly. Literally like I always had the idea for the brand Peace Collective. All about showing pride in your favorite city and your favorite team or your favorite country while giving back to a good cause. So for every garment sold, five meals are provided to a child in need. It was always just an idea. When I saw that people were interested in the shirt I took the next step. I started searching, "Where do I get shirts made? How do I get some shirts printed?" Then went online and searched, "How do you build a store? How do you build an online shop?" The first thing I was pointed towards was Shopify.
Yanal: I also spent a couple of weeks learning how to create an online store. In the meantime I was just literally messaging people on Instagram, selling them shirts out of my bag. Meeting up with people downtown. Like really small and organic. It got to the point where I built the website and it was the beginning of something in the business.
Felix: Right. How did you capitalize on this opportunity for the shirt to be on TV? Because you didn't have a site yet, I'm assuming, unless your friend like shouted out some Instagram handle or some website. How did people go from seeing the shirt on TV, wanting it, and then finding you, the person that was making them?
Yanal: Yeah well it was a slow build-up first from that first day. Like I said, learning how to build a Shopify website, putting that up. Then once I had the Shopify site up I had a couple of products then it was trying to identify who are customers, finding people that wanted to show pride in being from Toronto and trying to connect with them over Instagram. It started very instantly like that. It was just about finding people in Toronto on one side as a customer base that were looking to purchase anything about being from Toronto and then working with and looking for people that represented what it means to be from Toronto, what it means to be a Canadian.
Yanal: What we like to do is showcase Canadians that are chasing their passion and aligning ourselves with them and putting shirts in their hand. Back in the day Instagram was a lot easier to do stuff organically so it was just finding cool Canadians that were doing what they love, getting the shirts in their hands and then slowly building a community from that.
Felix: Okay got it. I guess the question is were you able to capitalize on that initial exposure on TV or was it just something that was super cool to happen but you still had to kind of build the store and build the traffic and build the awareness yourself?
Yanal: Yeah that was just the first launchpad moment. Just let me know that, hey, there could possibly be a market from here.
Felix: Okay so this was a moment where you were able to validate that people were super interested in it but you still had a lot of work to do to get it to the point where you could build a business and actually sell these shirts and sell other things underneath your brand. Okay, that makes sense. You mentioned that this idea behind the business is just beyond this shirt initially was about, like you said, showing pride in your favorite city while giving back to a cause. Where did this, this is a marriage between two kind of specific, right, again, pride in your favorite city and then purchases actually fund a cause that you believe in. Where did the idea behind that come from?
Yanal: Yeah, the idea came from a trip. I went to Morocco teaching English at a school in Morocco and they had a program where they provided children from lower-income households with a meal for breakfast, a meal for lunch and a meal for dinner. The reason they were doing that is they were looking for ways to increase enrollment, of getting these parents to actually send their children to school. They prefer to take their child out with them during the day, put them to work, maybe even having them out on the street collecting money. The school experimented with a bunch of different things and they found the most effective way to get these parents to send their kids to school is by providing a meal. The parent has one less worry. They're not worrying about how they're going to feed their child.
Yanal: For me, the concept was I wanted to chase my passion, do what I love but I wanted to give back to a cause where you know, something as simple as a meal can one day inadvertently provide a child with an education opportunity to one day do the same.
Felix: Got it. I feel like a lot of people were interested in purchasing stuff from you because they like the design, they like the message on the clothing. How much of that aspect of the cause-based side of it do you feel is motivating people to purchase from you?
Yanal: Yeah, I think it's a huge part of it even now, today, but I think especially when I was first starting. I think a lot of people got behind that messaging, got behind the idea of supporting. People want to support something that they believe in, especially in the day and age we live in right now where there are so many different options. I think it allowed us to cut through a lot of the noise and people were able to support a cause they believed in. It also helped turn our customers into people who were really pushing our brand messaging because the T-shirts are so simple, they're so easy to spot. It's easy for somebody to stop whatever customers to be like, "Hey, cool. That's a really cool T-shirt. Where'd you get it from?"
