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Meet the Inspiring Founder and CEO of Neophyte

Anna J. Stainsby, the Founder and CEO of Neophyte—a bright and refreshing company offering products designed and made in Toronto—is shifting her business focus to maintain growth during these difficult times. With the launch of a whole new selection of pieces, from homeware to reclaimed garments, we caught up with Stainsby to get an inside look at Neophyte and their latest collaborations.

How would you explain Neophyte to a first-time shopper?

“Essentially, it’s the eclectic general store of my dreams. Neophyte started as a hair accessories brand and has since grown to sell fashion and fine jewellery, vintage pieces, up-cycled clothing, accessories, and homeware. The categories may be distinct but they all share a similar aesthetic and meet our customers’ different needs as they change. The breadth of our products and price range allows us to offer both accessible and aspirational pieces.”

“I’ve always felt some freedom when deciding on the store’s name, so owning my neophyte status felt like a great way to avoid being boxed in, allowing for novelty and change. All that to say, the TLDR is: Neophyte is a constantly evolving creative project and a one-stop-shop for all things cool and unique.”

What made you decide on extending Neophyte by featuring other brands and products?

“One of my favourite things about being a business owner is the connection aspect of it. I feel really lucky to have a platform that has allowed me to connect with so many interesting customers, creatives, and other small business owners.”

“When the pandemic started, things shifted almost overnight. No one wanted jewellery — no one was going out or had disposable income to waste on non-essentials. But after a couple months at home I started noticing that people were suddenly obsessed with homeware. It made sense, what with being confined to our homes 24/7. I saw an opportunity not only to cater to the needs of my customers who were asking for cool, curated homeware, but also to support small businesses who were struggling the most by stocking them on their site and providing them with another buyer and a new audience.”

“Creating our “Finds” category felt like a natural extension of the Neophyte aesthetic. Our site is more than just a vessel to shop our designs – it’s also a place to be inspired. That first came in the form of Q&As with creative women, and then in a shoppable model to discover and support inspiring brands.”

How did you decide which brands you wanted to feature?

“Besides aesthetics, I wanted to curate brands that were difficult for my customers to access — some of them didn’t have Canadian stockists before us and that made it exciting for everyone. It was also important for me to look for unique products whose brands share some of our values – sustainability, the preservation and elevation of artisans, female-run small businesses, etc.”

“We started small with only three brands and have been slowly onboarding more while rotating others out to make space for new faces and push the limited edition aspect. I’m currently incorporating more BIPOC-owned businesses to the shop. Our goal is to surpass the 15% pledge that Aurora James introduced this summer to stock more Black-run brands.”

Can you speak a bit about the new pieces you’ve started creating, such as the coveted collars, and joining the beauty world with nail polishes?

“My friend Madeleine and I had been talking about making collars for a while but somehow didn’t get around to it until we were in lockdown. It was a selfish idea initially—I was getting frustrated with the collar shirts that I owned because they looked bulky under sweaters and I always had to bunch them into my jeans. I wanted something that would essentially be the Dickies of collars and thought that a few other people might, too.”

“Our customers loved them from the get-go — we haven’t been able to keep them in stock since they first dropped. They’re all handmade to order with up-cycled fabrics, so they’re a feel-good fashion piece on top of being super unique. Because we know the terrible impact that the fashion industry has on our environment, sustainability was a non-negotiable when venturing into that category.”

“Expanding into beauty was another one of those selfishly-motivated moves. As the founder and walking display of Neophyte, I like to have fun nails to showcase my work on. I wanted specific shades and a specific nontoxic formula that I wasn’t finding elsewhere so I teamed up with Pietra, a really cool and creative start-up, to bring my vision to life. It’s also something that customers have been asking for since we launched our jewelry, as they were seeing a lot more of my colourful, childlike manicures while I showed off our rings. Just the other day I got a DM thanking me for creating Taro Milk because she crushed an interview while wearing it. Now I know there’s nothing in the formula that’ll help you nail a job interview but I do know that it can help you feel more elevated or like a bolder version of yourself.”

“It makes me really happy to know that our ethos (that encourages people to try new things and put themselves out there) is being spread with beauty — an industry that has historically been exclusive and has told women that they are not enough as they are. Beauty should be about fun and confidence.”

Can you tell us a bit more about the inspiring ‘Forever Ring’ and the organizations you have been donating to?

“In the wake of the George Floyd murder, I was seeing all these brands supposedly standing with the Black Lives Matter movement but I wasn’t seeing a promise to commit to the Black community beyond that moment. Donations are great but how much can one lump sum with no promise to make an internal change make?”

“I wanted to pledge our support to the fight against historic and systemic oppression for the rest of our brand’s lifetime by creating a product whose profits could go to organizations fighting racial injustice. The hope is to keep the conversation going, keep the petitions going, keep the donations going.”

“So far we have donated to Reclaim the Block, the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, the Black Business & Professional Association, the Black Artist Fund, and this month will be donating to Jacob Blake’s GoFundMe.”

What can we look forward to next from Neophyte?

“We have a couple collaborations in the pipeline and more brands to introduce to our “Finds” edit that I’m really excited about. I’m also creating a very small holiday collection. No matter where Neophyte goes, jewellery will always be a part of it — it’s the heart of the brand and the reason I started it in the first place. Other than that, it’s continuing to nurture each category so we can strengthen each branch of the brand as we grow.”