The guest of the show today is a multi-talented woman who has overcome many life challenging obstacles in her life of which one of them is a near-death obstacle. She has not only survived but also thrived in her careers. She is a fashion designer, product development Strategist, wellness Enthusiast, and a former professional athlete.
So let’s welcome Sydney, we are excited to have you and learn about your story.
Yes, absolutely. Thank you so much for inviting me to join you this afternoon Manuj. It’s so interesting, the entrepreneurial journey that we all have, and the passions that we chase through our life. And I really was excited to have the opportunity to share some of my highlights and the challenges that I faced along the way and still been able to accomplish many of my dreams.
That’s awesome. That’s exactly what we’re all about here on this podcast. So let’s dive in. And let’s get to know you. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your story? How you got started? And what are some of the challenges you face along the way?
Yes, well, I was born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. And I was a young athlete. So I was an elite athlete from the age of six as a competitive figure skater. And I really loved it. Honestly, Manuj, I thought that skating and I still do. I still think that being on the ice is more natural than walking.
Well, that’s awesome. Yeah. I mean, I saw snow for the first time when I was 22 years of age. I actually live in Vancouver as well. So that’s great. It’s a great city. And I grew up in India, obviously, in India, we never had snow or ice or anything like that. And I learned skating, it was quite thrilling. Actually, you know, I was hard to learn at that age. But I did learn it. And I do enjoy it. So I know what you mean. And to your point, it’s wonderful that you found your passion. Because you know, once you find exactly what you love, it’s very easy to devote yourself and you know, bring the best out of yourself, isn’t it?
Yes, I didn’t mind getting up at 430 in the morning, everything was a little bit like a military operation. Even though I was a child. We had 15 minutes to get up and to wash up have 15 minutes for my breakfast, 15 minutes to make sure that I had my skates and someone was going to be picking me up. So you know, we not only had to skate, and do everything but as most of the kids, we were challenged by our parents to make sure that we kept up our grades. So then we went to school, then someone would pick us up at the end of the day. And we would go back to the rink. So it was really a passion of mine, I thought that I was going to escape until the end of time because it was where I was happiest. And when I was training for one of the major competitions, I was on North Shore winter clubs and they had put too many kids at the same time. And I had a very bad skating accident, one of the other skaters smashed into me and almost severed my leg.
Wow. Yeah. So that’s what I was going to talk about. So walk us through that journey. You know, if it’s not too painful, I know. These are hard memories. But whatever you can share, please do let us know like how, how it happened? How did you get through that a challenge?
Well, that’s a great question. And I would like to share that because when you are so set on ‘this is the only thing I’m going to do.’ This is the thing that I love the most. And this is what my life is going to be. And when you feel that it’s taken away from you, there’s quite a bit of a healing process that has to happen. And I was lucky. My doctor was a sports medicine doctor. He went to the government and put together a team of doctors from the US and the first micro nerve surgery on my leg. And in Canada, they made teaching tapes for the rest of the universities. And I was given the ability to have my leg back because there was a very, very good chance they would have had to amputate it. And during the long process of healing, which was about a year and a half, learning how to walk again, I went back to school, and I went back to school for fashion because as a young skater because I was very much in the Karen Magnussen and Tyler Cranston era, we were very expressive. We had programs where we not only were athletic, but we wanted to, as sort of performers wanted to express was it happy? Was it sad was it whatever? I also designed all of my own costumes. So it was a natural ability to be able to take that and you know, you tell an overactive 18-year-old to sit there and do nothing. Yeah. So I took all of my energy, and I put it into my fashion career. And because I was lucky, my skating coach had really taught us not how to be a competitive figure skater, but really taught us life lessons on how to accomplish things. So I was able to take my discipline, my manner of learning and apply it back to fashion. Really what made the big difference in being able to jumpstart my career in fashion? I didn’t have to start back at the beginning, I didn’t have to go back as if I was six years old. Again, I was able to start from where I was and to springboard forward into what became a really fabulous fashion career for over 30 years.
