Ten years ago, Dia Capello saw a business opportunity in Ottawa’s luxury consignment retail sector, specifically within the niche market of pre-owned designer purses and accessories.
Instead of backing away due to fear of failure or lack of confidence, she took the bold step of launching her own online business, Valamode. Turns out, she was ahead of the curve, embracing e-commerce shopping and sustainable fashion before they became trendy.
Today, the 37-year-old entrepreneur boasts seven-figure annual sales, operates globally and continues to add new members to her team.
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Who knew high-end handbags could be such a serious business? Well, Capello did.
She saw potential in purses after coming across an article asserting certain top-tier bags were a better investment than gold. “It made me dig a little further and I realized that very particular brands will sustain incredible value and actually go up, which is wild.”
Not long after Valamode made its debut, the business received a publicity boost through a newspaper article that ran in publications across Canada. This was followed by a successful pop-up collaboration with Bayshore Shopping Centre in September 2015, at a time when flash retailing was still new.
By 2017, Capello was a full-time entrepreneur. She left her position as a human resource specialist at Innovapost and set her sights on opening a physical location, driven by her belief Ottawa was missing a luxury retail space.
Capello found a temporary spot in Westboro, with help from local real estate entrepreneur Derek Noble, before relocating to nearby Wellington West. It’s where she now operates “the best curated closet in the city.”
“Honestly, sometimes I can’t believe I’ve made it 10 years,” said Capello during a recent interview at her by-appointment showroom. The space is every bit as lovely and charming as the owner. “I’m lucky because Ottawa really does support its community, and there’s something to be said about having great relationships across the city with other like-minded business owners who want to see you succeed.”
An example of this support unfolded when she popped over to the Italian food store Il Negozio Nicastro to buy a couple of lattés for the interview. The shop not only wished her good luck, but also gave its endorsement by generously giving her the specialty coffees.
It’s easy to cheer for Capello. Her story is one of courage, adaptation, risk-taking, community and, above all, hard work and sacrifice.
Her journey began in 1990 when she arrived in Canada at the age of three as a refugee, accompanied by her older brother and their mother, Nahid Assar. “She’s my hero,” said Capello of her mom, who fled her homeland with only her kids and three suitcases. “She really wanted to give her children the freedom of choice.”
Establishing a new life in Canada wasn’t easy. The family had to learn a new language and adjust to a different culture while facing financial constraints.
“We were told, ‘Work hard and anything is possible,’” said Capello, who, at the age of 12, fibbed about her age to get her first job, working at a restaurant. With her first paycheque, she bought a countertop toaster for the household.
“Growing up, I knew that if I wanted certain things in life I had to get them myself. That way, I could pay for extracurricular activities and be able to buy books and clothes and those types of things.”
The high school student juggled multiple jobs and saved her money with the goal of moving her family out of social housing. One of her jobs as a teenager was to sell handbags at Holt Renfrew.
“I dreamed of a home; I dreamed of a home,” recalled Capello.
Her resourceful mother also held down various jobs, including working as a banquet server at The Westin hotel. The GM at the time was John Jarvis, whose wife, now-retired business executive Françoise Gagnon, would later become Capello’s client and mentor.
At age 17, Capello purchased her first property near Riverside and Walkley, co-signing the Scotiabank loan with her mother. The house marked a strategic turning point. “That was the smartest decision I ever made,” said Capello, who would later reinvest the profits from resale to grow her wealth.
Capello is particularly proud to be supporting sustainable fashion. “Consignment, generally speaking, is a very healthy way to give back to the universe. If you have an item in your closet that you’re not using, finding the right store to sell it allows you to use the funds for something else, all while the item finds a new, loving home.”
Among the prestigious brands that she carries are Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Hermès. Her showroom has a vintage Chanel bag priced at $7,000. The owner paid $1,500 when she purchased it 30 years ago. It was a smart purchase, indeed, said Capello.
The entrepreneur has built wonderful relationships with her illustrious clientele. “I definitely have access to some incredible closets,” said Capello, who travels to Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal to meet with clients and acquire their luxury items.
Valamode also facilitated the fateful meeting between Capello and her future husband. A client’s daughter, upon learning she was inexplicably single, knew of the perfect match.
Her blind date with Anthony Capello in 2018 turned into marriage two years later. “I feel so lucky to have met him through my work,” said Capello, who considers her husband a business role model. Anthony and his brother, Matthew, operate Capello Systems, a second-generation, family-owned specialized audio-visual and security systems company.
Capello hopes to expand from two part-time staff members to a team of six by spring. “I’m always entertaining what’s next,” said Capello, who fields unsolicited offers from individuals interested in investing, partnering or buying Valamode — a word she created for its pleasing sound.
“I would love to do more public speaking to inspire other women that anything is possible if you work hard,” said the member of the Women Presidents Organization for women entrepreneurs. “You take risks, give back to your community, build relationships and never take your freedom of choice for granted in this country.”
Capello remains grounded in her humble beginnings. Each birthday, she includes a treat that she longed for in childhood — a McCain Deep’n Delicious Chocolate Cake. To her, it’s a sweet reminder of her extraordinary journey to success.