Yanal: Instead of just being like, "Oh it's a T-shirt I bought online." There's a story for them to tell their friends and their families and I really push the word of mouth. "This is a really cool shirt. It's from Peace Collective. Purchasing this shirt provided five meals to a child in need." Our customers end up becoming part of this real key in the cause and word of mouth is what built the brand early on before we got the increased exposure before we really knew what we were doing.
Felix: Got it. Okay, so you mentioned that you were kind of like, almost hustling, selling these things on Instagram because you didn't have anything up yet. Just trying to find ways to get out to the community but nowadays the way that you use Instagram is probably different than what you would typically hear how other people are using Instagram. Where they're using paid ads, or paid Facebook ads. Tell us about how your philosophy behind using Instagram to push your brand.
Yanal: Yeah, for Instagram for us is, obviously on one end it's making sure we have the different communities. Obviously what we're doing on the paid ad side is trying to drive revenue through showcasing products. For us, it's trying to take it a lot deeper. For Instagram, for us, we look at it first as an opportunity to build a community. We do that through telling a lot of stories, telling a story of why Toronto is home to them and trying to create an engaged community. We use it on a bigger scale, whether we're working with a certain athlete or we're trying to get in the hands of certain athletes to again try to create a viral moment or an opportunity to share a story.
Yanal: Recently we did a campaign where we took, which I think we leveraged social media really well, we did a campaign where we took a MAGA hat and we unraveled it, the thread from the MAGA hat, and we made a toque that said "Welcome to Canada." The toque, all the proceeds from the toque went to supporting a local Toronto organization named WoodGreen, providing services to immigrants getting relocated to Canada. We created a video, three minute video, showcasing three immigrant stories and how they moved to Canada from the US or from abroad. Then we really put a lot of [inaudible] in the video to different influencers and again, finding Canadians that would resonate with the cause and sharing that video with it and within a week the video was viewed, I think in total, over a million times.
Yanal: It's just trying to go past just where you're able to ... anybody can put a little bit of money behind a product post but it's how you create stories that connect to people that allows you to cut through the noise. Especially when you're starting off and you might not have that budget to compete with a bigger company.
Felix: Yeah so I definitely want to talk about that viral campaign that you methodically and purposefully built to try to get this viral content out there but before we get there I want to talk about the system that you have in place because when you are doing things like featuring stories and featuring stories from the community, there's a lot of people involved much more than if you were to just sit back and run Facebook and Instagram ads. Tell us about this system that you have in place so that you are able to produce this kind of quality content at scale.
Yanal: Yeah, it is a system, like you mentioned. It is something that took a long time to build from starting off, just myself DM-ing people, meeting up with people, having photographer meet me, taking pictures. It's really like, the first team we built out internally is a team of people who are more focused on community and content than it was on marketing or Facebook ad spend. Today what we're able to do is we're able to automate a lot of the things. Even every single time, if a customer takes a picture wearing our garment, instead of just taking that photo and posting it, we'll reach out to the customer over DM, ask them to send us a story about why they love being Canadian or what being Canadian means to them and then something as simple as like, a product repost, it has an engaging caption to it.
Yanal: We have a network of photographers that we've built all across Canada. So we have a couple of photographers we work with at every city. We'll just literally post on Instagram asking people who have amazing stories relating to Canada, growing up in Canada and we'll connect them with a photographer in that area to go out and shoot them. Just about creating these systems where we don't have a big team. We're a really small team but we're leveraging people that believe in the brand and leveraging people who have stories that they want to tell.
Felix: Got it, okay. I like this approach where when someone is tagging your product, which happens all the time, right? For other brands, a lot of people will just kind of repost it or put it on their website but you try to extend the content behind it. What do you do exactly when you reach out over DM? You're just asking? What is this? "Why are you proud to be Canadian?" What is the actual steps that are involved to kind of get the concept that you want?
