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Work It Wednesday - Sophia Pierro

If there's one thing to know about us, it's that we absolutely cannot ignore someone who goes all in when it comes to pursuing their dreams. For Sophia Pierro, this decision came at a pivotal time in her already established career. Using the skills she learned in the film industry, she went on to establish Present Day Gifts, a curated gift box service that we knew our audience needed to hear about. We admire Sophia's keen eye for beauty and function, as well as her tireless efforts to manifest tokens of appreciation that perfectly encapsulate life's important moments. Whether you're shopping for a client or a loved one, Sophia has got you covered with the perfect gift.

1. First off, tell us a little bit about you! Who is Sophia Pierro?

Who is Sophia Pierro??? That's a very good question! Ha. I guess I am a girl that loves a good joke, can't sit still, will work like a maniac, but can also watch 5 hours of a good HBO show in one sitting. I'm a driven person that needs goals, and am most happy when striving and completing my goals (big and small), but also equally finds joy relaxing with my loved ones and having a good conversation with friends. It's this duality in my personality that was a driving force in finding a better career for the lifestyle I craved. I am also a very visual person that loves finding beautiful things.

2.What’s the story behind Present Day Gifts?

When I was starting my career in the film industry, ten years ago, I got a job working as a producer's assistant on a big TV show here in Toronto. One of my many, many tasks was finding unique gifts for the cast, crew, etc ranging from thank you gifts, birthday gifts, new baby gifts, etc. Everything I found that was readily available as a gift basket was always turned down by my boss because it wasn't "personal enough" or "the quality wasn't up to their standards" and they would usually get me to go around the city and make up something unique with local goods I'd find around Toronto and online. Back then, I thought, "Wouldn't it be great to have a service that offered beautiful, modern gift baskets that didn't look like crap and reflected the city we lived in in an authentic, non-cheesy way, with quality goods people actually wanted?" And that's when I thought of my business. BUT - my life-long dream had been to work in the film industry, so this became my fall-back plan... a thing I would eventually do when I retired in, say 20-30 years.

Fast track 7 years later, and I was completely burnt out, working 14-16 hour days as a Set Decorator and Buyer (basically I would find the furniture and decor that you see on a set in a movie or TV show) and I was told by my doctor that I needed to slow down and stop working so hard because I had severe burn out. I found multiple lumps in my throat and armpits from the stress, I had a serious back problem and sciatica from a workplace injury, and I was an insomniac that only slept 4 hours a night. The problem was that there was no way to work 'less hard' in the industry I was in. It was a grind and my passion for it was slowly waning.

By sheer coincidence, this was also when a ton of small businesses were popping up around Toronto that started to focus on artisan-made goods, and they were beautiful. All of a sudden, I was seeing all these gorgeously packaged jams, spices, bracelets, ceramics that didn't have that folksy, cheesy look that we usually associate with "artisan goods". These were beautiful products with perfectly modern designs and impeccable quality. That's when I knew that my back-up plan needed to become my new passion and I started to work on creating my business. I launched my first collection of boxes in December of 2015.

3. We absolutely love the thought and care that go into your work; from the craftspeople with whom you collaborate, to the impeccably packaged boxes and baskets themselves, what do you love most about the process?

I still get a thrill at every sale. I've been so lucky to have many sales in the past three years, but I am still in awe that people - strangers - have found my business and like it! I really try to be grateful every day for the success I've been lucky enough to enjoy. It's easy to forget these things and become jaded, but I do really try to stay joyous about the process.

It's also so fun to find all the cute items I carry. My previous job entailed finding impossible to find objects (like a yellow couch in 2 weeks, or a hexagonal table that was 6ft wide, etc), so my brain is attuned to scouting and sourcing and finding interesting objects. I use my former skills towards this new career path and keep an eye out for unique items that have beautiful design. Colour combinations and thematic combinations are also very important and I still get a child-like thrill when I find the exact right thing that makes a perfect gift box.

I also love being around so many creative people. My past job was also very creative, but I was one of the younger people there and I am so grateful that now I am surrounded by other creative entrepreneurs, many of them women, that are my age and in my community, and it's just so fulfilling to work with others and support each other in this unique way. Toronto is just so full of incredible people creating things right now. It's a great time to be in this city.

4. Your transition from demanding career in the film industry to running your own operation must have been quite the professional reawakening. What kind of insights can you share with someone looking to take a major career leap?

Though my transition may seem like a major jump, it's actually not that crazy of a leap. In the film industry, especially in the Sets Department, you are expected to juggle a lot of things at once, constantly put out fires, balance budgets, delegate tasks, and deal with with a lot of vendors, which is not unlike running your own business.

I will say that the one thing that really stuck with me was that you need to be patient and you have to be willing to stick with it for a while before you see any kind of success. I assumed that, because I made something I thought was beautiful and useful, that everyone in the world would see it and spread the world and it would become an immediate success. But that's not typically how things work. It took time, (almost 3 years), to build it to what it is today, which is a sustainable, consistent business that can pay me a good salary and make a bit of a profit. I am happy that I stuck with it and that it is finally what I had initially envisioned, but I'm glad for journey because it taught me so much. I was also quite lucky to have a career that allowed to me grow my business on the side and to slowly take less and less work over time while still keeping me afloat and alive. I know not everyone has that opportunity.

5. With so much exposure to Toronto’s entrepreneurial space, we’d love to know some brands that you’re loving right now!

My friend Dominique owned a little store called Rowan Apothecary in the Beaches, and I was one of her first retailers for her in-store natural beauty line "Wildwood." She has since decided to close the shop in the Beaches and devote all her time to the Wildwood brand, because the business was growing so much, and her products are just getting better and better. I personally love them and highly recommend them. And from a food perspective, Damien's Hot Sauce is just the best sauce around. They were just starting out when I was starting as well and they've really expanded to a lot of new shops. I use this hot sauce on my eggs every weekend, and to spice up my burgers.

6. What has been the most exciting part about growing your business?

Along the same lines of the previous question, one of the best parts about watching this business grow has been seeing my colleagues and other small business owners grow along side me. It's been so incredible seeing them all expand and pivot. One of the best things about this new career of mine has been to connect with so many other young people (many of them women) who are leaving their first careers and starting in new endeavours and making this city more interesting.

It has also been so exciting to go through a week and see consistent orders and think "Okay... this is not a total failure. Maybe this is all going to work." It's such a simple thought, but it takes a long time to get there (especially if you self-fund your business) and I am just constantly thankful for the position I get to be in. I know how lucky I am.

7. What’s next for you and Present Day Gifts?

Well, I am expecting my first baby this September so things are going to get a lot busier at Present Day very soon! As a solopreneur, you can't really step away from your business so I will attempt to do both simultaneously. We'll see how it goes! BUT - I'm not totally insane. I will be hiring my first full-time staff member in the coming months and will have to figure out how to scale for the next holiday season, as it is sure to be our busiest yet. I have had part-time help throughout the last 3 years, but this will be the first real employee. It's both terrifying and exciting.

8) How do you #workit everyday?

I #workit everyday by trying to keep creative and inspired, putting my all into all aspects of my career, while taking time to be grateful for the opportunities that I have been blessed with. Gotta work hard, be nice and stay humble. Those are the true keys to success.

We want to send a huge thank-you to Sophia for sharing her journey with us. We can't wait to see what's in store in the future. If you're looking for the perfect way to say "Congratulations" or "Just Because", follow Present Day Gifts on Instagram or shop the website.

Photos by Matt Henry

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