Nice. That’s a very inspirational story. Now, here, I would love to get into your mindset and, and see how an 18-year-old girl sort of you know, who went through this trauma can keep a positive mindset and sort of continue to go. And not only that but also look at, you know, an inventory of skills that you gathered over time. And then, you know, said to yourself that, hey, I need to move on with my life and utilize these skills. So how did you go through that period? And you know, talk yourself through this hard time?
Well, I think there are a couple of things. First of all, what many athletes have to deal with is to in terms of mindset, being dedicated, knowing that it doesn’t matter how many times you fall, it matters how many times you get up. I remember challenging one of my skating coaches one day because I was frustrated. And I said, ‘how many times do I have to do that to get it done?’ And it kind of looked at me a little bit like I was a crazy person and said, well, until you do it. And it wasn’t about how many times you fell. It was just that you do it. So I then went and skated, you know, did another turn and, I landed my double Axel. And he was like, so there you go. So I think that having the disciplines behind me learning how to organize myself, be disciplined how to apply myself really helped me. It wasn’t about learning how to skate or how to be a fashion designer. It was about I already knew how to work.
Yeah, that’s very well said. And what about those fears? Like, you know, you said that you had a fear that maybe you know, the doctors would have had to amputate your leg? Did that cross your mind? Did that affect your psyche?
Absolutely. I mean, I had great friends. I mean, my skater friends would say, Hey, come on, we’re going to go out dancing and would go, you know, pick me up. And even though I couldn’t always, I always could walk but because my right leg was very weak, or shall we say, I couldn’t depend on it. Because there was nerve damage. So if I hit a pebble, I would be flat on my behind I would be I would fall down. And they would just pick me up and you know, where we did a nightclub and dancing. And if I was wobbly, they just pick me up. And so you just learn along the way. And I realized that as a new fashion designer that even though I had to go to events, or what have you. And I had learned to walk again. It was really about applying my creativity. And I did have a passion. I kind of fell in love with fashion all over again. I was really, I feel really blessed that I was able to transfer and apply all of my youthful energy from skating into fashion.
That’s amazing. All right. And then after your recovery, did you ever think about going back to skating?
I did. Um, I was actually hoping that after my skating accident, that I was going to go back to not only get back on the ice but to compete again. And because my leg wasn’t coming back as fast as I wanted it to because when there is nerve damage, what most people do may or may not know is that the skin of the nerve is called the myelin sheath. And when there’s damage, it grows back at a millimeter a day. So that meant it had to grow back from the top of my thigh all the way to the bottom of my foot. We already knew it was going to be at least a year and a half. Before we would know if the operation was a success. And during that time, because I was in my head, I’m going back to the ice, right. I was training and working out and doing everything I could and making sure that I was well-nourished. And one of the young skaters all my other friends, I don’t think they had the courage to say anything to me. And one young skater his name was Dennis Coy. He said to me ‘Cyd’, he said, ‘you’re just going to have to he’s you’re never going to compete again.’ And he’s only one and maybe because he was young and precocious. He’s only one who could say that true to my face. I was angry at him because I wasn’t ready to let it go. But it was the thing that made me realize, okay, now it’s time to move on. So he really gave me a gift when he said that to me.
Yeah, we all sometimes the bad news or better words. You know, they don’t really learn that well at the moment. But you know, later in the in your life, you realize they are somehow doing a favor for you. So, you know, I’ve had similar experiences in my life.
Well, and I think that you know, sometimes life or God or source of the universe or, you know, whatever your word is for it, really has a bigger plan in mind. And sometimes, when tragedy or challenges happen. I think that, you know, let’s say when, as they say, when it rains, and maybe there are clouds, maybe there’s a silver lining. Sometimes leaning into it shows you what the gift is. Sometimes it takes time for the gifts to show its face or to become evident, you know, and maybe it needed. It may be thank goodness that my recovery time was at least a year and a half for me to process it, to heal myself, to be able to have the courage to look for the gift.
