Above: ???? via Pacific Threads Youtube

By contributor Krista Meckelborg

After listening to hours of lectures each week, it’s understandable if you choose to avoid your professors outside of classes. But doing so can prevent you from accessing one of the greatest assets you have while at university: mentors.

VIU student, Andrew Labun, and recent graduate, DJ Levy, recently began an online clothing company called Pacific Threads.  Their new brand celebrates self-expression through personalized apparel.  The two partners started the business from the ground up, overcoming many obstacles along the way.  One of the biggest struggles they came across was finding the necessary funding to kick-start the company.

“We had to get used to hearing ‘no’,” said Labun.  “We were in the mindset where, if you hear ‘no’, you go on to the next one.  We weren’t giving up.”

The Pacific Threads team finally gained funding through Futurpreneur Canada after attending and speaking at Entrepeer, a networking event that took place at the Keg Steakhouse here in Nanaimo. One of the conditions in receiving funding from Futurpreneur required Labun and Levy to find a mentor to help guide their actions.  The team chose one of VIU’s beloved marketing professors, Barbara Thomas, to lead them down the best path.

“She points us in the right direction,” said Labun as he described the type of help that Thomas provides to his team.  “She steered us away from something she thought might not have worked.”

Labun particularly appreciates the way that Thomas guides them in communicating the Pacific Threads brand in the best way possible. She helps them understand how to show people who they are, not just as a company, but as individuals.

Levy and Labun work hard together.  They are both internally driven to succeed, and have a lot on the line with this company.  Building a business is not like working on a team project; it’s not a task forced upon you.  Everyone involved has consciously and purposefully chosen to be involved.

“It’s fulfilling to do the work,” said Labun.  “We are very ambitious, we set very high goals.”

But despite the commitment and enthusiasm, starting something brand new can be difficult without a guide.  Looking back, Labun realizes that working with a mentor has been incredibly valuable to the company.

“She’s a joy to work with.  It’s good to have another person to bounce ideas off of.”

Even the best can benefit greatly from mentorship.  Aristotle needed Plato.  Hayley Williams needed Brett Manning.  LeBron James needs Tyronn Lue.  A recent article by Forbes named mentorship the “key to career success.”  Mentors are not meant to tell us what to do or change who we are, but rather to guide us on how we can best be ourselves.

So, where do you find these mentors?  Anywhere, really.  Begin by building relationships with your professors and other local professionals.  Find someone who is experienced in the industry you wish to pursue.  A mentor doesn’t need to be someone connected to the university, although they may be easier to connect with as a student.  Those within our education system are here because they believe in the power of education, and empowering and enabling young adults.

This has never been more true than at VIU, where class sizes are so small that all of your professors will know your name by the end of the semester.  In my experience here, professors are incredibly willing to lend their time if it means helping you pursue your professional and educational goals.

For Labun and Levy, finding a mentor through the university worked out perfectly.

“I’ve had Barbara [Thomas] for a few classes,” said Labun.  “She’s one of my favourite professors here so we reached out to her and asked if she would be interested.  Our company is e-commerce, and her specialty is in that field, so we thought it would be a perfect fit.”

The Pacific Threads team meets with Thomas once a week on Saturdays.  They send her a list of topics for their meeting a day or two before, and give her an update on the week—what is going well, what isn’t.

I’ve had the pleasure of building relationships with professors during my time at VIU.  Along with proving to be excellent mentors, faculty are also great people to have as connections.  Professors are often some of the first to hear about local opportunities.  Most of us will be heading out to the job market upon graduation.  I know you’ve probably heard the cliché plenty of times before, but the honest truth is most opportunities for success will arise from relationships that are already established.  It truly is about who you know.

Through these relationships, I have been able to come across many opportunities that would otherwise not have existed.  From job connections, to internship opportunities, to clients, to event management roles: my professors have really helped me out along the way.

Take the time to know your professors. Whether that be through mentorship or just a connection, I promise you won’t regret it.

To see the success of Pacific Threads first hand, come visit their pop-up shop in front of the VIU Cafeteria March 29 and 30, or online at pacificthreads.ca.