December 05, 2003 Features & Images » Feature Story

Feature - Two boys and the Girls of Whistler 

How two local brothers built a business through networking, trade and a solid dose of integrity

By Kara-Leah Grant

It’s one of the biggest businesses in the world. Every home has one, or two, or even five. It helped launch Marilyn Monroe’s career and it’s difficult to name any high profile model that doesn’t have one. In fact, it is almost impossible to name any area of interest not serviced by the calendar industry. Love tiny paper airplanes? Got a thing for antique maps? Spend your free time quilting? There is a calendar for you. And you. And you.

Now, courtesy of the vision of local brothers Josh and Jordan Wolsey, there is a calendar for those who love Whistler women.

Called Girls of Whistler and featuring 12 local girls photographed in Whistler’s backcountry clad in local clothing, the calendar is the result of a year’s hard work and planning by the Wolsey brothers.

It’s not the first business the entrepreneurial brothers have operated, other ventures included golf ball recycling and a Vancouver newspaper. But the number one requirement for Josh and Jordan as they considered where to next direct their energies was that the business had to encompass aspects of their life they enjoyed. They wanted to run a business that created great experiences both for them and everybody they dealt with.

"The concept of Girls of Whistler was an evolution," explains Josh. "We wanted to put together all the things that we loved about Whistler – the women, being outside, the gear, fashion and events."

After all, why spend your life involved in something that doesn’t thrill you?

Josh and Jordan tested the waters with a bikini contest at Tommy Africa’s and then followed up with a fashion show at Garfinkel’s. Both events were successful and the brothers decided to go ahead and shoot a calendar. They already had the girls, thanks to the bikini contest, fashion show and personal contacts, and a serendipitous meeting at a Vancouver Culture Crawl in Vancouver snagged the project’s photographer.

"I’d never done a calendar before but was excited about the opportunity to work with regular everyday girls, not necessarily models, in their home town," says Wendy Dee. "Plus I thought it sounded like a really fun project."

Dee is an accomplished photographer who has worked on everything from the red carpet at the Academy Awards to male nudes to hockey teams to Vancouver nightlife.

Dee shot all 12 girls at various locations in the Whistler backcountry, accessed by helicopter. While most of the girls had no modelling background, she says they were a joy to shoot.

"Overall, it was a fun experience for everyone involved. The only real challenge was the weather," says Dee. "The calendar looks wonderful but I have some ideas on how to improve it next year, make the girls look more individual and bring out their personalities more."

With girls and a photographer, the most important thing left was clothing. Josh fired off over a hundred e-mails to various clothing manufacturers, from big name labels to local companies.

"It was difficult because we were going to people and telling them we wanted to produce a calendar showcasing local clothing lines, but the first thing they’d ask was, had we ever done a calendar before, and we had to say no," says Josh.

It was another moment of serendipity that led to Snowmotion’s involvement in the calendar.

"It was great timing for both of us because we were both heading down the same road at the same time," says Drew Bonnell, owner of Snowmotion.

"Snowmotion had already started to develop our imaging around the Snowmotion girl and that was a big part of our promotional activity, stickers and posters. When the Girls of Whistler opportunity came along, it was a natural fit, developing into a symbiotic relationship."

While Bonnell says he didn’t know anything at all about Josh and Jordan when they initially approached him about providing clothing for the models, he is very impressed with the way the brothers conduct business.

"Josh and Jordan have done a high calibre, high quality job and they have been great to work with," says Bonnell. "Having had a business in Whistler since 1986, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go and I’m impressed with how these young guys managed themselves, held themselves and did what they said they were going to do."

Another major participant in the calendar, SMS, echoes that praise.

"It’s probably been one of the easiest partnerships I’ve been part of," says John Smart, owner of SMS.

"Josh is running a good show, he has a very well planned out idea and is growing it as he goes. The calendar makes so much sense. Whistler is still a bit of an old boys town, there are still more boys than girls here so it makes sense to use beautiful women to market products. I am looking forward to more projects that we’re going to do in the future."

The partnership with SMS was so successful, the clothing company used both some of the Girls of Whistler girls and photographer Dee to create a print ad for ski magazines.

The smooth business relationships are no accident. The brothers deliberately set out not only to create a product to bring in revenue, but also to concentrate on creating great experiences for everybody involved in the making of the calendar, including the clothing companies, the bars, the photographer, the girls and of course, themselves.

"We don’t care whether or not we make any money doing it, we just wanted to have a really good time putting it together, creating the experiences, for us and for everybody that comes and helps us out," says Jordan.