Yanal: Yeah, so for us we have a lot of different product lines. We have our sports teams, so Raptors, Blue Jays, we have Canadian Pride, Toronto Pride. Let's just say for example somebody posts a picture wearing a Raptors T-shirt, which happened a lot during this last playoff run. We'd send them a DM over Instagram telling them we love the photo, and we would love to share it on our feed and telling a little bit of a deeper story of the community. We follow up by asking, "Is there a story about being a Raptors fan?" Or "Why do you love the Raptors? Is there anything you'd like to share?" Usually, they're more than happy to send back a paragraph or two about being a fan of a specific story that they have.
Yanal: We're able to pair that with the photo as a caption and then that creates engaging content and then I think other people may see that, as well, and want to share their story. I really think it's a snowball effect that starts to happen.
Felix: Got it, that makes sense. These days, where you are, you have a lot of customers and you have a lot of new customers coming in. When you're first starting out though, and for anyone out there that wants to take the same approach as you by focusing on the community first and telling the stories of the communities that they care about, how do you recommend they begin? If they don't have any customers yet but they want to kind of just start building a brand within the community, where do they begin? Where do they get the stories from?
Yanal: I think telling stories is what allows a smaller company to kind of get an upper hand on the bigger company 'cause the bigger company maybe doesn't feel the need to do it. I think first of all, hopefully, anybody that's started a brand is doing so because there has something that they're passionate about. Whatever that passion is, there's other people out there that have that same passion. For example, if you're starting a brand around lifting weights, around being in shape. It's putting in the groundwork, going on Instagram, what are the top hashtags around weightlifting? What are the top brands that are doing something in this space already?
Yanal: Searching those hashtags, building those communities, trying to communicate with those people, trying to ask people. People like to talk about what they're passionate about and yeah, when you're starting off you're going to have to put in more work but there's a lot of opportunities to put in that groundwork and utilizing hashtags and different communities around the internet to find those people, and that's what we did when we first started was finding every hashtag, searching those hashtags, finding those people that create good content that use those hashtags. Putting the product in their hand or scheduling an opportunity to create content for them. Just doing little things like that and you have to put in the hours or you don't have the money to spend.
Felix: Okay, yeah. I want to get tactical here so then when you find these people that are in the community already, you're basically talking about almost like, influencers or micro-influencers in the communities that you want to be a part of.
You find these people that are influencers there already and what are you doing? You're like commenting on their post? Do you reply to people that are commenting on their post? You're DM-ing? What kind of, I guess, ideally what kind of way do you want to work with them?
Yanal: Yeah, I think definitely either commenting on their photos and DM-ing them but doing in a way ... I think a lot of people do that, but they do it in a pretty selfish way where they're talking about what they want. I think it's just doing it in a way where you're actually taking the time to look at the photo they posted, trying to engage in something on their feed and trying to create a conversation. It's no like, cookie-cutter approach, I think you just have to, yeah. You have to look at ... let's just say somebody's posting photos about Toronto. You're starting a conversation by just saying, "Hey, this is great content. Love the photos that you're posting."
Yanal: Once you've kind of built that dialogue then it's, "This is what we do. We'd love to offer this." What's in it for the other person?
Felix: I got it, okay. Do you remember how much time you had to put in early on? Just to give people some context about how much work is required to start building a community from scratch on Instagram.
Yanal: Yeah I think it was honestly probably 75 to 80% of my job, to be honest with you. I was starting to do this and I was working full time. I was at SalesForce so yeah, I was doing sales and that, and I was kind of doing this on the side. It was pretty much I'd get home around maybe 6pm, do it 'til like, midnight or like 1am. You know, it's a numbers game. You're going to maybe message 20, 30 people. A couple people will be interested an that's where I think having a cause behind your brand really helps. When I was first starting out it was about making sure we were taking quality photographs and showcasing the product in a good light and again, talking about the cause.
