Nova Scotia·OWNING IT

This Halifax clothing company is wearing its values on its sleeve

In our new series Owning It, we check in with entrepreneurs across Nova Scotia. Anna Gilkerson and Zac Barkhouse own Ana + Zac in Halifax.

Anna Gilkerson and Zac Barkhouse own Ana + Zac, a clothing brand and Halifax shop

Through our Owning It series, we're checking in with entrepreneurs across Nova Scotia. (Cody Turner)

What's it like to be an entrepreneur in Nova Scotia right now? We sent the same list of questions to a number of different businesses. In our series Owning It, we're sharing their emailed thoughts on everything from morning routines and core values, to backup plans. Series developed with Amy Grace and Claire Fraser for CBC. 

Business: Ana + Zac. Located at 2576 Agricola St., Halifax. "Quality pima cotton loungewear, T-shirts and underwear ethically and sustainably made in Peru." The company carries other brands, too.
Owned by: Anna Gilkerson and Zac Barkhouse (real-life partners, owners, designers).
The why: "Inspired by our habit of sharing clothing and living a sustainable lifestyle, we started our clothing brand in May 2019. We opened our store in the summer of 2020."

Q: What's one thing that really helped you start up this business?

A: Understanding our customer and in turn them understanding us. Consumers are more mindful now than ever and the market always dictates what it wants. Our customers care what products they buy and what brands they support, whether it's locally, sustainably and ethically made. We had a strong local business we knew could grow because of demand. We already had a foundation in place on a smaller scale and with that we expanded our business because we knew that what we were doing was working.

What are your core values?

Our business is not just built off of profits and growth. We measure success in other ways too. It's important to us that we leave the smallest footprint and uplift others along the way. 

The ethical treatment of our team is important to us, all the way from the farmers in Peru to our employees here in Halifax. Transparency is key and we have built our entire supply chain to be as short as possible, which makes it easier to trace our movements for both ourselves and our customers. We think about fashion in a slow and holistic way; we acknowledge trends but we move in our own direction, at our own pace. We make things that we both love, can wear every day and that will last a long time.

Inclusivity is an important factor in what we design as we are considering different genders, bodies and ages — not just one ideal. We are all different but we are all the same in the sense that we are all want to feel good about ourselves inside and out.

How has your business plan transformed during COVID? 

Our pre-COVID plan was to build our new store in Halifax and grow our DTC (direct to consumer) online business. An online store can be just as much work as a regular storefront. It's intricate and detailed and requires constant maintenance and quality customer service. Before COVID we had the luxury of moving at our own pace.

During the first lockdown, we closed our storefront and were essentially forced to grow that side of the business at an incredible speed. We didn't sleep a lot in those first months but we learned a lot and our online business has grown exponentially. It didn't hurt that Canadians were forced to shop online in need of comfort wear. Our storefront is back open but our online store has remained as a significant revenue stream. It makes up just about half of our business now.

How will you know when your business is sustainable?

It is now. We are able to stay true to our values while compensating ourselves and our team and we are paying back our debt. We have healthy customer acquisition and return rates. We are constantly learning and applying that knowledge as we grow, which helps us keep adapting for the future.

What is one thing you try to do each morning to start your day?

Stretch our bodies, drink a healthy smoothie and not immediately delve into social media. It's not always easy but we know it's important for us to maintain an "in the now" headspace. It helps slow things down.

What's one thing you try to do every night?

Before we eat supper with our family we each say something we are grateful for.

What local business do you look up to?

Biscuit General Store owner Wendy Friedman has been in this business for a long time (25 years this year to be exact). She has supported local and Canadian brands, started her own and has managed to stay true to her style and business model. She is consistent and yet constantly pivoting in these times. Her hard work and dedication is inspiring.

What's the best piece of financial advice you've ever received?

Two important pieces:

  • Spend wisely and don't accrue much debt.
  • Do what you love and it won't feel like a job.
Anna Gilkerson and Zac Barkhouse started Ana + Zac in 2019. (Cody Turner)

If your journey as an entrepreneur was a road, what would it look like?

A narrow path through many different ecosystems with rivers to cross, bears to outsmart, wooded plateaus in which to rest, an eagle to spy on a craggy look-off with an ocean crashing below.

What's your backup plan?

If we had to we COULD go live with our parents. But no, no back up plan. We are all in.

At the end of the day, what are you most proud of?

Being a contributing member of our community and the greater world.