A 'silver lining' for entrepreneur
Sitting on her father's lap during his company's board meetings, eight-year-old Christina Marcano knew she wanted to follow in his footsteps.
From that age on, she knew her future lay in the business world.
"My dad was an entrepreneur, so he instilled an interest in business in me that had a pretty lasting impression," said Marcano, a former Semiahmoo Peninsula resident. "He's really been a mentor in my life."
A little more than 20 years later, Marcano successfully achieved her goal of breaking into the business world as the owner of Silver Icing clothing, a lifestyle apparel brand, operating an online store and wholesale business. The creation of the company, which specializes in "luxury, eco-friendly dressy-casual clothing" and includes a high-end performance line, has been a positive ending to a rocky journey for the mother of one.
In 2004, Marcano – now 31 – combined her love of business and fashion to create Skylar Clothing with her sister-in-law.
The company broke into the market at a time when demand for retail was high and the company quickly grew, obtaining a large warehouse and three stores, including one in Southpoint Mall.
However, having such a large overhead proved to be the company's downfall when the recession hit a few years later.
"We didn't respond quickly enough to the changes," Marcano said. "We had sales but we didn't have the means to manufacture the clothing, so we fell behind."
Looking for a way out of their financial woes, Marcano and her team applied to be on CBC's entrepreneurial reality show, Dragons' Den in November 2010, aiming to broker a deal of $200,000 for a 25 per cent share of the company.
While Marcano was one of the lucky few to have her segment air, it was by no means a pleasant experience, she said.
Marcano, then eight months pregnant, was verbally ripped to shreds by business-guru Kevin O'Leary, who referred to her as a "drug addict" for being addicted to a failing company even though "it is killing her," and a "murderer" for pouring more than $700,000 of her family's money into the business with no profits in five years.
"Going into the show, I knew Kevin would be giving me a hard time, as I had watched other segments, but I didn't realize how quickly he would get into it," Marcano said about the heated episode. "The producers had to actually stop taping and tell him to let me pitch because he wouldn't let me speak.
"The one thing I was proud of was that even though I was eight months pregnant, I didn't cry," she said, laughing.
After being turned away by all of the Dragons, Marcano went home to rethink her direction.
Weeks later, while at her cousin's wedding in St. Paul, Alta., she said she found inspiration in the small community.
"I hadn't been in a small town in a long time, and I felt really connected with a portion of the Canadian market that I hadn't seen in a while," she said. "I woke up at 6 a.m. that night and the whole thing had come to me."
After crunching numbers, she found that in its current state, the only way Skylar would make a profit would be if the company raised prices 30 per cent, which Marcano was not willing to do.
"We had been using a local company for our manufacturing and that was our biggest problem. It was so expensive and the quality was not there," she said.
Fortunately, one positive aspect of being on Dragons' Den was the thousands of viewers who saw her product, including an experienced manufacturer who contacted Marcano about investing in the business.
"He does a lot of manufacturing work overseas and has years of experience, so the quality is there, and since he's directly invested in the company we get the best prices and the best quality," she said.
Everything was falling into place for Marcano, but there was still something holding her back, she said.
"I just had this feeling that Skylar was not the best brand to go forward with," Marcano said. "I had to think about what consumers wanted, and if the answer to that was Skylar."
In October 2011, Marcano decided to start from scratch with a new company called Silver Icing.
"Silver Icing is our silver lining and the icing on the cake," she explained.
With the new name and clean slate, Marcano implemented the company's office in the three-bedroom basement of her Clayton Heights home, cutting down on overhead costs.
"It is a great environment and the team loves it here, so I don't see that changing any time soon," she said.
Marcano is now focusing on the future, namely Icewick – a fabric developed by Silver Icing that "wicks" away sweat, allowing it to evaporate without leaving marks.
"It's more comfortable, it's breathable and it dries faster," Marcano said. "It's a really good performance fabric."
The company has already captured the attention of some big players in the fashion business, and although Marcano can't reveal all the negotiations, she can say it will include tapping into the international market.
It has been a long journey for the entrepreneur, but one thing she can maintain is that she kept her promise to viewers as she left the Dragons' Den.
After her verbal lashing, Marcano looked at the camera and assured the public they have not seen the last of her.
"We'll be successful with this," she said.