Jess Sternberg, 29

Founder + CEO, Free Label Clothing

Life Story: Other than making dresses for school fashion shows, Jess Sternberg had no technical sewing or design skills before founding Free Label Clothing, a made-in-Canada, ethical apparel brand.

With a BA in English literature from McGill University, Sternberg taught in South Korea for a year before returning to her home in Toronto in 2014, taking a job as a buyer for a now-closed boutique that specialized in activewear made in Canada.

“I was having trouble finding Canadian-made clothing I would wear,” she remembers. “I asked the owner: If I were to make my own clothes, could I sell them here?” He agreed, and soon Sternberg had a women’s top being fabricated in a Toronto factory. The shirt was a hit, and Free Label was born.

Based in Vancouver since 2016, Sternberg and her now-husband, Julian Hoyle, work with local factories and garment industry creatives to produce the brand’s pieces, 90 percent of which are sold online.

Bottom Line: Free Label has doubled its revenue every year, passing the $500,000 mark in 2019. This year, Sternberg plans to change course by producing smaller runs of items with the aim of selling them out quickly, so there’s no leftover stock. “In this way…we are left with no wastage,” she explains, noting that she anticipates some lower profits on the horizon.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, Sternberg says Free Label’s comfy casualwear complements the new work-from-home reality. The spring line, which debuted online in mid-March, at the start of the outbreak in Canada, was the company’s most successful launch to date.