Daily Hive’s “Something or Nothing” series features both up-and-coming and established entrepreneurs from around the country and asks them why they do what they do, their biggest failures, success strategies, and more. Know someone who should be featured? Let us know.
Yanal Dhailieh was born in Toronto just two and a half weeks after his parents immigrated to Canada.
As a second-generation Canadian, Dhailieh always felt a deep sense of pride towards his country and community. But as he grew up, he realized that there weren’t a lot of ways for locals to express their civic pride — at least in a trendy or fashionable way.
So Dhailieh started designing trendy clothing for him and his friends. It started off as just a hobby — something from for him to do while he was working full-time at Salesforce.
But then something weird happened.
Dhailieh made custom t-shirts for him and a friend to wear to a Raptors game, and a clip of them in their t-shirts somehow made it into a TSN documentary about how Toronto was becoming a basketball city. When the documentary was posted online, someone tagged Dhailieh in the post and asked him where he got his t-shirt.
One thing led to another, and now, five years later, Peace Collective is a force to be reckoned with. They’ve grown from 18 staff last year to nearly 30 today, and they’re not slowing down.
Dhailieh took the time to chat with us to share some of the company’s milestones, how they got their big break, and what the future looks like for Peace Collective.
- Birthplace: Toronto, ON
- Place you consider home: GTA, ON
- Age: 28
- What you wanted to be when you were a kid: Sports broadcaster
- Favourite post-secondary class: History or economics
- Previous job: Business Development at Salesforce
- How do you commute: Either drive or walk
- What you always have with you besides your phone: Keys and wallet
- Favourite vacation spot: Morocco
- What time you normally wake up at: 6 am
- What time you normally sleep at: 10:30 or 11 pm
- Normal breakfast: no breakfast — trying out intermittent fasting
- Reading/listening to right now: Reading “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill, listening to Joe Rogan’s Podcast
What’s your elevator pitch?
Peace Collective is a lifestyle brand that’s all about enabling its customers to show pride in who they are and where they come from, all while giving back to a good cause. For every garment sold, five meals are donated to a child in need.
How did Peace Collective start?
My parents are immigrants and I was born in Canada, but I went to the Middle East years ago to spend some time teaching English. At the school I was teaching at, they had this program that offered parents a meal for their child at school and a meal to take home.
That was their way of getting parents in poor areas of the country to bring their kids to school because normally, they’d have the kid out trying to work or collect money. I thought it was cool that something as simple as a meal was indirectly giving a child an education. That’s where the idea to give back the school meals came from.
Then the idea of showcasing pride in being from Toronto and Canada came from the fact that there weren’t a lot of ways to show Canadian pride or Toronto pride in a fashionable way.
So I came up with the idea, the name, and the concept when I was at the University of Waterloo. It all started as a hobby that I played around with, and taught myself how to do things like design.
When I started working at Salesforce and going through a career, I found that everybody I knew really loved their job, but I didn’t — I always wanted to do something on my own. So in 2014, I started taking my hobby seriously and started Peace Collective.
Who are your business partners?
I have two business partners — one is my buddy, Roman. I’ve known him since grade six. He was working at TD Bank, but I convinced him to quit his job so he could start selling t-shirts with me for a living.
My other business partner is Lisa, she was actually in the banking world as well, at CIBC. She was my girlfriend at the time. We had just started dating and the only time she could spend time with me was helping me work on this, but she also had a huge background in retail and ecommerce working at a store in Toronto called Get Outside. So she was probably more qualified than I was at the time to be doing anything related to this.
What was it like telling your family you were quitting your job at Salesforce to sell t-shirts?
They asked me word for word if I wanted to go see a therapist. They did not understand what I was trying to do. Their mindset was, “it’s okay, go play around for a bit and then once you’re ready to get serious you’ll go back to your job.”
That’s how it started off.
And how do they feel now?
They’re super, super happy now and helpful.
My dad is an engineer, and his background is in construction and building. The two stores that we had, me and him built out those stores from the ground up. So he’s put in his work here.
How did you figure out the manufacturing side and getting everything made?
I literally started off on just Googling how to make a t-shirt and how to find manufacturers.
At first, I was looking for a blank manufacturer that made blank t-shirts and worked with different printing methods.
As we grew, we knew we couldn’t rely on them — we had to start manufacturing overseas. We started making connections and meeting people in the industry, and eventually we got connected to the right manufacturers.