"When you start a business like this, you have to forget about profit, offer what you can, trade what you can and get the support of as many people as you can. We traded everything we possibly could and in doing so created a big network. Then when we do well, we turn around and help out all those people who helped us. We made a commitment to use local everything whenever we could, supporting local people and businesses."

It’s a refreshing change from the sometimes cutthroat nature of business where companies can be out to get as much as they can for as little as they can from everybody they do business with. The concept worked. SMS and Snowmotion are both pleased with their experiences, and with the end result. As well, the credibility the brothers have gained through their operations opens them up to even more business opportunities.

"The whole idea was great. They were working with beautiful ladies and we had clothing we wanted to put on beautiful ladies," says Smart. "SMS didn’t have high expectations, but there were no costs on either side and it was good for them and good for us so it made sense to jump right in. It was a no brainer on our end because it was such a symbiotic relationship."

Snowmotion is currently focused on developing a fashion line and moving away from the souvenir business and into branded fashion and outerwear. The calendar gives this new direction exposure at a minimal business cost.

"I am quite impressed, they did a great job, and I think the end result proves they pulled it off," says Bonnell. "The models are proud to be in it and it’s positive for all the right reasons. They have done a great job of keeping it on track and they’ve ended up with a quality product."

That the quality product is a calendar featuring beautiful women opens it up to criticism of using sex to sell. It was an issue Josh and Jordan say they were very mindful of throughout the entire production process. Whether they were hosting a bikini contest, running a fashion show or shooting the calendar, the number one question in their mind was, would mom feel comfortable watching this? Or looking at this?

"We decided to stay away from the Maxim style calendar," says Josh. "We didn’t want a glossy polished look. In all the pictures we used, nothing was changed, no airbrushing and no touch ups. The models look the way the models look. They are real pictures, real girls. That’s the best part of it."

And the women who participated agree.

Holly is April’s girl and she says she is the antithesis of a ‘calendar girl’.

"I’m a tomboy and being in this calendar is completely out of character for me. My old boss dared me to do it after Josh asked me to participate," says Holly. "I really wasn’t too keen on doing it at all but when I spoke to Josh he was very reassuring and understanding of my concerns."

After her friends pushed her to do the calendar, Holly found herself flying in a helicopter to the backcountry for her shoot.

"It was a lot of fun and a really good day overall. It was a good experience for me because I learned I can break out of my shell and it’s good to do something out of the ordinary. I think Josh and Jordan produced the calendar with the most taste possible and that really impressed me. I hope that people understand it was about 12 girls getting together and having a good time doing something out of the ordinary."

Like everybody else involved, Holly says Josh and Jordan are very professional. "They handled everything with a lot of taste and a lot of class. If they had been anything close to the stigma I had coming into it, I would never have done it. But they weren’t, they were very considerate and understanding of all our needs."

Tamara is February’s girl and was approached by Josh, whom she already knew, to appear in the calendar.

"Everybody was worried about whether or not the calendar would be sleazy, but I knew Josh and Jordan and because of that, knew there was no way it would be like that," says Tamara. "I had confidence in Josh and knew I was in good hands."

Tamara says she enjoyed the entire experience and would recommend getting involved in next year’s calendar. "It’s cool to have a calendar to keep for the rest of your life – not many people get to be in a calendar, or go to the backcountry in a helicopter, I met some great people and ended up doing a magazine shoot," says Tamara.

"Plus Whistler needs something like this because it gives such good exposure to the small clothing companies in Whistler."

It’s a sentiment Dee agrees with.

"Josh and Jordan are always very professional and any problem that comes up they take care of it right away," says Dee. "I’ve been in the photography business for some time and worked with a lot of different people, they are definitely among the top. It’s a win-win for everybody because it’s good for the clothing companies, it’s good for the girls and it’s good for Whistler."

The calendar is now available from Snowmotion and the official launch is Dec. 10 th at Garfinkel’s.

"It’s been a lot of planning and a lot of hours but it’s always had a good vibe. I don’t think it will fall flat because we’ve had such a good response all the way down the line," says Josh. "We don’t care whether or not we make any money doing it, we just wanted to have a really good time putting it together, creating the experiences, for us and for everybody that comes and helps us out."

Jordan agrees with his brother, adding, "Whistler is a tourist town so we hope tourists buy the calendar to take home a piece of Whistler. If this calendar has a place in Whistler, I hope it’s right on the wall beside everyone’s fridge."

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