At first glance, Natalie Preston is your regular hockey mom.
She is the manager of her son’s hockey team, makes the trek to the arena several times a week, travels to out of town tournaments and sits on various committees.
For good measure Preston is also the fundraising coordinator for Uplands Elementary School.
But Preston, 35, this week’s inductee into the Penticton & Wine Country Chamber of Commerce Top 40 under 40, has also parlayed what she called a hobby into a successful business.
“It is the most incredible honour and privilege,” said Preston of the Top 40 recognition.
“It is amazing to be acknowledged and recognized for all of the hard work and efforts you’ve put in.
“It’s very much an honour.”
Preston, was a relative newcomer to Penticton in 2009, and as a stay-at-home mom, had little time for shopping and was looking for a way to nourish her entrepreneurial spirit and to connect with the community.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit and as a mother of two small boys, I saw not only a need for unique yet more affordable clothing, but also a more convenient way for women like me to shop.”
Ironically, said Preston, one of her motivations to start Le Cheap, C’est Chic in 2009, was the fact she doesn’t like shopping.
“I hated shopping, so I wanted to make it better and easier and that is what led to Le Cheap, C’est Chic.”
Time was also a consideration, said Preston.
“I figured if I didn’t have enough time to get out to shop, there must be other people like me,” she said.
In high school, she did fancy a career as a fashion designer, but that was nipped in the bud.
“My mom made fun of me because I couldn’t sew a button,” said Preston with a chuckle.
So Preston, convinced there were other busy moms who didn’t have time or didn’t care for shopping, decided to launch Le Cheap, C’est Chic.
The plan was simple, offer trendy clothes at an affordable price.
Her strategy, to make the shopping experience more fun and accessible to busy moms, was to bring the clothes to women in way that was more convenient and more comfortable.
“It was also very important to me that it was very affordable,” said Preston.
“My goal was to keep the price of the clothing under $60. The point is you don’t have to spend a fortune on brand-name clothing to look stylish.”
Much of the cost savings for her clients in fact comes in the way Preston sells her clothes, through private appointments, as well as home parties.
“What’s not to like, it’s so much fun?” Preston said of the home parties.
“I’ve met so many people, it’s such a privilege to be invited to someone’s girls’ night.”
Preston admits, with little advertising to begin with, it didn’t hurt to have good friends.
“I brought a garment bag of my clothes over to two friends and they bought everything,” Preston said with a laugh.
But the word spread.
Now four years later, Le Cheap, C’est Chic has grown to the point that Preston now has a website which functions as an online store, four independent representatives, and is looking to move into the Lower Mainland and Alberta markets, and eventually to have representatives across Canada.
“The women really like it, they don’t need to leave the house, we bring the clothes to them.”
Preston’s success has not gone unnoticed, with recognition in 2010 by the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce as one of the best new businesses.
In 2011, Okanagan4Kids also featured Le Cheap, C’est Chic as one of the Okanagan Valley’s best kept secrets.
As she was getting her business established, Preston set out to support the community that was supporting her.
It began with selling key chains at $10 apiece to support the family of Luca LaRoque, and then proceeded into a fashion show at the Jose Pepper Club where she raised $760 for the South Okanagan Women in Need Society. Guests were also encouraged to donate gently worn clothing.
In 2013 alone, Le Cheap, C’est Chic sponsored or co-sponsored four fundraisers, including a ladies night to raise funds for the family of a young cancer patient, a pub night to raise funds for the Penticton BMX Club which had been robbed of equipment, a benefit for the AlleyCats AllIance and SOVAS.
“It is amazing to see the impact my company can have in the community,” Preston said.
“I started the business as a hobby, and enjoy doing it, but there is so much more, I can have a voice.
“It’s better to fundraise than spend on advertizing.
“We look forward to the fundraising events.”
A native of Kent, England, Preston said she feels right at home in Penticton.
“There is no community like it,” she said.
“It really is a safe and supportive community to try something new.
“It’s a great place.”
Penticton Top 40 under 40 is presented by the Prospera Credit Union in partnership with the Penticton and Wine Country Chamber of Commerce and JCI Penticton, with support from White Kennedy LLP Chartered Accountants. Nominations should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line ‘Top 40 Nomination.’ Please include nominees contact info and a brief reason for nomination.