Melissa Austria: The entrepreneurial force behind Gotstyle

Melissa Austria

Image: Facebook/Gotstyle

Vv Magazine’s editor-in-chief Nicki Laborie sits down for lunch on the Thompson rooftop with Gotstyle’s Melissa Austria to talk about the challenges and rewards of being an entrepreneur, and what’s next for the successful businesswoman. 

I’ll never forget the evening I met Melissa Austria. It was a beautiful night at the Shangri-La where we were both attending the Right to Play Gala. My boyfriend and I were on the patio when suddenly he gets accosted—and I say this in the nicest way—by this little Asian beauty who immediately grabs his blazer lapel. My eyes blinked twice wondering who this woman was until I realized it wasn’t him she was after but rather, his wooden pocket square. I soon realized this was the woman responsible for Gotstyle, Toronto’s hottest menswear store. Five minutes later they’re both talking business, and ten minutes after that we became fast friends and finished the night off on the dance floor.

My first encounter with Melissa was a true reflection of her personality—a woman on a mission. She is charming, engaging and headstrong, which is likely why her successful business has just celebrated 10 years. With a career that started in menswear, she has worked with some of the biggest menswear labels in the business: Harry Rosen, Kenneth Cole, Calvin Klein, and Valentino to name a few. Through her travels working on these brands, she noticed a lack of quality menswear stores in Toronto—particularly in comparison to Montreal and Calgary—and so Gotstyle was born.

ADVERTISEMENT
Fall '18 designer collections have arrived at NORDSTROM.

“It was on HGTV and because reality TV was so new ten years ago it played over and over so we definitely had the awareness and people coming by all the time to check it out,” she says.

Success didn’t come without trials and tribulations, though. As she tells me a few times, learning is key as an entrepreneur and in her first two years she quickly learned some hard lessons.

“As all first time entrepreneurs, I made a ton of mistakes. I signed a bad lease and I didn’t have the proper accounting, so it was definitely a struggle for the first five years. But I knew I had the right concept.” She says—and clearly she was right.

One move that wasn’t a mistake was filming a reality TV show about the opening of Gotstyle. Given her “bad lease” was a 2nd floor King street walk-up, finding the initial store was no easy feat.

“It was on HGTV and because reality TV was so new ten years ago it played over and over so we definitely had the awareness and people coming by all the time to check it out,” she says.

ADVERTISEMENT
Fall '18 designer collections have arrived at NORDSTROM.

Gotstyle relocated to Bathurst and Wellington five years ago, and opened a larger flagship store in the Distillery District two years ago where most of Toronto’s fashionistas and fashionistos have not only shopped, but also attended Austria’s epic parties. And parties she loves. I’ve often wondered where this menswear maven gets all her energy, recalling time spent with her in NYC when, after a full day of trade shows, she was able to go for drinks, eat like a queen at a hot NYC restaurant and then party into the wee hours of the night. On a Sunday. She had me wondering why I couldn’t keep up. Apparently mid-forties are the new mid-twenties.

“We were in Rome heading to Florence for a menswear show and one night at a restaurant overlooking the Coliseum he got down on a bended knee and just did it.”

But her young spirit is what makes this businesswoman so attractive to so many. Her younger fiancée is certainly one of those people and even with an eleven-year difference their connection is unbreakable.

A new bride-to-be, she tells me about the proposal. “We were in Rome heading to Florence for a menswear show and one night at a restaurant overlooking the Coliseum he got down on a bended knee and just did it.” Knowing his future wife is a non-traditionalist, he got her a black diamond. Yes, he is clearly a keeper.

Getting back to business, as two entrepreneurial women naturally do, we talk about her latest endeavour, Gotstyle Man. The menswear magazine, which launched in Spring 2015, is a passion project for her and her team and what she feels is a natural evolution. It’s also a celebration of ten years in business, and to commemorate these major events, she hosted another fabulous party. Attended by 900 people, it’s no secret that this lady has built a huge network of faithful clients, friends and supporters.

ADVERTISEMENT
Fall '18 designer collections have arrived at NORDSTROM.

Held at the beautiful Audi dealership in the city’s East end, it was a magical night as Toronto’s elite drank, danced and admired Austria’s success. Most impressive was her ability to connect with almost every person in the room, and make everyone feel important. As we all danced the night away, she interrupted us for a 5-minute speech, and as I looked up at her I thought: “We can all learn something from this woman.” She has achieved huge success while consistently staying grounded, and she has no plans to stop anytime soon.

“I think you always have to have vision of what you want to do. Write it down, live and breathe it and always believe you’re already there. For me, I already have ten stores. I’m living in that moment because it makes the reality happen so much quicker.”

As we end our lunch on the Thompson rooftop, I ask her what advice she has for entrepreneurs.

“I think you always have to have vision of what you want to do. Write it down, live and breathe it and always believe you’re already there. For me, I already have ten stores. I’m living in that moment because it makes the reality happen so much quicker.”

Great advice from a great entrepreneur, and as I cheers her first ten years, I also look forward to toasting the success of the next ten.

ADVERTISEMENT
Fall '18 designer collections have arrived at NORDSTROM.

Related Link: Designer Philip Sparks explains his new direction

What do you find most inspiring about Melissa Austria’s entrepreneurial journey? Let Vv Magazine know in the comments below, or tweet us @ViewtheVibe

Nicki Laborie

Nicki Laborie

Nicki Laborie is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of View the Vibe & Vv Magazine. Nicki has spent her adult life everywhere from Montreal to New York to St. Maarten, and finally ended up in Toronto. She started her career studying fashion journalism at FIT followed by working in media and PR with some of the world's top fashion and luxury brands. Eventually she ended up back in the restaurant business working with hot culinary spots in NYC, St. Maarten and Toronto. Her combined experience inspired her to start View the Vibe and Vv Magazine.
Nicki Laborie