Today, we manufacture from partners all around. We do a lot of production in Canada, and some overseas in Pakistan, China, and Mexico. All our garment decoration and printing is done locally here in Toronto with a bunch of different vendors.
Have you raised any money?
No, it’s all been self-funded. We make a certain amount of shirts, sell them, then make more. So it’s just been a gradual slow climb using the resources that we have available to us.
How has Toronto played a role in the development of the company?
It’s huge. It’s everything.
There seemed to be a boom in Toronto, when it came to music and culture, at pretty much the exact same time I decided to start doing this. Drake, The Weeknd, and then the Raptors all of a sudden became relevant and Toronto started culturally blossoming.
It was just the right place, at the right time.
Even now, we always try to align ourselves with good things happening in Toronto and we’re fortunate to have a Blue Jays license and a Raptors license — if anybody from Toronto is doing cool things, we want to help rep them.
How did you even get those licenses?
I think the big moment for us was the Jose Bautista’s bat flip.
Two or three months before that game and the bat flip, I had a mutual friend reach out and say, “Jose Bautista’s birthday’s coming up. They’re going to the playoffs. He saw your sweaters, he wants it for himself and he wants to gift it to the whole team.” I got these requests all the time, and usually they went nowhere. But I said, whatever, I’m just going to do it.
I put together packages of sweaters together and sent it to his mutual friend. I didn’t hear anything back for a couple of months and then one day, the day of the bat flip, I woke up and Jose Bautista had posted a photo with him, Josh Donaldson and [David] Price, wearing the sweaters, shouting out the brand, and telling people where to go to purchase.
You can’t really pay for that kind of publicity. From there, sales skyrocketed and it was probably our biggest sales month ever. That got us to a point where all the players were buying our clothing, so the fans were buying it too. That got us a seat with Blue Jays and Major League Baseball and we pushed hard to get a license.
We built a strong case from there, and the NBA opportunity came to us and we’ve just been building that portfolio since then.
What was that moment like when you woke up and saw that Bautista was wearing your sweater?
Oh, I can’t even… It was the most amazing feeling.
But, it was also followed by stress and a lot of work to figure out where we’d get enough sweaters to meet demand. Before, our best month was maybe selling 500 sweaters, maximum 1,000 sweaters. All of a sudden we were selling 1,000 to 2,000 sweaters a day.
It was a lot of just trying to do the best we could and learning a lot along the way. But it was a huge moment.
What’s one of the biggest challenges your team is facing today?
Figuring out how to build something that people resonate with coast to coast.
We’re great in Toronto, we’re great with all these sports teams. We do have a West Coast line and we’re trying to build these things out. I want us to be as well known across Canada as we are in Toronto. That’s our goal and that’s what we’re building towards.
How do you scale from being a hyperlocal brand to one that resonates with people across the country?
At the very core, our brand is called Peace Collective.
It’s about a collective of people doing what they love and giving back to a good cause. So we’re trying to focus on that messaging and focus on the organizations that we work with.
Knowing what you know today, what do you wish you knew five years ago when you started?
I think it’s great that we grew so fast, but I think my biggest learning lesson as an entrepreneur is to make sure I’m doing the right job. I had a big chip on my shoulder and wanted to do everything as fast as possible and grow as big as possible. But now, I’m trying to change that. I want to make sure that we’re making decisions that are going to be positive 10 years down the line.
As an entrepreneur, what’s the biggest pain that you have had to overcome?
Just dealing with turbulence.
I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but I’d say just getting used to the life of an entrepreneur. Every single day is different. There are different fires that you have to put out and different things that come up and at the end of the day, you have to put all the blame on yourself if something doesn’t go right. There’s nowhere else to look.
The highs are great, the lows can be really low and it’s a lot of effort to try and stay on an even keel. I think that is always the biggest challenge. Because there’s always going to be ups, there’s always going to be downs, no matter how hard you work. You’re not going to avoid mistakes or things that are happening. You just need to let those things pass by and focus on staying in the right state of mind.
What are you learning right now?
Right now, I’m learning how to build teams. It’s different now that we’re 20-plus people, compared to when we were five people a few years ago.
I like to do the nitty-gritty, I like designing the product, I like working on our social media, I even like helping in the warehouse and driving the product to the store. But I need to learn how to take a step back and focus on team building and honing those types of skills, and delegating work to others.
How do you prevent burnout?
That’s something I’ve always struggled with.
I think to avoid burnout you have to make sure you separate yourself from the company. That’s something that took me a couple of years…and honestly, I still have to remind myself that Peace Collective is one thing and I’m another thing.
