Gusto Grown: Cameron Wilson
Before Cameron Wilson was making waves with the wildly popular Toronto-based fashion brand Untitled&Co, he was serving up capellini at Trattoria Nervosa and designing custom t-shirts for Gusto 101 on the side. We caught up with the self-proclaimed “Untitled Daddy” to discuss his post-Gusto personal and professional growth, the secret to striking a work-life balance, and swoon over his dreamy Trattoria Nervosa love story (!).
Photography: Cody Turner
What’s your current title?
I am the Owner and Creative Director of Untitled&Co. I worked at Trattoria Nervosa from 2009 until the fall of 2012 when I left to start my own business.
What is Untitled&Co?
We’re a Toronto-based streetwear and fashion brand. All of our products are designed and produced in the GTA.
Describe yourself as an employer in 3 words.
I would say stern, fair and motivated.
What’s one quality that you think, as an entrepreneur, you must possess to be successful?
You need to lack fear of failure. You need to be truly fearless, look failure straight in the face and push past it or you’ll never make it.
What inspired you to open your own business?
I kind of always knew what I wanted to do, so owning my own business was always the plan. I’m not exactly sure where the inspiration came from, but my ability to self-motivate and stay organized were skills I picked up while at Trattoria Nervosa. I credit a lot of my success to the time that I spent there. Working under Demetrio was the greatest experience I’ve ever had- I’ve never seen anyone work under him and not leave a better person. He was a big motivation for me and still is, especially in my managerial style and my attitude towards being a go-getter.
What product or service are you known for?
I can’t really say that Untitled&Co has its own capellini, but we’re known for providing chic and fun products at a reasonable price point that are made sustainably. Our product assortment changes over so often, but I guess one staple that you can always look for (and which has been the most popular item lately) are our hoodies. That would be Untitled&Co’s stand out item.
How long have you been open?
It’ll be 5 years on the 12th of August!
What was the turning point for your businesses’ growth and stability?
I was pretty lucky early on because we got some really great online traction, and that set us up to become sustainable quite quickly. There were, of course, the occasional hiccups, but that can be said of any business. But, our success kind of happened over night. It went from messing around and seeing if this was an idea that could stick to all of a sudden waking up one day and realizing that we were popping. It’s been that way ever since and I can attribute a good deal of that success to influencer-based media. We got a really big post from Diplo six weeks in and it’s been a rollercoaster ever since.
Can you talk a bit more about the transition from launching an online to brick and mortar business?
It was actually backward for us. We were brick and mortar before we even had an online presence. The online store was sitting there doing nothing, and I was almost going to take it down because it was just a credit card payment every month to keep it running. Then all of sudden, this huge Instagram post happened and we blew up. Our online business is consistent but our bread and butter come from people on the street.
How do you define success?
Success is being able to balance your social life as well as your work life. I’ve noticed over the past five years that there’s been a large amount of fluctuation in balancing these two spheres. Once you’ve truly found a balance where your employees are happy, you’re happy, your significant other is happy, you see your friends, you see your family, you spend spend time in your apartment (and your house is not just a glorified sleeping bag), when those things happen, then I think I would quantify that as success. You could be making all the money in the world and have no friends and family, and you’ll just feel hollow and empty.
What was the greatest obstacle in starting your own business and how did you approach it?
Thinking ahead. I didn’t do a lot of thinking in the beginning- I just did a lot of doing. I just dove head first. I had a security blanket, however. I was either going to open my own business or go to university. I said that I’d open up my own business now, and if it goes belly up, I would go to university. That was always my plan, so I was never really that concerned. Here I am five years later and I got no learnin’!
How do you keep a balanced lifestyle?
I just work seven days a week, but that’s balanced to me now because I split my time. So I don’t necessarily work from 9:00 am to 10:00 pm every day. For example, Thursdays are a big day and I work around 16 hours, but then on Monday, I’ll probably only work for about an hour. So, I try to pad my time and find balance by squeezing out moments for myself.