Yanal: Once you connect to people that are motivated and love what you're talking about, usually they see what you're doing and they'll be more than happy to want to be involved. I think it's a combination of everything.
Felix: Okay so you're talking about like, five hours a day of your time basically on Instagram communicating with this community. How did you know that that was the right use of your time? What were you seeing that made you realize, "Okay this is what I should be spending my time on" rather than something else that could be involved in growing the business?
Yanal: Yeah, I think for me I did have the luxury of working full time that I didn't need it to generate revenue right away. For me, it was about making sure that we did it the right way and built a community but also, everything's positive reinforcement, you know? Try and message those people and then getting connected with somebody with a decent following who really liked the messaging and then shared the photo and then people ask where to find it and then purchases started coming through.
Yanal: When I had very little resources it just made a lot of sense. Then from there it was finding blogs or pages on Instagram that are about showcasing pride in Toronto and Canada and it's getting the product in their hand and then they post it and that increases the following and people are purchasing more and more and then it just, we started to create a snowball effect when I had very little resources.
Felix: Got it. Let's take it back even earlier than this. How did you know that this particular brand, this particular message, not so much about the cause but the message of representing your community of Toronto, how did you know that this was an underserved market that you could come in and dominate?
Yanal: Yeah, I just, once I saw that initial reaction and that initial interest ... I also think I was lucky in a sense starting at a time where Toronto and Canada as a whole were growing in the eyes of the world. You know you had stuff like the Raptors starting to be a more competitive, the Blue Jays were taking off at around that point. Obviously you had everything that was happening in music with Drake, the Weekend. There was this whole sense of Toronto pride and Canadian pride. There wasn't a lot of options. When I think of Canadian pride you have maybe one or two companies that did anything and it was a very nostalgic idea of what Canada is.
Yanal: You know, when you hear stuff like plaid shirts and like, what are all the stereotypes? Plaid shirts and, try to think of some stereotypes. Plaid shirts-
Felix: I'm not going to say anything.
Yanal: You know, saying sorry too much or poutine, that was the kind of idea about what Canada was and I didn't think it was a modern, multicultural representation of what there is in Toronto and Canada and there wasn't a lot of people doing it in a fashionable way. I thought just by seeing that market, there wasn't a lot of options just for myself, I definitely thought that there was a need there and it was something that developed over time. When I first came up with the idea of Peace Collective I didn't necessarily know it'd completely go in that direction. I knew I had the cause and the "why" behind it. It was just getting that positive reinforcement.
Felix: Okay so you also mentioned that you wanted to schedule time to create content for these influencers. Can you say more about this? What does it mean to create content for them?
Yanal: Yeah, so again finding pages, like for example, I'd spend a lot of work trying to find pages that are all about showing Toronto pride or Canadian pride and it was working with local photographers to go out there and create great content. What they're doing is they're always showcasing pictures of Canada and we're doing a service by providing that content that they were going to re-share anyways and there wasn't a lot of other things like that on the market.
Felix: I see, so you were looking for pages that were showcasing like, Toronto landmarks, or some kind of scenery and then you were getting a photographer and a model, I'm assuming, that's wearing your clothing to that place? So how do you take this in a way where it doesn't look too much like an advertisement?
Yanal: I think even with what we do right now, like for us, the shirt is an afterthought. Either the first thing is this amazing place in Canada and somebody's wearing a shirt or somebody's wearing a shirt and they're telling a cool story. We're not trying to say, "Hey, buy this shirt." It's like, "Hey, this is a story of somebody who's Canadian" or "Here's this cool picture and it kind of ties it all together with the cause." It's making sure that you're creating a reason for somebody to want to go to the website.
