This is the story of Sarah Savoy, taken from our ongoing interviews and real-life stories of the creatives in our community. Sarah is the owner of the indie lifestyle boutique Much & Little, and an avid supporter of small businesses.
It was an afternoon of in-betweens. Summer had ebbed, but autumn’s chill had yet to set in. Despite being sunny, the midday breeze had lost most of its warmth. It gingerly plucked leaves from the trees, flaunting its stern reminder that Raincouver is just around the corner.
I had scheduled a meeting with Sarah Savoy of shop Much & Little to showcase my new Prose Collection. This was a new line of loungewear designs, crafted with unfamiliar knit fabrics. With the entire collection packed into one garment bag, I hauled it over my shoulder and shuffled as elegantly as I could towards my destination.
Much & Little’s pristine storefront gleamed in the sun. It also reflected the vibrant weekday traffic of Main Street. I strolled down the neighbourhood, where small pockets of spirited, masked shoppers were out and about in spite of the pandemic. In fact, Much & Little sits on the main artery of Vancouver’s hippest community, pumping and circulating Sarah’s authentic sense of style into our cityscape.
And that’s the charm of this neighbourhood. Here, big box stores were nonexistent. Instead, mom-and-pop shops, antique emporiums, coffee roasters, artisan pizzas and breweries filled the streets, shaping and cultivating Vancouver’s identity.
Small business owners like Sarah are like the prime cells in our communities. They function as both habitants and providers that help nourish local neighbourhoods.
I walked up to the store and caught a glimpse of Sarah’s petite figure behind a mannequin in her display. Engrossed in her work, she stepped up onto the ledge and smoothed out the folds of a brightly patterned dress. The earthy colours she chose showed that a new season is truly upon us.
As her fingers trailed down to straighten out the skirt, she noticed my presence and her expression lit up. Her light brown eyes held a firm gaze, but also exuded humour and warmth.
Sarah always had a knack for putting people at ease. Whenever she talked about new products from a beloved indie brand, those caramel eyes would dance with passion.
I was grateful that Sarah was the first retailer to review my new collection. Being a one-woman-band at Vestige, every decision was made alone. Without the luxury of consulting second opinions or receiving positive affirmation, it felt lonely at times. Furthermore, for a tiny self-funded brand, every new design spelt cost and uncertainties.
I hung up my pieces and examined Sarah’s shop. Coined as a ‘toy store for adults’, Much & Little is truly a wondrous repository of beautifully crafted everyday objects. From soy candles to veggie brushes to comical greeting cards and chunky sweaters, racks of exquisite goodies lined its bright, white walls. Curation of such a wide product variety required both cautious buying decisions and strong business acumen.
Running a brick and mortar was no easy feat, especially in this day and age of our slowing economy.
“What is the hardest part of running a shop?” I asked Sarah.
“The hardest part is probably the constant multitasking and wearing of many hats. There are so many roles to take on as a small business owner that it can get overwhelming at times.”
Sarah’s response felt as though she had read the thoughts I had earlier. I nodded in agreement.
She continued, “In a larger organization there would be entire departments dedicated to each responsibility, but as a small business, you do it all: human resources, customer service and relations, social media, customs brokerage, buying and sourcing, accounts payable, special events, merchandising, general troubleshooting, lease negotiations, tech support… it feels endless sometimes.”
“Of course, I have very capable staff that I could not survive without, and I delegate much to them, but there are certain things that only the owner of a small business can attend to and have final say with.”
Thinking back, Sarah was one of few retailers to give Vestige a chance when I first founded the brand. Her feedback had always been honest and open. Sarah was undoubtedly clever and business-savvy, but what set her apart was her genuine appreciation for smaller brands. It was evident that she cared for quality over fads and popularity.
“How do you find the motivation to wake up every morning to open up the shop?”
“I wouldn’t necessarily say my schedule is disciplined, but somehow I get it all done,” Sarah answered with a grin.
“I do a lot of my work in the mornings before going to the shop. Often my staff open the shop first. I start answering emails around 8:00 in the morning, but it’s often a jumbled situation combined with breakfast, walking the dog, doing a bit of exercise, getting my teenager organized… so my morning routine is often very ad hoc.”
“When I’m at the shop I can be pulled in many directions and can get easily distracted from my administrative responsibilities, so I often prefer to get the ‘boring’ admin stuff done at home, and then I can focus on other things at the shop. I enjoy being there, I like the physical environment, but I also really enjoy the people I work with, so I don’t feel like I have to consciously motivate myself to go there.”
In spite of Covid, there was a constant flow of visitors that afternoon. Many customers displayed a sense of familiarity with the shop and its staff. All shoppers were respectful of the social distancing rules Sarah enforced. One passerby even stopped to give Sarah a friendly wave from outside the window.
“Why do you support small brands and locally made products?”
“Supporting locally made goods and local businesses makes senses simply because it puts more money back into the local economy!”
“The carbon footprint is much smaller,” Sarah explained, “and we’re also more apt to support other local businesses because we have the mindset to support local as well. Local businesses also care more because we are personally invested in our neighborhoods and local non-profits; as opposed to faceless corporations that don’t know anything about the communities they are situated in.”
Sarah tried on my Prose pieces between greeting customers. The luxurious French Terry fabric draped beautifully from her small frame as she shifted from the clothing racks to the cashier till. Sarah commented on the comfort of the textiles and the subtle elegance of the new designs. Satisfaction swelled from within as she examined each piece with genuine excitement.
Sarah tries on our new Prose pieces.
“What is the most rewarding aspect of running a small shop?”
“I love the relationships I’ve developed with people over the years. The friendships with customers, suppliers, designers and other entrepreneurs and shop owners has been really rewarding."
“I also feel really proud of building this business from scratch and having a really supportive customer following,” she added.
Again, I nodded, smiling on the inside. Despite the loneliness of entrepreneurship, one was never truly “alone” in a small business. As Sarah had demonstrated, we were all a part of the community we helped shape. The women I have collaborated with over the years, the retailers that helped promote Vestige, the local tailors who sewed up my garments, and the customers who cherished my slow fashion were all a part of my venture.
Small businesses may be challenging to run in our world’s overwhelming global market, but don’t throw in the towel just yet! Like the support Sarah showed for her local community, like-minded individuals can come together to make a difference in the fast retail industry. So take a look at your own neighbourhood first — your Sarah may be closer to home than you think.
Note: For further reading on Sarah and her support for small businesses, we will publish a Part 2 to this interview to highlight her thoughts on supporting local.