What’s the best part about working for yourself?
Making your own hours. However, I usually think about the worst parts about working for myself. I like working for someone else because I don’t mind disappointing myself. But, I have a serious complex about disappointing other people, so I guess I just try and channel that into my work and make myself accountable for the work that I do for others.
What characteristics do you look for in an employee now that you’re in charge of hiring?
Hardworking, dedicated and loyal. I don’t worry so much about hiring. I’ll hire five people for a position, fire all of them and keep the one that I feel is best suited to the job. I like the hunger games style approach to managing. Anyone can do it once and can blow you away in one day, but I want to see an employee come in hungover after a break up with mascara running down their face 20 minutes before their shift, and then show up and sparkle like nothing is wrong. I look for people that leave their personal lives at the door and give me the best 8 hours of their day. I think that sort of philosophy comes from having worked in the service industry myself, and I definitely value that experience in other people as well.
What are your company’s family values or mission statement?
I want my staff to know that I work as hard for them as they work for me. The harder you work, the better you’ll be rewarded. I work like that, so I expect that from myself as well, but I’ll be endlessly loyal to my employees as long as I see that from them too.
What was your role, and how long did you work with the Gusto 54 Restaurant Group?
I was there [Trattoria Nervosa] from 2009 to the tail end of 2012, so around 3 years. In that time I worked briefly as a bartender, but most of the time I was a server. I liked serving way better because I’m a very social person and I didn’t like being put in a position where I wasn’t able to speak with people.
What was your fondest memory of your time spent in the fast-paced hospitality environment?
Only one?! Well, there was the day I met the love of my life! *Read on to learn how these lovebirds meet!* But, the times I most enjoyed being a bartender was when Janet would come sit at my bar and we would talk about restaurants, and visions, menus. We would really just vibe out like that, and that was something I loved. Also, I just loved the clientele at Nervosa- they were so much fun to work with! I made everyone there my friend and I had so much fun doing it! But, I think my single most memorable experience was the time I sold $6500 on an afternoon shift with a 103-degree fever- oh yeah, that was a real hustle!
What bridged the gap between working for the Gusto 54 Restaurant Group and building your own brand?
There was no in-between, it was actually more of a rollover. I opened my store on August 12th and I had my last shift at Nervosa in November, so I had both going for almost three months. Something great that I found also while working for the Gusto 54 group, was that if you communicated your scheduling needs, they were always very happy to oblige, so I never had any difficulty balancing and getting my business going. As long as I communicated my needs, they were always willing to compromise, which was an amazing factor in allowing me to pursue my own goals and dreams. And working with Janet and getting the t-shirts going was really the final push in realizing “wow, I can really do this.”
How did working in Yorkville shape the brand you were building?
It didn’t really, to be honest, because I didn’t go in a luxury goods direction. Untitled is kind of the anti-Yorkville and Yorkville brand all at the same time, but working with D [Demetrio] completely changed my life. He whipped me into shape. I still keep a little D in my head and it’s what keeps me on my toes. He pushed me to do my best and to be exceptional, and I’ve maintained that mainly due to his influence. To this day I think about how he would handle situations and that motivates me to work harder and push myself further. He’s an inspiration, always.
You had the opportunity to work closely with Janet – was she able to lend you any entrepreneurial advice?
Oh, yeah! She’s amazing. She’s taken lunches with me and was always giving me advice and teaching me valuable lessons. Especially right at the beginning when I was freaking out. She told me I would have financial problems within the first five years and let me know that this was super normal in the beginning. She also taught me how to be patient, always know your numbers and that true success takes time.
Is it true that you used to coordinate the printing for 101’s shirts when they first opened?