Felix: How personalized do you have to make this content? 'Cause I can assume that you're going out and getting a photographer, getting a model out there, if it's someone doing it for free even. It's still time-intensive and resource-intensive for someone to get out there and you only get one shot with one influencer. Do you try to kind of shop it around, I guess, to try to get someone to pick it up? I guess, how much effort do you need to put into customizing specifically from one profile? Or can a shoot work for multiple profiles?
Yanal: It can usually work for most things, I think. We weren't necessarily doing something for a specific page, it was just trying to create good content and then put it out.
Felix: Got it. How often were you doing this?
Yanal: When I started off that's pretty much, that was the complete strategy. That was the strategy until we got to a point where we could start doing other things.
Felix: All right so we talked about the hustle that you had to put into Instagram but I think what really blew you up was the kind of viral content. That was out of your control. But then also the ones you did have in your control. Let's talk about the second viral moment that was out of your control.
Yanal: Yeah, I can tell you the first like, really viral moment that kind of took us up a notch as a brand took place, I want to say, summer of 2015. Yeah, summer of 2015 in our first year. Again, it was the same strategy. Trying to associate ourselves with Canadians that are doing amazing things. I had an opportunity, you know, friend of a friend came up to me and said, "Hey it's Jose Bautista's birthday and he wants to gift one of your sweaters to the whole team." It was right before the Blue Jays went to the playoffs.
Yanal: I usually hear this stuff all the time and a lot of times you send out stuff and you get nothing back. You don't even hear anything back from that person. You're always looking for that one opportunity that can kind of change things. We made these packages for all the different players. We made handwritten notes, kind of gave it off to him and one day just opened up Instagram in the morning and Jose Bautista, who was the star of the Blue Jays back then, had posted on Instagram saying, "This is this brand Peace Collective." It was pretty much all the team wearing the sweater. "This is what they're about. This is a charitable cause. Go purchase the sweaters."
Yanal: That was probably the most high profile thing that we had gotten up until that point and you know, sales were climbing and it was crazy. We hadn't seen anything like that.
Felix: Which sweater was this?
Yanal: It was a "Home is Toronto" sweater. Sorry, "Toronto vs. Everybody" navy sweater. Later that day the Blue Jays played a game and I don't know how big of a sports fan you were, but it was the big moment where he hit a home run and he flipped the bat. The bat flip moment. Probably one of the most famous moments in Toronto sports. After he did that home run, walk off home run, won the game, at the end of the game the MLB were handing out shirts, you know? Said, "Congratulations, you've moved on to the next round." He put on our sweater instead and then he wore the sweater to the press conference.
Yanal: That night I think 'til this day that was probably maybe our third biggest sales day ever. That's what really raised our profile and we generated more revenue than we had ever had as a company in one night.
Felix: Yeah, I think you said here that you were maybe doing like, $10,000 a month before this and then within a month after that, or less than a month after that you did close to a half a million in sales.
Yanal: Correct, yeah.
Felix: You mentioned that all the time you get hit up by influences or people that know someone that knows someone and they're asking for products from you and a lot of times it ends up turning out to be nothing. Nothing comes out of it. What made you say "yes" sending away to this opportunity?
Yanal: Yeah, I'd love to say that I knew this was going to be the opportunity. That this was the one. I think a lot of the times you never know. For me, as a company our philosophy back then was to take as many opportunities as we can. That's why I mentioned earlier putting in the hours, messaging as many people as possible, finding as much of the community as we can because you never know when that one opportunity is going to come your way. That's one thing and the other thing is [inaudible] find a big influencer or somebody that gave you a shout out but it just might not work with the brand. The people following that influencer might not really care so it's making sure that you're not just messaging anybody but you're messaging somebody whose audience is going to connect with what you do as a company. I think at that moment it was the perfect person and just the right time so being able to capitalize off that.
Felix: Got it. That moment where you went from $10,000 per month to now on pace to do a half a million less than a month ... what was that like? I'm sure you guys looked at each other like, "What is going on?" What was that feeling like? Explain to us that time where you saw the sales going through the roof. What was that moment like?
