After a successful career designing for fashion and home decor brands, Monique Bryan was diagnosed with breast cancer and realized her voice was her strongest asset.
How did you get your start in the fashion business?
I studied fashion design at Ryerson University and right out of school, I started working at Le Chateau, a women’s clothing brand. It was a unique experience, I travelled to China and India as part of the global sourcing team and eventually, I became the head of product design - overseeing all of the women’s lines.
You had such an amazing career, why did you become an entrepreneur?
During my trips to places like India, I was so inspired, so I started my own jewellery line, Imoniq and ran that business for 6 years. It got picked up by boutiques in Toronto and eventually, I started collaborating with women’s groups in developing countries. I realized that I had turned my hobby into a business and I didn’t love it as much so I joined the design team at Wal-Mart, but then the entrepreneurship bug bit again.
This time you realized you wanted to help others - why did you become a mentor?
I recognized that with my experience, I could help others to develop their business and branding skills. I ran a fashion accelerator, with my partner, to help people develop their prototypes and bring them to market. We worked with companies like Burberry, PayPal, and Holt Renfrew to help entrepreneurs get connected to systems that could help them grow.
You received a cancer diagnosis when you were in your thirties, that must have been devastating, how did you cope?
I recently got married and was just three months into a new job when I got the call. I was diagnosed with breast cancer a week after my 36th birthday and it had already started to spread. I was devastated. Almost immediately, I started 8 rounds of chemotherapy. It was so tough, but my husband and my family were an amazing support.
Some days I couldn’t even get up from my bed, but the days I did I was so bored, so I started a blog - @surpriseitscancer. For the first time, I didn’t care what anybody thought and it was so freeing to be honest and transparent. I made a lot of connections with women who were going through the same experience, it was therapeutic.
What have you found is one of the challenges women face?
Women don’t ask for help. When I was doing the blog, a lot of women contacted me and they were struggling but they suffered in silence. I am Jamaican-Canadian and too often, we live in this culture where we’re told to keep our business to ourself, it's a toxic cycle and nobody wins! We gain strength when we ask for help, it helps you realize that you’re not alone.
Monique went into remission one month after having surgery. She now works as a consultant supporting female entrepreneurs to build their personal brands. You can find her at @moniquebryan_co