Phyllis Humby has quite the story to tell.
Indeed, the long-time author, First Monday columnist and former entrepreneur has many stories to tell from her 20 years in the retail fashion industry. Some of them are humorous, some of them are moving, some of them are thoroughly uncomfortable, and some of them are downright unbelievable.
A multitude of Humby’s most memorable anecdotes, tales and adventures from when she owned a swimwear, lingerie and cruisewear boutique during have been released in memoir form by Crossfield Publishing.
Her book, Hazards of the Trade: An Intimate Reveal of the 80’s and 90’s Lingerie Boom, is available for purchase at The Book Keeper as well as at Crossfield Publishing’s website.
Although Humby has previously written a few books spanning several genres, Hazards of the Trade is her first “traditionally published” book as well as her first memoir.
“There’s a lot of humour in it, it’s a light-hearted, humourous story for the most part,” she said. “There are some sad and tragic things in there too, but that’s life and that was a portion of my life too.”
Humby’s book is an intimate, first-hand expose that details the inner workings of the retail fashion industry during the final two decades of the 20th century.
Replete with laugh-out-loud stories such as the time when she had to deal with a rabid squirrel that became stuck in the store’s ductwork (“That was an experience, trying to keep that knowledge from everyone who came in the store that day!”), to tales of attending and organizing high-end fashion shows, to far more ominous accounts of dealing with stalkers and teaching staff how to deal with phenomenon of obscene phone calls, the memoir is filled with day-to-day stories that many people can probably relate to, Humby said.
”It’s Canadiana, really, it’s the type of experiences that have been shared by thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs in the retail clothing business and retail businesses everywhere.
“And I also think one thing that’s so special about the book is that I started off in one era and ended in totally another. So you can see all the changes during that short period of time, how significantly the business changed in that time.”
The genesis of the book came from a writer’s group that the Thedford-based author was involved with. After writing stories each week about her time in the retail fashion industry and reading them to the group, her fellow writers encouraged her to go further and explore more of her past.
“I was really inspired by one of the other members who had written a memoir,” Humby said. “So I began writing a story a week to bring into the group to read and I was told to keep at it, that I might just have something there, the other members really enjoyed my story. And every memory I thought of evoked another memory. I just kept building the stories until I had a book of them and then I decided to market it.”
Though the book for the most part is light-hearted and fun, compiling all of these stories from her past wasn’t always a pleasant experience.
“It’s tough to look back in a lot of ways. It was bittersweet for me,” Humbly said. “It was a lot of work, but I enjoyed it. I loved the people I worked with and I loved the business.
“On the other hand, I also had a child who was only four when I started the business, so I naturally had the mother’s guilt not being as home as much as I should have been, so writing the book brought back a lot of those feelings, too,” she added.
Though she didn’t expect the memoir would ever be published, it was a goal she always had in the back of her mind.
“I decided early on that I wanted to be traditionally published and that’s the road I took. After a number of years I just accepted the fact that it wasn’t going to happen. And I was okay with that,” she said. “I gave it a good go, so I was at peace with it.
“(Hazards of the Trade) was really published through a fluke,” Humby continued. “I started writing short stories and I was very lucky with several of them. One of my short stories got the attention of a publisher who asked for a longer manuscript from me if I had one. And they ultimately decided they would publish me, which really surprised me.”
Not only has Hazards of the Trade been published traditionally, but in September, Humby has another contemporary fiction novel that will be rolled out.
Graphic designer Brody Williams, who is Humbly’s son, created the cover of Hazards of the Trade.
“That was not something that was thought out in advance at all, it was simply a suggestion I made to him and the publishers picked his cover, so I suppose that was meant to be,” she said.
Although Humbly was scheduled to have a book launch at Sarnia’s The Book Keeper on April 22, the pandemic has cancelled those plans.
For those in quarantine and looking for a bit of light reading, Humby said Hazards of the Trade would be a perfect antidote to all of the things going on outside.
“I do think it would be a good read, especially during these times, to take our minds off of what is happening around us right now,” she said. “It’s not a heavy read – it’s light and it’s humorous but it’s also a very poignant story.”