Yanal: Yeah, it was amazing. Probably one of my fondest moments. Just it was a feeling of validation. That you work really hard, you have this hunch, you want to do something and a lot of times it feels like it's crazy and there are long nights and lots of work and you start to second guess yourself and maybe lose that faith. I think at that moment it was just good to soak it in. For us, it was just not necessarily just like, celebrating but just knowing, "Okay, we're really onto something here and this success is going to hopefully put us in a position to really figure out how to grow and continue." It's all about doing what you love. To continue doing what we love for the foreseeable future. We tried to make it kind of like a launch point. Let's capitalize on this but let's make sure we sit down and make a plan. How do we pivot this into something that's going to be sustainable longterm? Not just something that, "This was fun. It really worked out right here. We were able to generate a lot of sales" but then it just goes back to the way it was and you're not really capitalizing on that moment.
Felix: Yeah so just two follow up questions. The first one is how are you able to fulfill on this? All of a sudden a huge spike in orders. How did you have your system set up so that you were able to deliver the products?
Yanal: We didn't at all. Yeah, as great of a moment it was also a really tough moment because we were first like, really starting off and hadn't really understood just in general, how to use Shopify or the tools we were really on. It was really early as a company. There were some drawbacks, as well. There was a lot of reaching out to customers and most customers were understanding but making sure we were doing a lot of customer support and reaching out to customers and if there were any delays on our end like, learning really quickly how do we increase our production capability? It was kind of like everything was magnified times 100, you know?
Yanal: You have somebody doing customer support that's used to answering two emails a day and then in one night they get hundreds of emails. It was a really hard month of extremely long nights and trying to transform everything we do. It was a moment of growth so it allowed us to kind of understand what it took to do volumes like that and try to figure out, "Okay, how do we put the right systems in place?" There was a lot of hiccups along the way.
Felix: What was the supply chain back then? How were you producing the products and how did that change as you kind of encountered much, much larger volumes of sales?
Yanal: Yeah back then we were first starting off it was just looking for different blank providers locally that we were able to kind of leverage the inventory they had on hand and not take too much of a risk holding inventory. It was using a lot of local, we had a couple of local partners that were helping us source those blanks. As we've grown and now we understand what it takes. It's a lot of forecasting and we produce our own garments from start to finish and that volume that we did that month allowed us to invest in the product, which allowed us to grow moving forward.
Felix: Okay and the second thing is you mentioned that you wanted to take this opportunity as a launchpad. You didn't just want to be a spike in the sales and all of a sudden back to the original baseline. You wanted to extend this borrowed exposure. How did you do that? What were you guys doing to make sure that this was a new beginning rather than just a blip?
Yanal: Yeah I think for us in that moment we learned a lot about who our customer base was. You know, prior to that moment, again, the brand is all about showcasing your pride in being Canadian and Toronto and we realized that idea of showing pride really resonates with sports fans, which is kind of like a no-brainer right now but at the moment we weren't even necessarily thinking of it like that. It kind of allowed us to see like, for now, our pillars today are our country, city and team, and self. So you're showing pride in yourself and your favorite team and your city and your country. That was really birthed then.
Yanal: At that moment we were doing so much sales all related to the Blue Jays, that was a perfect opportunity for us to reach out to the MLB and pivot that opportunity into getting a license with the MLB. From there we were able to start producing licensed apparel and we kind of found our niche in the market by providing fashion forward fan apparel that is perfect not only to wear to the game but when you're lounging around or you're going out with friends. A versatile line of sports licensed apparel that there wasn't really a market. That viral moment allowed us to pivot and get an MLB license, allowed us to open a whole new revenue stream that we didn't have previous.
Felix: Amazing. Basically a chance to improve the product, get this kind of exclusive licensing that not everyone can have access to, obviously improves the brand. What about on the customer side? How were you able to ... 'cause now you have a huge influx of new customers. How were you able to make sure that the customer services and like, turn it into basically repeat buyers?
