For the Record

Emily Hosie

Woman sitting on a box surrounded by other boxes

Photography by Paul Alexander

Emily Hosie, Artsci’04, was in the midst of a rewarding and successful retail career when she decided she was ready to start her own business. After having her first child, she identified a gap in the retail market for baby gear, so she created Rebelstork, an online marketplace that connects brands and mass retailers with parents to shop overstock and open-box (returned) baby gear at up to 80 per cent off regular retail prices. Five years later, it is the largest baby gear liquidator and returns e-commerce platform in North America, with operations in Toronto, Brooklyn, N.Y., and Lebanon, Tenn. She credits her Queen’s experience for playing a role in what she decided to do in life. 

Tell me about your successes with Rebelstork. 

My entire background has been in retail. Specifically, off-price and value-channel retail are what I’m passionate about. I was vice-president of merchandising for the TJX companies, which is the largest off-price retailer globally. Prior, I was vice-president of merchandising and vice-president of product development for Saks Fifth Avenue. I was on the Saks Off 5th team, so again, the outlet division. 

I have a six-year-old and a three-year-old. When I first got pregnant, I couldn’t find the value-channel store for baby gear, so I asked friends in the industry what they did with their excess inventory or returns. They didn’t have an answer. The U.S. estimates it has more than $800 million worth of returns annually, and it’s growing rapidly. It’s a trillion-dollar problem there. I realized that you can create a zero-per-cent return rate on your balance sheet if you’re throwing out the product and writing it off. So that’s where Rebelstork started. We asked how we could partner with the largest retailers and brands by taking their overstock and returns and vetting them and selling them at a discounted price on our platform. 

Can you quantify your growth in the first four years? 

We have more than 40 full-time employees. We’ve achieved upwards of 300 per cent growth year over year and we’re proud to be venture-backed. Being a female founder is rare in its own right, but only about five per cent of companies achieve venture funding and of that, only 0.5 per cent have female founders. So, we are proud to be female-founded and considered one of the most innovative companies in Canada.

You were in labour when you completed a pitch that led to a venture-capital (VC) investment. Tell me about that.

My water broke, but I was about to start a VC partner pitch by teleconference. I didn’t tell my husband. I knew I was fine at the time, so I carried on and did the pitch. At the end, [a VC partner] asked for a document. A colleague said, “I’ll send that; Emily needs to go to the hospital.” By the time my daughter Piper was born, I had the documents. There’s a photo of me lying in my hospital bed with my baby, signing them.

“I had a mind shift when I was working in retail from ‘I’m really lucky to have this job’ to ‘They’re really lucky I’m working here.’”

What is your first memory of wanting to be an entrepreneur? 

I always knew I wanted to be my own boss, but felt I needed to work under someone to learn how to run a business. I discovered I wanted to go into retail at Queen’s because I volunteered for a charity that held a fashion show as its big fundraiser. I was the stylist and spent every spare moment doing it. I thought if I could spend this much time when I’m not even being paid, that’s the path that I should follow. I made a list of companies I wanted to work for. I had a mind shift when I was working in retail from “I’m really lucky to have this job” to “They’re really lucky I’m working here.” That’s when I knew I was ready to do something on my own. 

Why did you want to be your own boss? 

I like moving quickly. I didn’t always want to have to get my ideas approved. Big companies can be slow. At Rebelstork, we talk a lot about how things happen gradually – and then suddenly. 

Can you share a piece of advice from a female mentor along the way? 

Being creative and going against the norm is something I learned from all my mentors. I worked under some creative, out-of-the-box thinkers. I also learned to be a good leader. You don’t have to be nice; you have to be kind. There’s a difference. Direct feedback is kind; avoiding direct feedback to be nice isn’t kind. 

What’s your best piece of advice for would-be entrepreneurs? 

You have to have thick skin. If you’re doing something that’s never been done before, you will get pushback. You have to believe you have the solution and you have to educate along the way. Don’t underestimate the power of educating on your idea.

Rebelstork was named one of Canada’s most impactful companies, and you’ve received a Veuve Clicquot Bold Woman Award. What do those mean to you? 

It’s more about the company that our team has built. We worked so hard. Half of our employees resigned from TJX to work at Rebelstork. We wouldn’t be where we are without this team. It’s awesome to be recognized for the work we’re doing. Every article you read about start-ups says, “It started in our basement.” That is what happened with us. My husband delivered our first shipment on his bicycle with our son in tow. 

You’ve saved 180,000 pieces of baby gear from going to a landfill. What does that mean to you? 

We’re a certified B Corp, which we’re really proud of, so every decision we make has to have social and environmental ethics involved. What does a landfill with 180,000 strollers and things even look like? To know that we can divert the resalable product away from landing there and into the hands of parents across North America at up to 80 per cent off makes us proud.

Does Queen’s learning figure in your day-to-day?

University for me was about how could I learn. Could I develop good habits? It wasn’t what I studied; it was the habits and the work ethic I gained. And I met many of my closest friends at Queen’s.

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