Yeah, yeah. And one thing you pointed out with resonated with me very well is like, you know, sometimes things don’t work out. Because, you know, eventually there’s a bigger plan out there for you. Because I realized, you know, when I lose opportunities, I used to get upset. And then slowly, I realized, ‘Hey, you know, if I did not lose that opportunity, I wouldn’t have looked for the bigger opportunity that came along. Right after that.’
Exactly. There’s been some really interesting, how can I sit? Learnings and I’ve learned to take a step back when things happen instead of being reactive. Yes. Just said sometimes I think oh, okay, what where’s the gift? Like? or Why? Why? How to turn a disappointment into allowing for maybe something bigger that is supposed to, because Can you imagine I was in skating, as I said, down, you know, it’s a different type of world. I did it for 12 years, though it was I was going to do it till you know, the end of my life. And then that spawned a fashion career, a very successful one, of 36 years.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. So, you had a goal for representing Canada, I know in the Olympics, right. So, yes, yeah. Tell us about that.
Well, when I was actually when I was 13, the Japanese government came and approached my family. And because they didn’t have any strong female skaters, at the time, I happened to be Chinese origin, but they were looking for like an Asian face on female, a strong female Asian skater. So they offered me dual citizenship to skate for Japan, with one of our Japanese skaters. And actually, they wanted to train me for the Olympics. So you know, also, can you imagine my poor parents, you know, they were happy because the government was offering to pay for everything and give me the dual citizenship, etc. They didn’t give me the choice to say yes or no, all by myself. But skating even today, even more, today is quite expensive, you know. So my parents were probably thinking, ‘oh, goodness, we don’t have to pay for this anymore.’ You know, and I didn’t refuse because I didn’t want to go to the Olympics but because I felt that I was, would that my talents were better expressed as a single skater, not as a pair or dance partner. And I was supposed to go with international in my 18th year, not only did this they think I was going to win the championship. For the Canadian championship that year, I was supposed to go international, etc, etc.
And then you turn into fashion, and then not only that you started your own business. So tell us a little bit about that journey. Did you have any early challenges or whether they’re fairly smooth sailing from there onwards?
Not at all, um, I actually, I won awards in New York. So I was able to come home with those accolades. Dad had said ‘Okay, so now what do you do?’ I said, Well, I guess I’ll start my own collection. And, you know, he, he gave me some, a little bit of money wasn’t very much, but give me some money to start my first collection. And we decided to convert my family basement into a studio. So we painted it, and I helped them build sub-floors, and put rocking, and it was a time when they had both people. So we did the work with the government to employ some people and to help me with the sewing. So in a tiny little studio. I put the collection together. I ended up selling all over the country, to Holt Renfrew to the bait Eton’s and it was really fabulous. I had a big runway shows. And then I was a bit discouraged about doing starting in culture. And there was more because the garments are expensive, beautiful, fabulous, and fun to do. But when only the upper echelon can wear them or can afford them. I wanted to reach out to more ladies, I wanted there to be what I call an everyday fabulous. And that was really why I segued into working with some of the bigger manufacturers, I wanted to learn how do you make something at a good price and make 10,000 of them, there has to be a system. So not only had I sort of honed my skills as a designer, I wanted to know how to work with a manufacturing facility like that. And then I started working for bigger and bigger companies. And you know, then QVC came calling and I started designing and selling my own fashions and selling them all over the world through a TV shopping channel, which was really super fun, because it’s very interactive, you know, the ladies get on the phone with you like ‘Hi Cydney, Can I talk to you?’ and you know, you get to describe how your garments are and dress the models and, it’s a lot of fun. So that was really how I went, you know, sort of my pathway in fashion.
Cool. You know, that’s an amazing story. You know, I achieved a lot of success. So congratulations on that. But let’s go back a little bit. And then do you if you remember, how did you get your first few clients? How did you make your first few sales? Because that is always as tough as when you’re starting off and trying to make a name for yourself?