Yanal: Obviously if that viral moment were to happen now we have the whole infrastructure setup but it was a learning lesson for us. We figured out what's the best customer service solution to put in place? What communicates the best with Shopify. In that moment, moving on to a new system for customer service it was making sure we had everything connected to our email client so all these purchases are turning into emails that we can leverage moving forward. We're leveraging this and our social following is growing on Instagram, on Twitter. We're able to now market to a bigger audience of people.
Yanal: I think sales aside, it's the amount of data we collected on what our customers like but also the amount of emails and Instagram followers and the community we were able to build further.
Felix: You saw in the data that the sports fans were the biggest and most rabid fans of your products because you looked at the data. Was there anything in the data that you saw, that you guys saw, that surprised you? That you guys had no idea that was true?
Yanal: Yeah, I think a big thing we learned around that time is that I want to say about 65% of our customers were women. I think for us we really understood that a part of what we were able to service is that female fans did not have a lot of options when it came to wearing apparel to a game. A lot of this industry in the sports world is obviously very heavily marketed towards males so there was a big gap in the market with providing quality fan apparel to the female consumer.
Yanal: Once we learned that and once we learned that sports licensing was going to be a huge opportunity for us it was about putting the two together and trying to find and create audiences to find more of that customer.
Felix: Got it, so a lot of female fan apparel demand was what you saw in the data. That influenced the products that you're designing. What about when it comes to marketing and branding? How did that knowledge that the demographics were possibly different than what you expected, how did that change the way that you spoke about the brand or the marketing behind it?
Yanal: To be honest that's one thing that hasn't really changed. For us it's always been the same since day one. It's the same now. It's something that I think gives us an edge. We have our cause and our "why" in what we're doing and we've always kind of stuck to it. What we've learned a lot more, because we didn't start off with the greatest knowledge of our product, it's something we developed along the way so I think we've been able to grow in our understanding of how to use the analytics. I think the idea behind the marketing has been the same since day one and we've just been getting better at it.
Felix: Got it. Is this still an active strategy that you pursue today? Even before you were working with influencers but they were just kind of like, general pages for the most part but now you've got a representation of your products with like, celebrity level influencers. Is this still an active strategy that you use today?
Yanal: No. Today, well now that we've been able to kind of build a solid base and a solid community, for us now it's just continuing to grow that community. We actually prefer to use, on like a day to day basis, more of what you consider micro-influencers just because I think Instagram today, Instagram, social media and the influencer world today is very saturated. There's a lot of huge companies in it. For us, the first thing we do is always "why are we aligning ourselves with this person? What have they done? What is their story? What are they bringing back?" Less about looking at somebody's follower count.
Felix: Got it, okay. So when you talk about micro-influencers what you're looking to identify is that people are creating content that aligns with your brand that are involved in the communities in a way that aligns with your brand's values. Are you looking to just kind of feature their stories or are you looking to partner with them because they have some followers?
Yanal: It's a combination of both but for us we put a premium on the content they producing, like how good is the content that they're producing? How is it going to look? How does the actual quality of the content look? Then two, does their story resonate with us? Then three, do they have an influence in the community?
Felix: What do you look there to see if they have an influence in the community?
Yanal: It's whether they, maybe they do have a lot of followers. Maybe they're a local entrepreneur, maybe they're a business owner. Something that may translate beyond just social media following. I think it's just a combination of several factors.
Felix: Got it. So this licensing process you went through was certainly a pivot and gave you access to a brand new line of products that set you up in a different direction. What was it that allowed you to get these licensing deals? When you first kind of scheduled these meetings with I guess the leagues, what was the conversation like?