I was very invested in Trattoria Nervosa. I lived and breathed it. It was and still is my favourite place to eat in the city. So, I would see Janet all the time looking at these crazy technical mock ups for the uniform design, and I would be like “Hey, I know you didn’t ask me but don’t do the one with the racing stripes, it sucks” and she would say “Oh, ok cool!” Janet was always receptive to feedback. We always had a good vibe and she was always very respectful of my opinions. I looked up to her and she was always appreciative of my feedback.
Then, it came to the point when they needed to design t-shirts for Gusto 101. So, she asked me if I knew of anyone to do the shirts, and I obviously suggested myself. There were around 5 or 6 rounds of samples- this is too small, this isn’t the right color, we don’t like the fabric etc. We did a lot of work and then I was able to do something really cool. The original run of them were all made in Toronto with Canadian fabric and were a 100% sustainable, which was really aligned with the Gusto brand values. We played around with the artwork a lot, and we finally agreed on a high neck t-shirt, did all the colour ways and then just let it rip! Once we did them for Gusto and saw that everyone was happy with them, we started creating t-shirts for Nervosa. I actually still see some people wearing them today!
Have you stayed in touch with your fellow employees?
I brought a bunch of friends along with me when I first started working at Nervosa. I remember starting my job at Nervosa and telling my friends that it was the promised land of the service industry. Before that, I worked at places that were just disastrous, so working at Nervosa created a real moment of realization for me, like “Wow, this can actually be done properly!” My mind was blown. So, I called all my friends and I said “You guys have to come work here.” The first person I brought over was Jessica Johnson, who worked there for a very long time. So, I brought her over and then I also brought over Victoria (who still works at Nervosa!), but I still talk to and see everyone from Nervosa pretty regularly!
What’s the key to building your wildly successful online presence?
Maria got a sweater to Diplo backstage at Uniun and that was pretty much it. The [online] business blew up from that moment.
Diplo rocking an Untitled&Co hoodie
We noticed a familiar face in your marketing work: tell us how you met!
I remember the day I met Maria like it was yesterday. Seriously, it was like the movie Big Fish! I could tell you exactly what she was wearing and exactly how she was wearing her hair. Anyways, so I was upstairs doing my thing and coming downstairs to taste the special of the day during our pre-shift meeting. I remember turning the corner and this chick that I’d never seen before was there. It was like time stopped and I said to myself: I’m going to marry this girl. I just knew it. Nervosa was a huge part of our relationship- we’d always steal kisses in the stairway when no one was paying attention!
Maria does payroll for me now. She’s been my number one support from the very beginning. If it wasn’t for her, Janet, and my mom, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve had a lot of support from some very fantastic women, so I’m a lucky man.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Untitled is doing really, really well. I’m at the point where I’ll be opening to investor capital in the fall, so I think I’m ready to become a little more hands-off.
I look at Janet for inspiration. She turned this tiny restaurant [Nervosa] into an empire- I mean, Felix is one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s favourite restaurants- it’s crazy! I want to give my responsibilities to someone else for around 18 months and just take some time away from the day-to-day operations. I’m also launching a hospitality group, which is my events company. We do around 9 weekly parties at bars across Toronto, and I’m going to focus on that for a bit because it’s really evolving. But, ideally, I want to be gearing up to retire in an additional six years and start pumping out kids. Patriarch life you know, family vibes – that’s the direction I’m going in.
What advice do you have for others who are interested in building their own brand?
Gusto 54 is a great opportunity for so many reasons. It’s a fantastic networking opportunity. The people that you meet there are great, fun, cool and interesting. They can influence your life in so many ways. You never know who you’re going to meet- it could be the person who funds your first business to meeting the love of your life! The standards that the Gusto 54 group demand its employees to maintain aren’t ones that you should resent. You should take those standards and make them standards for your life because that’s how you’re going to become a hardworking, successful and efficient individual. Take the values of this company, hold tight to them and you’ll be successful. That’s what I did and I was super waste before. I mean, I can honestly say that I attribute the values of this company to helping inform and shape the person that I am today.