By Angie Wiseman
Erin Kleinberg’s resume reads like the glossy pages of a fashion magazine: glitz, glamour and ingenuity. Yet, her success as a designer, publisher and advertising executive is the pinnacle of her hard work, tenacity and a little inspiration from her grandmother.
“My favourite thing to do is take something from nothing and make it cool, build brands and tell stories.”
It’s something Kleinberg, BA’06, has been doing since her early days at university.
“When I was at Western, I ran a fashion show. Through that, I gained confidence to be a leader. I was running the show, taking minutes and sending out emails. Essentially, I was a 20-year-old learning how to run a business and help raise $20,000 for charity. All of it helped me understand what I wanted to do,” she said.
Around that time, Kleinberg visited her grandmother – a woman with an “obsession with fashion.” During the visit, her grandmother pulled out a collection of vintage scarves. In them, Kleinberg saw opportunity – make the scarves into shirts and showcase them at the fashion show. The scarves were a hit with other students and the orders poured in.
Erin Kleinberg Inc. was born.
“Western prepared me for everything I could have asked for in life. It taught me so many lessons. It taught me what capitalism meant and what consumerism was and how to see the world through a critical lens,” she said.
After a chance run-in between Kleinberg and Mischa Barton, The O.C. actress was photographed in one of Kleinberg’s shirts. That photograph convinced a pair of large Toronto retailers to pick up the line.
“I found myself in Holt Renfrew and they said, ‘What’s the lead time on these tops?’ I said, ‘I don’t know what lead time is.’ It was all naiveté and I didn’t care. I was fearless. When you are that age, you aren’t scared of anything,” she said.
Kleinberg used the money she made selling her line to Holt Renfrew to move to New York for an internship at W Magazine with fashion director Alex White.
“She (White) taught me everything I know about how to handle chaos and how to get everything done. On Day Two of my internship, I was dropping off underwear (for a photo shoot) to George Clooney. I got to go on all the ad campaigns, including ones for Celine, Oscar De La Renta and French Connection and really see how a vision comes together from start to finish in advertising,” she said.
After not being able to obtain a work visa to accept her dream job at Chanel, Kleinberg moved back to Toronto to revisit the clothing line she put on pause.
“I got great experience and went home and tried to get a job in fashion. But the pool in Toronto isn’t that big and that’s partly why I’ve had to create my own jobs. I thought, ‘OK, I can’t get my own job. I know how to make clothes. Maybe I should do that again.”
Although Kleinberg has no formal fashion design training, she has a knack for seeing gaps in the market. This time it was embellished T-shirts. With her sights set high, she went directly to Barney’s New York and convinced them they needed to buy the shirts. To her surprise, they agreed.
“Once again, I was fearless. They purchased the collection and I was in complete shock. It was the highlight of my life,” she said.
From there, she sold to Intermix, Neiman Marcus, Lane Crawford and Harvey Nicolls. From 14 accounts, she grew the business to 80 worldwide.
Around the same time, the Facebook movie, Social Network, had just been released and Kleinberg felt inspired to brainstorm some new ideas with a friend at brunch. “I was thinking we should start a website because there’s no overhead,” she laughed.
That website turned out to be the highly successful Coveteur, an online fashion magazine.
“We loved street-style fashion – when people take photos outside of the shows and you can see what the editors are putting together in a cool way. We felt like it had become infiltrated where anyone could get that photo. So, why don’t we go into these tastemakers’ homes and show not only what they had on that day, but also show them in their environment,” she said.
“It was a crazy idea and it was for fun. We got a bunch of people together and went to New York and we did it and the content was really compelling. It was right time, right place and nothing like that existed at the time.”
Kleinberg was able to get the support of Vogue and Elle simultaneously in advance of launching the site as well as style.com and vogue.com. “We had no idea how forward-thinking it really was,” she said.
Kleinberg and her partners photographed closets in high-profile people’s homes and told the stories of their individual style. Once they got some traction, they reached out to Chanel and partnered with them on a number of projects. They had the support of their favourite brand, and Chanel became their first advertiser.
“Chanel flew us to Paris and we interviewed Karl Lagerfeld and toured Coco’s apartment. We had never been to Paris before so it was an absolute crazy story,” she said.
With an eye on expanding the website, Kleinberg and her team hired Janet Bannister, HBA’92, as their CEO and started to look for investors.
“We were on our way. We were in over 500 of the most epic individuals’ houses and it was an experience, but I missed my clothing my line. It was the right time to move on,” she said.
Kleinberg went on to work with big names such as actors Lena Dunham and Jared Leto on her clothing line but started to see another gap in the market. This time, she wanted to bring all of her experience together into an advertising agency. Along with partner Stacie Brockman, Métier Creative was established.
“I’ve tapped into the very popular movement of ‘girl boss’ and feel grateful to have all these women around me – women who are fundraising and building businesses and being moms and doing everything that they can,” she continued.
“Being an entrepreneur, you always feel like there is more you can be doing, there’s never really a time where you feel like you are done.”
This article appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Western University’s Alumni Gazette. Reprinted with permission.