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The Retro Bag Canada thriving at CF Masonville Place in London, Ont.

Founder Adesola Ogunsakin started an online retro bag company in 2019 and opened her first retail location recently.

The Retro Bag Canada thriving at CF Masonville Place in London, Ont.
The Retro Bag Canada's founder, Adesola Ogunsakin. The retro-vintage bag company opened its first retail location at Cadillac Fairview (CF) Masonville Place in London, Ont. in the fall of 2022. SUBMITTED PHOTO

She starts her day bright and early.

Every day at around 4:30 a.m., Adesola Ogunsakin is awake, ready to give thanks to God for another day to do what she loves.

Once she collects her thoughts and does her morning readings, at around 6:00 a.m., Ogunsakin sets her sights on the gym, exercising for 30 minutes to an hour before going home to change clothes and step into life as an entrepreneur in London, Ont.

The founder of Retro Bag Canada then heads to Cadillac Fairview (CF) Masonville Place, one of the city’s biggest malls, for a 12-hour day in her store. By 10:30 p.m., she’s at home, settling down with a glass of wine, ready to rinse and repeat.

With such a busy schedule, you would think she doesn’t have time for anything else. It would be a solid guess, but she is also a medical school graduate and works as a physician’s assistant twice a week.

“I’m always at the mall,” she told Black Dollar Magazine. “I’m mostly around the college and university students that come here to shop, and we chat about everything from business to life. Even the retired community here has been nice and welcoming (in London), so that’s really exciting. I also work in downtown Toronto, two times a week at a pain clinic assisting one of the physicians there.”

Her storefront at Masonville Place is the company’s first brick-and-mortar location, following an online-focused approach during the pandemic. Ogunsakin said she decided that the city of London was ideal to set up shop, especially leading up to the busy Christmas season last year.

Before opening, she participated in farmers markets, including London's oldest, the Covent Garden Market, to test the customer base. In five months, the move helped Ogunsakin's company reach six figures in lifetime sales, she said in an email. She added that she plans to manufacture her bags in a facility based in Toronto or London to create jobs in Ontario.

From clinic to commerce: The retro bag company is born

She thought she was going to be a doctor. Her younger sister is also studying to become one and is completing her cardiology fellowship.

Ogunsakin moved to the U.S. from Nigeria with her family at 14, landing in Houston, Texas, where she completed high school. Then, she moved to Canada in 2007, where she started studying soon after to enter the medical field.

Following grad school in 2017, Ogunsakin participated in cancer research at New York University (NYU) in 2018 and Princess Margaret Hospital in Toronto in 2019-20. But unfortunately, she was unable to secure a medical residency and found herself having to shift gears to support herself.

Ogunsakin founded The Retro Bag Canada in 2019, selling functional vintage and retro bags online. She chose bags because of their accessibility: “you don’t have to deal with sizing like clothes — what you see is what you get.”

Growing up, her mother had a store when she was young and would sell a wide array of products and fashions to customers who entered. Ogunsakin vividly remembers when she had to greet them and help her mom tidy up around the shop.

So, thinking back, she said entrepreneurship has always been a part of her spirit. She used the hustle and know-how she learned from her mom to get started. From there, Ogunsakin chartered the farmers market circuit across Ontario and sold bags at pop-up shops to get started.

Shortly after launch, she joined Futurpreneur’s Black Entrepreneur Startup Program. It provides startup loan financing, up to two years of mentorship, and access to resources and networking opportunities across Canada for Black entrepreneurs aged 18-39. The program is funded by RBC, with additional loan financing from BDC. Upon completing the program, Ogunsakin received a $60,000 loan from Futurpreneur, RBC and BDC to jumpstart her business and invaluable financial education, tools, and resources.

“It’s been a huge boost and accelerator to make my dreams a reality. I didn’t have the funds to get started and it felt like the right route. I went knocking on doors to big banks and institutions, but I got turned down,” she said. “Futurpreneur gave me the opportunity not only with funding but with finding a mentor that has been extremely instrumental in making decisions and moves for the business.”

Founder Adesola Ogunsakin seen showing off her retro-vintage bags at Futurpreneur Canada's grand opening ceremony and showcase of its new office in downtown Toronto on Nov. 17, 2022. JORDAN MAXWELL PHOTO

Retro Bag brand seeking to expansion across Canada

From backpacks to beach bags, knapsacks to beaded bags, The Retro Bag Canada sells it all at Masonville Place. It also sells products online. Because she sources sustainable vegan leather for the bags, it has struck a chord with a younger customer base looking for those options. She also sells genuine leather bags for older audiences that appreciate fine-made bags.

“That was very big for me, being in the healthcare field. We got people to eat clean and keep track of their diets, and I guess I just had that mentality,” she explained. “I noticed it was also better for the environment to use sustainable materials. I just thought it was really cool that you could do that and come up with a great product like a bag.

“It’s funny because I see a wide range of customers that want nothing to do with vegan leather, but then there are others that do,” she said. “They say ‘thank you for caring,’” she added.

Over the next 10 months, Ogunsakin wants to grow the brand’s e-commerce platform. She said an intern she recruited from a local university has been instrumental in making this happen.

She also mentioned she’s in talks with a bookstore in the city to sell its top-selling SKUs and wants to expand her retail presence in Ontario and western Canada over the next five years.