Here at Cottage Life, we realize how hard the COVID-19 pandemic has hit local businesses. To do our part, we’ll be highlighting the stories of different businesses in cottage country. This week, we spoke with Meg Clements who runs The Cottage Collection out of Whitestone, Ont.
What is The Cottage Collection?
It’s kind of evolved over time, but I’m making custom cottage items. It started out by making clothing for lakes that aren’t always recognized—the smaller lakes that don’t have custom items made for them. I was hoping to reach those people because everyone loves their lake and wants to show pride in their community. People are proud of where their cottages are. But for a lot of smaller lakes, they aren’t always represented. So, I started making clothes and mugs with their names on them.
How did the business get started?
At Christmas time, Ellen DeGeneres does her 12 days of giveaways where every day for 12 days she gives away incredible prizes. My best friend, Kristen, was on an episode and the present was a Cricut, which is a maker’s tool to cut vinyl, leather, and thicker materials. It’s almost like a printer. And as it turns out, my friend gave it to me as a Christmas present. She said, “You’ll use it better than I can, and if I ever need anything, you’ll make it better than I can.”
I had no idea how to use it. I’m a grade 4 teacher. I had no background in crafting. But I decided to figure it out, and I do have a background in art.
My dad had asked me to make him a mug, and I put it off a million times. But when COVID hit, I had all the time in the world. He wanted me to make a cool logo for the mug, and his idea of cool and my idea are very different, so I started doing designs and sending them to him. He told me he liked one of them, so I went out to buy a mug—actually I bought 10 mugs because I’m clumsy and if I broke one, I’d have nine left over.
My dad was really impressed with the mug, but I’d put our lake’s logo on all of them, so I had a few left over. I went on our lake’s Facebook group, Lake Whitestone, and I offered them to people on the lake. I had 67 responses. And people were asking for anywhere between two mugs to a dozen.
I started making mugs by hand. And when I couldn’t keep up with demand, I started working with a supplier, but I still design them. Then my dad asked if I could make the same logo for a shirt. Mugs are really hard to make and I was having trouble keeping up with demand, so I started making clothes for people instead. And then the same thing happened. Everyone wanted one.
This all started last March, so in about a year and two months, I’ve sold almost 2,000 mugs and the amount of clothing has been insane.
What inspired the name?
I toyed with the name for a really long time. I think that’s why I never thought about going online until I had so many external requests. I didn’t even have an Instagram page. But what led me to the word “collection” is that it’s a collection of people, a collection of memories, a collection of photos, a collection of items. The idea of a collection portrays a sense of belonging, which I wanted to represent, or have something that alluded to unity and unifying.
“Cottage” is obvious. I was toying with a bunch of other words, like dock, but with ‘cottage’ it’s an alliteration, and I’m a teacher, so it’s a bit nerdy. The Cottage Collection had a nice ring to it.
What’s your most popular product?
It’s usually the pullover hoodie or the crewneck. I’ll get messages about the hoodies with people saying they’ll be living out of them at the cottage, or that it is perfect for the boat. For people who just jumped in the lake, it’s an easy throw-on right over top of everything.
I have a couple of family groups that have purchased them with their family name on the hoodies so that they match.
How do you choose which lakes to feature?
It’s demand. Just recently, I had a girl message me from Fox Lake, Ont. A lot of these lakes I’ve never heard of before. She messaged me saying she loves that I’ll make clothing for any lake. Then she told me she was in Dorset and she usually is only able to find clothes for Lake of Bays or the bigger lakes. She said she sent my Instagram to her family members and they were really excited to order something for Fox Lake.
I’ve made items for 57 lakes now. I’ve even had customers contact me from just outside of Calgary. Your guess is as good as mine how it’s gotten around because I have no idea where some of these lakes are. I’m getting a full geography lesson.
How has the pandemic affected your business?
Some of my students are really having a hard time through the pandemic, so I’m not blind to how tough it’s been on people. It’s been a challenge socially, emotionally, and financially for people. I’m so shocked that things have really taken off—I’m shipping items to Alberta!
I actually think the lockdown has almost benefited The Cottage Collection because a lot of people have moved up to their cottages. I have a lot of customers who would usually have gone to Florida for the winter, but instead they’ve moved up to their cottage and they’re looking for comfort items and cottage gear they can wear at the lake.
The impact it’s had on me is that my deliveries are sometimes slower. And for the people who want to pick up at our cottage, I’m having a hard time getting their products there as fast as I would have liked. We’re usually there every long weekend and all the weekends that we can be, but because of lockdown, it’s been hard because we’re trying to respect the community and the neighbours by not coming up from the city all the time.
What does the future look like for The Cottage Collection?
My biggest thing is to always be able to give back. My mom and dad instilled in us that it’s always better to give. So, for every sale I’ve made, I donate a portion of it back to one of the local cottage communities. It’s a small way of saying thanks and being appreciative of everything that they’ve given us.
My first donation will be to the City of Whitestone, and we’re going to send it to the nursing station. Their nursing station needs some work, so that’s where the first one’s going, but I’m hoping our next one will be able to support different initiatives. Definitely some environmentalist ones because I think we have a long way to go with that. Being a grade four teacher, I read my students The Lorax, and seeing their faces after that broke my heart into a million pieces. So, I will definitely be donating back to environmental causes.
Otherwise, I just want to continue being kind to our environment. I think I’m one of the only people in Ontario lucky enough to have the packaging that I do because it’s 100 per cent biodegradable. And everything in my packages can be reused. I’m more than happy to pay a little extra to support the environment.
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