I try to make sure that I’m making time for family, friends, and fun things, and I try to keep a balanced schedule as much as possible.
What’s one of the biggest failures you’ve experienced throughout life?
I’ve had plenty of failures. I think my biggest ever was going to school for Biomedical Science and absolutely hating it.
I went to Waterloo, which is probably considered one of the biggest universities when it comes to startups and that whole culture. But I went to study something that I didn’t like, to please my parents. I knew that I didn’t have a future in science, but I spent five years getting that degree anyways. It met some great people during that time, but I wish I had taken more responsibility in knowing what I wanted to do, and I wish I focused on doing things for myself. I think that was a big learning lesson.
What’s preventing you and the company from being where you want to be?
I think if there’s anything, it’s the fact that we still have a lot to learn, and there’s work that needs to be put in.
We don’t want to grow too fast. We realized that more mistakes happen when you’re trying to go 1,000 miles an hour. So it’s just a matter of making sure that we’re learning and understanding and knowing exactly every move we want to make before we make it. We’d rather do things at a slower pace than go too fast and realize we’re making big mistakes.
Is there a quote or a line that’s changed the way that you approach business?
Yes, it’s called the Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt.
“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again; who knows a great enthusiasm, great devotions and spends himself on a worthy cause. Who if he wins smells the triumph of high achievement, who if he fails at least fails while doing so greatly. So that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory or defeat.”
I feel like in the entrepreneur world that really holds true. You put in all this work, but if something goes wrong, you don’t have a safety net. It can be overwhelming, but I try to keep in mind that I’m doing something that a lot of people never get a chance to do. It might end great, or it might end terribly, but I know that I’m giving it everything I’ve got.
Besides sales, how do you measure success?
One way is measuring the impact that we’re having on the charitable side of things. I like getting to see that.
We also do a lot of cool partnerships, so we enjoy receiving feedback from people on how those went. We recently did a collaboration with McDonald’s for McHappy Day, which is a great cause — it gives back to the Ronald McDonald House, which helps house people and families who need assistance in housing when their children are going through tough times. We designed and made all the merch for McHappy Day, and seeing the impact that it had was magical. People were reaching out and telling us their stories of how Ronald McDonald’s House had helped them in the past and just how important it was to them.
Knowing that we’re making an impact. I think that is the coolest thing.
What’s the dream partnership and collaboration?
Nothing in particular — we just want to collaborate with other great Canadian brands and do cool things.
Herschel would be a great collab, or OVO, Canada Goose, Roots whatever it is! To create something even cooler for this market would be pretty special.
What’s the most surprising element of your job that most people wouldn’t think is part of the day to day of a clothing company exec?
You’ve got to be involved.
You’ve got to do whatever it takes to get it done. Literally, after this call, I need to fill up my Jeep with boxes to the roof and I have to drive to two locations because the playoffs are crazy right now.
We don’t have enough product in the store for the Raptors. Again, I’m not going to ask somebody that works here to go do that because that’s not their job description, and we can’t necessarily get a courier down there in time, so I usually have to do those things myself. The things that nobody really wants to do.
Sometimes you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and just do certain things like that. It’s not like you’re the person in charge so you’re going to make other people do things that you don’t want to do. A lot of times you have to do the things that are the toughest.
What do the next 12 to 24 months look like for Peace Collective?
In the next 12 months, we’re launching a new product line across Canada. It’s going to showcase pride for a lot of different major Canadian cities. That’s a big focus right now.
In the next 24 months, I’d say we’re going to focus on growing the variety and the quality of our product. And we’re hoping to have a lot of really cool stuff coming down the pipelines in terms of product. Different products that you haven’t seen from us.
Have you thought about an exit strategy?
No. Not at all.
Would you ever sell the company?
I want to say no, but I feel like that’s childish.
I’ve got to let those conversations come. But no, I don’t think so. I’m learning a lot and I wouldn’t get these lessons anywhere else. So I want to say I don’t think so. No.
How do you want people to remember you, personally?
I want people to remember that I always chased my passions and did what I loved and what I thought was right. And I always did it to the best of my abilities.
Interview edited for clarity
Just when things couldn’t get better for Peace Collective and Toronto, a few weeks after chatting with Yanal, the Raptors won the NBA title. Over that time, Peace Collective released a number of new lines, including East Champs, NBA Finals, and, finally, Champions. Needless to say, people went crazy for it all – and they ended up selling out… many times.
And if you know an entrepreneur that should be featured, let us know!