Yanal: Yeah the conversation with the MLB was easy, with the Blue Jays was easy, because they saw that their customers were purchasing our product and at the end of the day they wanted to align themselves with a brand that had a deep connection with their customers. Because we are a very unique brand as well, whereas most brands are trying to be international, trying to sell to every corner, but our customer base, our email list, our social following is 90% Canadian. A lot of the times the Canadian market is really underserved, you know? With the MLB there's only one Canadian team so they're always looking for better ways to service their Canadian customers.
Yanal: We did a great job with that, I think, and we really developed some amazing products so that caused the NBA to come to us, 'cause again, there's only one Canadian team and a lot of times the Raptors are not being given the attention that they typically are because they are a Canadian team. That allowed us to build a relationship with the NBA and now with the NBA we do licensing for all teams in the league and it also allowed us to turn into a partnership with Hockey Canada.
Felix: Awesome. Okay so let's talk about the viral campaign that you had actual control over, that you purposely launched, which was the MAGA "Make America Great Again" hat. You talked about how the kind of content that you created with the stories of basically ... I guess why don't you explain how you guys went from the MAGA hat to the product that you ended up creating.
Yanal: Yeah, I think that campaign is a perfect illustration of not necessarily looking for a big influencer and trying to just connect yourself with a big influencer. It was something we developed with an agency we worked with and you know, it was really about how do we really get in touch with what's going on right now in pop culture and what's going on just in general in North America right now? How do we align it to Canadian value? Obviously it's a controversial topic 'cause it might have lost us certain types of customers but again, it goes back to sticking to what we believe in and aligning ourselves with the values that we believe in and choose to take a stand. Like I said before, taking a MAGA hat, which is something that is obviously such a negative symbol of hate and trying to change it into a positive symbol of hope. It was about doing the groundwork and finding people with amazing stories to share and making sure that we could pull it off. Then how do we get this video in the hands of people that can help spread the word?
Felix: Right so obviously a great idea and I can see the viral potential in it but I'm assuming that you also had to have support pieces in place so that it has kind of like, the on-ramp towards viral success. What pieces did you have to put in place that you feel like helped this piece of content take off?
Yanal: Yeah, for sure. Once we had the content, once we had the product placed the next step was to try to get it out to as many outlets as possible. On the media side sending it to every Canadian, whether it's a blog, whether it's a media TV channel, news channel, just sending out the press kit about the video. Putting it out on social media, out on YouTube and trying to connect with ... we just started Tweeting at different celebrities and different people all across Canada and the US that we thought the messaging might resonate with. It was kind of a snowball effect. It was started off organically, the reach it had on social was insane. It was viewed by thousands and thousands of people just in the first day organically.
Yanal: We were able to, once we saw it was working, put a little bit of ad budget behind it. We got picked up in a lot of the local newspapers, TV, we were able to get a spot on breakfast television in Toronto, we were able to get on different radio stations and it kind of slowly started to swell up and then we were featured on some large US online-based Facebook groups and it kind of just took a life of its own. It kept getting picked up by different Facebook groups across the US and Canada and different online websites until it really snowballed into almost a million views.
Felix: Awesome. Are there any apps or tools or services that you use either on Shopify or outside of Shopify that you use to help run the business?
Yanal: Yeah, so definitely obviously Shopify number one. For email we use Klaviyo, which is really amazing. It connects with Shopify great. For analytics, we use a tool that's probably one of my favorite tools that integrates with Shopify. It's called Glew. G-L-E-W. Which gives you really good analytics on your customers, your products. Those are the big three that we use. We're rolling our Loyalty Lion, so that's another big one. Shopify, we use Shopify POS in store.
Felix: What do you think will be the biggest challenge that you will face or the team will face this year?
Yanal: Our biggest challenge right now as a company is figuring out how do we scale nationwide.
Felix: Awesome, okay. Thank you so much, Yanal. Peace Collective is the company, the brand, the store. Peace-Collective.com. Again, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your experience.
Yanal: Thank you very much for having me. It was a lot of fun.