Sophie has an ease and a spark to her. Regardless of the chaos that is Frank + Oak’s bustling retail location, we sat down in a manic, overstimulated coffee shop front to their location on Queen Street West, Toronto. She speaks with a charming Francophone lilt, commonplace for her Chicoutimi upbringing. Sophie’s been a long time public relations force in the lifestyle space – from her work at Aldo brand to Frank + Oak’s wild expansion. She has all the makings of a communications pro, compacted into a demeanor that’s full of laughter and light.
You’re in a very sexy industry, I would love to hear about your more humble beginnings and how you figured out what you loved?
I’m from Chicoutimi, which is a super small town, five hours driving north of Montreal. It’s cold there, -10 degrees more than what you feel in Montreal, which explains how far it is. It’s very Francophone. Most people end up working in education or nursing, not a lot of space for working in a creative field like in major cities. To me, it was really important when I was going to school, that I would put myself in another environment. In today’s world, there’s no barrier in between countries, if I wanted to work in a communication world, I had to get better at speaking English.
I really had to learn language myself. I moved to Montreal 10 years ago, and worked downtown. Tons of tourists, so you have to switch languages quickly. After I got my bachelor degree, I moved to Vancouver because there was no other way for me to pick up English faster. Speaking is different from reading and watching tv. For six months I managed an Aldo store on Robson – what a challenge it was. It was fun, to me there was a big clash sometimes because when I wanted for my point to come through, I tried to do it in a very educative way. Sometimes people felt I was rude. At times, when I was trying to be firm, people would find me too sweet.
I worked on events, PR show rooms, and working in the head office on PR. I still make mistakes when I’m speaking English, but it doesn’t matter to me because as long as my point comes across, it’s a job where your personality is really important. I guess it balanced out.
There are so many ties with being an international person – if you go to a foreign person from going to Vancouver to Africa. How do you show your personality if you don’t speak any of the language?
I don’t feel I have the same personality in English as I do in French. I can’t be as funny or as natural. I feel in French I can be really agile, but in English I don’t have the same vocabulary. I think I improve every day through practice which is great. But I feel it some days when I’m more tired, it requires more energy for sure. 95% of the time now I work in written English.
You’ve experienced a lot of growth in two iconic brands, I’m curious as to how you chased your opportunities?
Every opportunity comes from a certain willingness you have. I’m very lucky – I never had to do any interviews to get a job. I guess you make your way where you want to go. To me, it’s always about doing the best you can, at whatever job you’re doing. If you’re serving coffee, serve the best coffee with a smile. People want to see you succeed and they help you grow.
“Every opportunity comes from a certain willingness you have.”
To me, I started selling shoes, and would win sales contests that made me meet with PR people. Each job became a bigger job, and we had done a collaboration with Frank + Oak. They approached me…and I guess you create your own path with whatever you want to be. It’s a lot about generosity of yourself. Try to do good things. If you’re doing anything you can to make things happen, something will happen.
“It’s a lot about generosity of yourself. Try to do good things. If you’re doing anything you can to make things happen, something will happen.”
It’s a personal thing but it’s about my involvement in the companies that I work for. I’m super proud to work for a Montreal based brand that is international now. I feel like I was part of the success, because they gave me a chance to do it.
It’s about self growth in what you’re doing. You don’t need to own something to be an entrepreneur, I feel like I’m an entrepreneur in my life. You design your own path when you’re being generous.
How do you feel you’ve seen growth in being borderless when it comes to the communications field?
I’m learning a lot about growth when I listen to Ethan, our co-founder speak. It’s about not really having plans, y’know? Everyone always asks about what’s coming up for us in 5-10 years…when you don’t make too many plans in advance, you allow yourself to get surrounded by spontaneity. Often, that leads to bigger opportunities. That was always the way I saw my life. It’s not about needing to where I’m going, it’s about daily actions that leads you towards a bigger thing. I think that’s a mentality that’s really present at Frank + Oak.
“…when you don’t make too many plans in advance, you allow yourself to get surrounded by spontaneity. Often, that leads to bigger opportunities. That was always the way I saw my life.”
We’re always doing bigger than what we were, really. The business has such an inspiring vision, about an industry and about what they’re trying to achieve. It’s not a written business plan. It’s more about doing whatever we need to do, to grow bigger.
Mobile back when I started was less important than it is today. Before, Frank + Oak was just online, but now there’s a physical experience we are thoughtful about. How do we do things differently as a brand vs. everyone else? It’s about being super focused about what you’re trying to do for your customer.
How does growth look like in your own life?
I never had a big plan, I would do interesting things but it’s not about having X by X date. There’s so many things that can happen, and that doesn’t mean that not having these things is negative. I think personal experience makes me feel that way – my father passed away when I was 15. It really shifted how I saw the future being designed for me. You can never expect things to be the same.
It’s cheesy to say but I really think about the daily experience. You’re the only person that you can control, so I try to do the best I can for me and see where it goes. It’s always about how you react that changes something in your future, and that’s way more important than having a plan.
“You’re the only person that you can control, so I try to do the best I can for me and see where it goes.”
I’m meeting you as you’re coming off a plane. How has mobility changed in your life when it comes to commuting by air? More people these days have flexible work.
It’s genius! I remember when I first started to travel for work, it was about putting everything on hold until you returned to your own city. As of now, the only thing that is changing is that you’re not physically there. You’re fully available. It’s about always being connected. To me, it’s awesome because you can make things happen from anywhere.
For Frank + Oak it means so much because you’re working with people all around the world. You adjust your schedule through time zones. I don’t feel like I’m really away from the office ever. It’s easy.
Any essentials when you’re traveling on an ongoing basis?
I’m trying to be as light as possible. Never check bags in. I’m lucky enough to have a NEXUS pass which makes it quick to cross the border down south. It’s about having a lot of pockets too, so you don’t have to keep putting things back in your bag. Drink lots of water. Have a backpack that you can carry to business meetings. Try to bring clothes that match together. You’d be surprised at how these little things make a huge difference.
Find Sophie Desbiens on Instagram