By Kristi Alexandra
Less than two years ago, it wasn’t a sure thing that Jessica Brown was going to be recreating and breathing new life into beautiful antique furniture for a living.
Contrary to how it all turned out — given that the entrepreneurial upcycler has become something of a social media maven with her company Leroy Brown Furnishings — she wasn’t even convinced that this was her calling. But passions have a way of revealing themselves.
“I don’t talk about this a lot,” Brown reveals at a New Westminster coffee shop overlooking the Fraser River, “I was working in an office and I got let go. I was working there for two years. I was definitely unhappy there but I did think I was going to work there forever, and then it was a big surprise that I got let go.”
Through her twenties, Brown switched gears from being a barista to hairdresser to office worker and toyed with the idea of starting up a business alongside her sister and mother. Then, after losing her steady-paying office job, Brown had the opportunity to take the Self-Employment Program through Douglas College.
“This opportunity came up; you had to have a business idea to take the course and I wrote, ‘Well, maybe I’ll paint furniture,’ and it was a definite maybe,” she says.
“It’s weird how it happened because I wasn’t actually sure if it was something that was viable, or if I was going to love going to a garage to paint furniture everyday. But I do.”
From unemployment to building a thriving re-purposed furniture brand with more than 5,000 followers on Instagram in just under two years, Brown’s trajectory is a testament that your part-time passions just may be your calling.
“[Refinishing furniture] was something that I always did with my mom. We were always into DIY stuff and painting things, and we were always looking at Pinterest and [websites] like that. I kind of toyed with the idea of painting furniture and upcycling things,” she says.
Now, among makers and antique hunters, Leroy Brown Furnishings is practically a household name. Known by her matte mineral paint jobs with a minimalist aesthetic, you can easily spot a Leroy Brown piece at artisan’s markets, at Willow & Wallflower in Port Moody, and online. Or you can commission her for custom work.
With all-new recognition comes more self-reflection, and now Brown is a woman who knows what she does — or doesn’t — want.
“Everyday I’ll get a message on Facebook from someone – maybe someone I haven’t talked to in five years – and they’ll be like, ‘I have this dresser, do you want it?’ Sometimes it’s like, ‘This is junk, this isn’t me, this isn’t what I want to paint.’ I’m now being more particular about what I want to do.”
In the beginning, Brown scoured Craigslist for free furniture to recreate. These days, she’s finding sturdy antique pieces with the potential to become lifetime investments. Her prices don’t come cheap, and she doesn’t work for free.
“If I’m working on a real, vintage piece and it’s sold and it’s amazing and it’s going to be around for another 100 years, then this person is investing in it – they’re buying it because they’re going to use it for the rest of their life,” she says confidently.
“I’m thinking of my business now as more of a brand. I’m branding myself and I want people to see something and know that it’s from me, so I‘m kind of stepping up my game and the pieces that I do. I’m learning to say no and not just take anything.”
Being a female solopreneur also had its lessons, and a taking healthy dose of girl power was one of them. Getting out of her shell was nerve-wracking for the self-proclaimed introvert, but finding a spot among the tribe of Vancity Business Babes has been a welcome venture. (You can read her blog post on girl power here).
“I met these ten other ladies who are all entrepreneurs and I was like, ‘Whoa, there’s this whole other world of these women doing these amazing things and working for themselves!’ and it was really neat. I’ve made myself go to events alone and its super scary… but the last Vancity Business Babes event I went to, someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, ‘Are you Jessica from Leroy Brown?’ and I was like ‘Am I in the twilight zone?!’”
As for the future? Brown says she’s gearing up to open her own shop.
“My goal by summer 2018 is to open a store, I want it to be more of a collective [shop],” she resolves.
“That’s my plan and I would love for it to be in New West. New West is such a versatile up and coming neighbourhood. Even now that people are like, ‘Oh, you live in New West?’ and I’m like ‘New West is awesome!’ but I almost don’t want to tell them because I want it to stay that way.”
Kristi Alexandra is an unabashed wino and wannabe musician. Her talents include drinking an entire bottle of cabernet sauvignon, singing in the bathtub, and falling asleep.