Yes, well, I had designed a small collection. It might have been 20 pieces or something like that. And some of the gals at the Vancouver had helped me, you know, figure out how to do what they call the pricing sheets, etc. And then I thought, you know what, I’m just going to go and call up all of the stores that I think my products look appropriate in and make an appointment. And that’s what I did. I put, you know, my clothing, you know, in the car, had a little purchase order book and jumped in my car and went to see Holt Renfrew. I went to see there was a store called where else on Fourth Avenue, it might still exist, it’s owned by Tom and Molly, my read this carried my things. And I stood in front of those buyers, and I showed them, you know, product in the back warehouse. And, they loved it. So they bought it. So I think that you know, being you know, being right in the trenches, hearing back having someone tell you to their face, they like it, they love it, they hate it. Too expensive, not too expensive, or this is what I want. And then delivering on your promises is really important. It’s really important, not just to have fabulous ideas, but to validate them. And that was really my, you know, in today, today’s business, I would say, what’s your POC? What’s your proof of concept? My proof of concept, as a young person opening up a new company, see if people who liked my fashion were to make the collection, go out there and stand in front of the buyer and say, Do you like it? Do you want it? Do you want to buy it? And they did?
Awesome. That’s great advice. Yeah, I mean, we also emphasize, you know, not only for your industry but for you know, I focus on software and idea. And I always tell any founders and anybody working on a project, make sure you get your ideas validated and prototype them and don’t spend too much time or resources until somebody says ‘yes, no, this is exactly what I want.’ And more importantly, ‘I’ll pay for this product, right?’ Because a lot of people, they say, ‘Yeah, I like it, but I don’t want to pay for it.’
Yes, yes. And I find that because I also work as a consultant for helping you know, my product development. Strategy work is really helping people you work on the IT side I work on, as physical products, is it fashion jewelry, you know, because people fall in love with their ideas. And we shouldn’t fall in love with ideas. But you know, where I caution people sometimes is, you know, don’t fall in love with your idea run off and spend a ton of money getting it patented. Before you validate your idea.
Yeah, for sure. Alright, so let’s talk about that aspect of your career as well. How did you turn towards wellness enthusiasm and product development strategy?
I think Manuj that I use near-death experiences as my segway to change careers. So from my beginning, I kind of like I wasn’t going to quit. So life made a change for me, went into fashion with my near-death experience. And then I had this fabulous career in fashion. And I really wasn’t going to give it up either. And when I was 54, because I am a tender 60 now.
I know but I have vitamins for that. Right? So what happened was, as a business owner, I had many contracts around the world to do my TV shopping channel presentation that you are required to show up live for the presentations. And what happened was I got sick 54 I caught nothing more exciting than mono. And it crashed my immune system. So I was as flat. My, I was I was like I was imprisoned in the hospital for two months. And the result of it because I had such a bad inflammation in my body that I lost almost all of my hair. Well, when that happened, and I’m thinking I’m getting better. And I’m you know why I did actually opened QVC Italia from my hospital bed because they wouldn’t allow me to delay the launch. So I had to make arrangements with the hospitals to call in, you know, because it wouldn’t allow me to use my mobile, they wanted me to use a landline. So it was really, you know, a little bit crazy, right? So when I needed to go back to start traveling, and my hair was falling out. I didn’t want to take more meds, you know, I just felt that I’d been too beaten up by unnatural chemical products. Even though I suppose it saved my life, I wanted to heal naturally. And so my natural path felt sorry for me. And he created the formula, which became my hero item in my vitamins and supplement, which is called fabulous Hair, Skin and Nails. And that’s why, you know, at the tender age of 60, actually, in August, I’m going to be 61 while I have beautiful skin, beautiful nails and beautiful hair for a lady of my age. And I thought, you know when he made that product and I realized, wow, if it’s really working that well for me, I need to share this with the world. But the world of ingestible is very different than fashions. And there’s a lot more responsibility. There are product liabilities, there’s health site licenses and all of that. So, you know, I’ve only launched it about three years ago. So I sell in about 10 different countries around the world. I’ve learned how I should interact non-track things you can say things you can’t say. So it’s really a passion project for me. And then I thought I was just going to do that. And, and then you know, go off into the wild blue yonder. But then people kept coming back to me because I wound down my fashion company. They said Sydney, can you help me with my fashion collection? Sydney, can you help me with jewelry? Oh, I have a business idea for this. And so I have kind of a long career or along, I guess, CV on things I’ve done or whatever. So I said, Okay, I’m just gonna build a website for telling people what I do. And this is what I’ll how I can possibly help them. And that’s how I became like a business and product development coach for people who have great ideas, but maybe don’t know where to start maybe having had the experience of how to cost something, what kind of factories had to a factory spec, logistics, what to land, a duty pay, you know, all of those things that make people’s brains go too much. So it’s been really fascinating how I can share my knowledge with people and hopefully, help them build a business that is sustainable, that is sensible, help them not make big mistakes or waste time to get them to an understanding of what a bank is going to look for help them to come to an understanding of what if they go to a retailer, what kind of presentation is necessary. I mean, I’m working with Cirque du Soleil. I did huge projects with them many years ago. And so you know, there are some licensing things that I can help some of my clients with. I’m in discussion with some of the TV shopping channels. So it’s really a nice synergy of information and experience that I can share with people who have really great ideas, but really don’t know how to make even their first sample maybe.
