Entrepreneurial Spotlight Women Who Lead

CEO of Encircled, Kristi Soomer, on Her Journey to Launching a Million-Dollar Business

In this weekly series, we profile entrepreneurs approaching the top of their game, and ask them how they got there. Kristi Soomer, the CEO and founder of Encircled, an ethical clothing line, dreamed of working at a Fortune 500 company but along the way, she realized what she really wanted to do.  

As most university students are before they graduate, wide-eyed and ready to take on the world, Kristi Soomer was not that different.

After graduating from Western University with a degree in finance and economics, Soomer was excited to take on the world but also confused about what she wanted to do with her career in the long run. She looked around for a stable gig that would be challenging and fulfilling, eventually landed at the head office of a top lingerie retailer in Canada managing their in-store incentives and wage cost. But, after multiple firms cut their hiring budgets, she left the lingerie company and soon landed in brand management at Colgate-Palmolive. 

Soomer was working there for three years. She later learned about consulting and what the job consists of and decided to pursuit a career in it. She needed a MBA to pursue consulting and went onto earning hers at Queen’s University. She was fortunate that one of her mentors from her first job recruited her into the top retail consulting firm in Canada in 2011.

The pay was good, the work was challenging, the people were passionate, but Soomer was exhausted. She admits she didn’t like it very much.

“Living out of a suitcase, working every single weekend, and constantly being evaluated on your utilization felt stressful,” said Soomer.

So, she decided to take a different direction. After a spontaneous trip to Costa Rica, Soomer decided on a risky business venture that has now been the fuel to her fire. It took Soomer six month to launch Encircled and two years to leave her full-time job to pursue the business permanently.

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Now, as the full-time CEO of Encircled, with 12 employees working out of a lofty space in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, Soomer’s tracking on five years of high growth as an online-only ethical clothing brand.

Balancing a successful business full-time can be difficult and trying to manage a work-life balance can seem impossible. Soomer says she likes to look at it like surfing—probably because she’s a surfer.

“Sometimes the ocean ebbs, sometimes it flows. There are times where you need to be full-on at work, and there’s time when you can take your foot off the gas and relax,” she said. “It’s not always equal on a week-to-week basis, but ideally at the end of the year it’s good to feel like you’ve achieved a healthy connection with your friends and family, while pursuing your dream.”

Soomer admits she was scared to leave her secure job that paid well for a business venture she had little to no experience in. The risk, however, was worth it. 

The company now is a 7-figure business.

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“I started Encircled with $20k in my savings, and I’m proud of where it is today,” said Soomer. “For the first two years, I ran Encircled part-time on weekends, and that hurt our initial traction. It was a tough decision to leave my full-time job—one that I do not regret. I do think if I’d left sooner, it would’ve worked out just as well, if not better.”

The definition of success has changed over the years for Soomer as each of her adventures has led her down a new path. She admits that she once dreamed of being an executive at a Fortune 500 company.

Now, she says she can see the alternate path.

“Earlier in my career, I was very motivated by climbing the corporate ‘ladder’ and making a bigger salary,” she said. “It wasn’t until I was at the height of my career that I realized money did not equal happiness. It was only then I realized that aligning my values, and my work with my life’s purpose is what truly matters.”