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Meet Aquila Guerra: her spirituality and love for fashion became her business advantage

24 September 2010 1,140 views 9 Comments

Church Dress CEO Aquila Guerra

By Isake Tom

Church Dress CEO Aquila Guerra has been providing church goers with fashionable wear for the past two years, making her Toronto’s go to gal for stylish church attire.

Recognizing fashion’s strong presence in church pews across the city, the church diva drew inspiration from her spirituality and love for fashion; finally launching Church Dress in 2008. Today, the company sells an array of fashionable church wear that includes dresses, handbags, accessories and much more. Surrounded by a solid team of professionals and avid church goers like herself, Guerra has molded Church Dress into the retailer it is today; a well respected brand, highly recommended in Toronto and quickly expanding with two new divisions in Europe and the Caribbean.

Swaymag.ca talked with Guerra about why she stuck with her niche, her future plans for the company and essential pieces every woman should have in their church wardrobe.

What made you launch Church Dress and why did you specifically tap into this niche?

Church Dress originally started out as an information group for members of our church. The young people would always ask “how can I attend church and still be fashionable”? It was then I quickly realized that there was a market for fashion in the church. But it wasn’t until January 2008, that Church Dress as a company was officially formed. Today we are operating with a team of 7 and have divisions in Canada, the UK and Trinidad. Our official launch party took place in 2009, and from there things have taken off with a second fashion show at the Bata Shoe Museum earlier this year. We’ve grown so much in such a short span of time.

What else inspired you to create Church Dress?

The people ( our fellow church goers) were my inspiration. Whether we want to admit it our not, there is a huge fashion presence in church. No one wants to repeat and everyone wants to come out in their Sunday’s best. So I thought wouldn’t it be cool if I could combine the two.

How has your spirituality influenced your business?

My spirituality heavily influences my business. God told me to do this, but I had doubted. I felt that it wouldn’t catch on and people wouldn’t like it. But I could no longer ignore it, and I embraced the fact that I had a gift; I was a young lady very involved in my church but I also liked to dress up just like any other young woman my age. So said so done, I took the chance and created Church Dress.

My team members are all church goers, and we rely heavily on our faith because owning your own business can be very stressful at times. But my faith has taken me to new heights. If somebody had told me years ago that I’d be renting the Bata Shoe Museum and showing my collection, I would have said no way! But when you believe in yourself and have faith, things work themselves out. Being Seventh Day Adventist we have passed up a lot of great opportunities to promote our brand, but at the end of the day we have to stay true to ourselves.

Charity work is also a major part of what we do. We conduct giveaways, and run sponsorship programs. Last year we raised $1000 to send kids to summer camp and we collected dresses for women in shelters. We are always willing and ready to give.

So let’s talk fashion, what are some essential pieces all women should have in their church wardrobes?

A black skirt in various cuts; either tulip, pencil or flared. A well fitting black blazer, a suit, and a white dress shirt is also a must. Bags or clutches that are versatile enough to match your wardrobe is also an important piece to have. The bags we stock are larger in size because we know that church can be an all day event, and women may want to pack an extra shirt or pair of stockings and still have room for their Bibles.

What does it feel like to join a growing list of young, ambitious, female entrepreneurs in Toronto?

It’s truly a huge honor. I never knew that so many women-particularly young women are taking that leap and launching their own businesses. It’s almost like being a part of a sorority of sorts. You feel like you’ve made it but you really haven’t, because there’s still so much work to do. As I look around more people are taking that leap and it’s becoming a big deal to own your own business. Having my own business has kept me fresh and up to par with what’s going on in this city. However its not all glamorous, there have been difficulties along the way such as filing taxes, it’s a big deal and it’s one thing that still makes me nervous.

That being said what are some other challenges you’ve faced since taking that giant step into entrepreneurship?

The biggest challenge thus far has been figuring out my target audience. Initially we started out catering to people in the age range of 17-19 and we also geared the prices towards that age group. However that wasn’t very succcessful as people in that group weren’t buying the product. We then changed our target audience to ages 25-30 because those were the people who were buying.

So the biggest challenge has been changing our target audience from what we initially wanted it to be, to what it really is. For example, Dazzling was the first venue we chose to have our launch party. At the time it was a hot spot in Toronto as rapper Drake also had his album release party there. But then as we began to study our clientele we realized they probably wouldn’t want to come to a venue like Dazzling. Once again we realized our market had changed, so for our next show we switched the venue to the Bata Shoe Museum. It was classic, chic, artsy, and most of all it suited our clientele.

We’ve only been in the market for 2 years, and the response has been amazing. Of course there are other designers who have come after us and may have already opened a store in such short time. But for us our process is a bit slower as we want to do it the right way and we take pride in our work.

What advice would you give a young woman who wants to enter the world of entrepreneurship?

Make sure you know what you want and what your niche is. This is important because today there are numerous people in this city who own their own business. But what do they really add to Toronto and the world? You need to figure out what makes you different, and make yourself stand out. You also need to become very knowledgeable about your industry. For us the Bible is just one of the references we use to educate ourselves about our brand. We also hold seminars for young people educating them on why they’re supposed to dress a certain way for church. This is important because young people today are not afraid to ask questions, and you have to be ready to provide an answer. So it’s not just about launching a fancy website, its also about educating yourself and those you expect to purchase your product.

Finally, what are your future plans for Church Dress?

Our main goal is to have a store in approximately 5-6 years. Right now our online sales are very strong so there’s no rush. We also want to expand into the US. We want to be known as the leaders in church fashion, and to be the best. Slowly but surely this is  happening. Since 2008 this business has taken on a life of its own. We know its going to take hard work but my team-(notably Elise Beckles, Hackim Farrell, and Cherith Burke) is strong and the support we’ve received from fellow entrepreneurs in the city keeps us going.

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  • Clive said:

    Great interview!

  • LAA said:

    What a fantastic business woman — marrying her passion and spirituality with what she does best. Bravo!!

  • Rachel Alfred said:

    Congratulations Quills, on your interview and keep ChurchDress going strong. Love always.

  • S said:

    Being able to tap into a niche that no one else has, is a true entrepreneur. Having faith and believing in yourself, is so important. great interview.

  • Tweets that mention Meet Aquila Guerra: her spirituality and love for fashion became her business advantage | Sway Magazine -- Topsy.com said:

    [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Serenity Satoru, Tori Lafferty, Gerald Benton, Stephanie, Stephanie and others. Stephanie said: RT @Swaymag: Meet Aquila Guerra: her spirituality and love for fashion became her business advantage http://bit.ly/9aYcDE [...]

  • administrative assistant said:

    Keep posting stuff like this i really like it

  • Ramz said:

    Very honest and impressive piece! Keep the readers posted about churchdress Isake. Good job!

  • Michelle Davis said:

    Aquilla, you were an inspiration when we met at UTSC and I am so very happy for you and your amazing business. You have found yourself a new client!

  • Damian Chandler said:

    Aquilla, like WOW. Praise God on the runway sis. Congrats

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