Yeah, that’s so true. Like, a lot of people have a lot of ambition, but I completely agree with you, you know, if they try to do they do it on their own, it may take them longer, with lot more mistakes, a lot more investment. And if they hire somebody like you who have gone through this, you know the chances of success are exponentially higher, right?
Yes, it’s very funny, because even though I’m super creative, I’m very practical. And that’s what one of my clients was telling me this afternoon. He says, oh, you’re all about deliverables. And you do this week, and not next week. And then we do this, and this is the schedule, and we have to stay on. And, you know, I mean, Manuj, if you and I went for coffee, we probably hear someone at the next couple of table saying, ‘Oh, I have an idea for this. And you know, I’ve been thinking about or my kid had a backpack and it needs to be improved.’ You know, there are tons of people really great ideas, which are kind of like the next Q-tip or the next toilet paper and things that really shouldn’t come to life, but they just don’t know where to go, because it’s something that they talk to their girlfriends or friends about at coffee shops, right?
For sure. And then I really find that a lot of people sort of, you know, talk about these ideas, but they don’t really take action. And one aspect of that could be, you know, lack of resources. But I think a big aspect is the lack of knowledge and experience. So you know, helping those people out to get it to get their ideas out there is not only serving the people who came up with the idea but humanity at large, because you know, now people can actually enjoy and use these products and improve their lives.
Well, and I think that you know, this is my opinion, but I think that we all come here on earth with divine gifts, we come here with specific talents or things we’re supposed to do. So I think it’s kind of, I guess it’s personal for me, I don’t want to go stand up. And I don’t want to go to the pearly gates and say, you know what, I came with my gifts, and I didn’t develop them. Yeah, so I see fit in, in service. If I can help people bring their ideas to life and really live their divine purpose, then that’s part of my legacy.
Awesome, that’s great. And so over the years, you know, you work with so many of your own products and helping others. What are some of the common traits that you have found which projects success off a product in the future?
Oh, goodness, what projects the success of a project in the future? Goodness? Well, you know, when I’m first working with a client, I always try to figure out is what started the idea? I believe that it’s not just about features and benefits, it’s about what was that inspirational moment? And what was the aha moment that the ideas from like for me with my hair product was like, you know, ‘oh, my goodness, it’s natural. It’s healthy. For me, it’s growing my hair back. And it works.’ That was where that sort of springboard for me to develop Cydney Mar wellness. Someone else came to me with an idea. And he was like, Well, you know, I was in University, and in one of my tech classes, and I was looking at how all, you know, how you look down the theater seats, and all the, all the computers, and he was watching all of his, I guess students, not his students, but his student body shopping online. And so we have an epiphany about how to make the shopping experience easier, better, faster, how to improve it. And so I always want to know, first, where did the idea come from? And then because that story links back, it’s kind of like part of the thread. And that makes sense. Do you know what I mean?
Yeah, for sure. Yeah. The backstory is as important as anything because I think that’s what connects you to your prospects, clients in the future because they can see themselves and your story, is that right?
Yes, absolutely. And I think that this is what when people are out there in the world, and they’re experiencing, or they’re seeing that something that they created, for instance, I have someone else who’s creating teas. And for her, the whole ritual of tea isn’t just about the tea, even though she’s very studied, you know, she knows about what she calls the agony of the tea, where, you know, the tea is, you know, and when the water is at a particular temperature, and this kind of belief unfolds, she talks about how it’s, it’s really aspirational, and the experience someone can have. So from that idea, she wants to develop retreats around the experience of actually the ritual of tea.
Awesome. That’s great. Alright. Well, thank you so much for being with us today, and sharing all your knowledge and wisdom and, most importantly, your story. Now before I let you go, is there anything that you may want to add that I haven’t asked that you want to share with the audience today?
Oh, my goodness. Um, first of all, I think that if someone wants to be an entrepreneur, and I’m going to share a short personal story, because I talked a lot of different people who want to be entrepreneurs and we’re talking about bootstrapping, and one of my potential new clients and I were talking about, you know, the fact that she wants to leave corporate, wants to leave corporate has a great idea and is thinking about, you know, the launch and all of that. And when I looked at her time, you know, how many months it would take for her to launch the product? How many months she would have to carry her family home, you know, like, she has a husband, but you know, what, how much do they have to pay. And as your wonderful podcast here is called bootstrapping, there was really a point of bootstrapping. And I said, Okay, how much are you spending a month? And, and she knew the number, but then she couldn’t tell me how much she was netting. Couldn’t tell me. And then she was very reactive. So like, well, I don’t want to eat Rayman. I said, Well, people who are eating, you know, like, the package noodles are actually people who were, you know, at, like, say, 1500, they’re hardly keeping a roof over their head. Do you know? Like, that’s a big stretch from the $17,000. You’re already spending a month. Yeah. So the talking about bootstrapping, for all of the beautiful entrepreneurs out there who have these great ideas that they want to bring, I think is the first look at their personal budgets, and what they can do to put it into a healthy, manageable budget, because like, for instance, I did to VC and I used to, I’m going to say spoil myself with $50 mascara, guess what the truth is, I can find a $10 mascara, and I’m not shortchanging myself, I just put the attention to it. So bootstrapping, and being an entrepreneur means you have to tighten up your belt in a healthy way that you’re comfortable with. Like, for instance, I go to my gym and all of that. But there are things that you can live with and things that you don’t. So that you can survive all of the entrepreneurial months that you are going to have to carry if you’re going to bring your dreams to life in a way that is healthy for your family and your loved ones.
For sure. Yeah, I mean, that’s so true. Like, many entrepreneurs are not just about executing what you know, but you also have to pick up a lot of skills, like you just mentioned, you need to be good with numbers you need to be, you know, good with marketing. I mean, you don’t have to do all these things, but you at least need to pay attention to them and make sure that if you’re hiring somebody or if you’re working with somebody else, they are doing a good job.
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.
Alright, great. Well, thank you so much. Now, before I let you go, can you tell us how people can reach out to you and you know, maybe consult with you and hire you for your services?
Yes, absolutely. Well, as we met on LinkedIn, I am on LinkedIn under my name, which is Cydney Mar. And I can also be found on Facebook, I have my Sydney Mar wellness and Cydney Mar design pages, so easy to find me. And my two websites are exactly the same Cydneymarwellness.com and Cydneymark.com. And the reason it’s funny. The reason why I left them all under my name is that QVC spent so much time and money on investing in the SEO under my name, it was just, there was no way for me to hide my fashion, background. Everything comes up. And I would be delighted to see people if they want to improve their health to reach out to me if they have a product idea that they’d like to talk to me about. I do offer a complimentary discovery call to help them look at the feasibility and whether or not they’re making something that can possibly be validated and make them a wonderful business idea that can be developed. So I do encourage people to take peek and see if I can be a service.
That’s awesome. Thank you so much. Thanks a lot again, for sharing your story and being with us today.
Thank you. It’s been a pleasure. Thank you so much.
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