The Cofounder of Frank + Oak Tells Wealthsimple About Living Frugally and Spending Richly

Wealthsimple makes powerful financial tools to help you grow and manage your money. Learn more

Wealthsimple is a whole new kind of investing service. This is the latest installment of our recurring series “Money Diaries,” where we ask interesting people to open up about the role money has played in their lives. Ethan Song is CEO and cofounder of the fashion retailer Frank + Oak.

Right now, I have $60 in my pocket. I would say that’s normal for me. I'm very much a digital guy, so I don't carry a lot of cash —just enough for tips and small things like that. One thing that's interesting about me is I don't really believe in material goods. I don’t buy a lot of expensive things. If I had to tell you the most expensive material thing I’ve bought, I would say it was probably a jacket. I'm all about things that you use right away. Travel, food, going out. I think that’s what’s important in life, which says a lot about my personality.

I was born in Tianjin, China. I moved at the age of six. My father was doing his PhD in physics at University Laval in Quebec City, and I grew up in Montreal. It's a typical immigrant story, but he ended up starting a 3-D-imaging company and was very successful. But he was never really about material things, either. He believed if you're going to do something, it needs to make you happy, and it needs to bring something to the world.

I realized at a very young age that if I wanted to be able to do the things I wanted to do, I needed to plan things out financially. So I keep a budget. Absolutely. I set a monthly budget — an annual budget is too far away — and I keep it on a spreadsheet. I think when you create a budget, you want to be realistic. You want a budget that aligns with the lifestyle you want to have.

"I think that the idea of enjoyment is not always simple. For me I enjoy what makes my entire life richer."

As part of that budget, I set money aside on a monthly basis for what I want to do. So as an example, if I want to go on a trip, I make sure I set aside, say, 200 bucks every single month. So I know that in a while, I'll have more than enough to go to Europe. Maybe it sounds a little silly, but it works, and then I don't have to worry about it. My parents, being first-generation immigrants, didn't have a lot when they first got started here. And it was always important for them to both save money and also plan for the things that matter in life.

You know the smartest thing I've ever bought in my life? When I was about 18 years old, I bought a five-week intensive course to learn the English language in Halifax. I think that was a smart move. Before that, I spoke Chinese, and then I learned French.

I’ve had jobs since I was 16 years old. My first job was as a camp counselor. After that I had the chance to work at an independent movie theater; I loved that. I haven’t had a lot of bad jobs to tell you the truth. I studied electrical and computer engineering, and then my first job out of college was working at Deloitte as a management consultant. It was awesome, actually. I never thought that I would work as a consultant—I'm such a consumer-oriented person. But I didn't have any money to start a business when I got out of school, so I applied, got an internship there, and turned that into a job. I was there for about two years. The main thing it gave me was a level of responsibility that I think not a lot of people in their early 20s get. That job gave me the confidence to go out on my own.

And I saved a lot of money because the day I went to work at Deloitte, I already knew that I wanted to start a business. I really didn't change my lifestyle from when I was a student. I still had roommates. I would say that's something unique about this generation: We like the communal aspect; we like the simple things. I didn’t feel like I needed to upgrade anything. I have never owned a car. I don't feel the need to. I think it's part of my philosophy, I guess.

My partner, Hicham, and I have known each other since high school. Around 2011, we saw that there was an opportunity in the men's space because there was this whole new generation of men. And there weren’t a lot of brands that were speaking to that new millennial male generation. We started our business in 2012.

We each put in about $25,000 to start Frank + Oak. Since then, it's scaled quite a bit. We have more than 200 employees now. We're selling in 40 countries. We’re in Deloitte's Fast Fifty. Last year we were the fastest-growing company in Canada with 18,000% growth over four years.

There is some satisfaction in watching the worth of my company grow, definitely. I think that something that's interesting about me is that I really want to have a big impact. So to say that size doesn't matter, I think that wouldn’t be accurate. We definitely want to grow a big business; we want to grow a globally known brand.

When it comes to personal finances, I think that careful planning is important—it's what makes it so you can have the life that you want, not just in the next five years but for the next 50 years. A lot of young people don't necessarily think about that and end up having a lot of debt by the age of 30, and I think that makes things really hard. So it’s a balance between planning and living in the present: You can't just be future-focused, just saving money for when you're dead —you're not going to enjoy it.

For me, travel is something I like to spend money on. I prefer exotic places. I'm a very curious person, and I'm always interested in discovering a new culture. One of the most interesting trips I went on was when I took a train from Moscow all the way to Ukraine, through Belarus and some of the countries in Eastern Europe and the old Soviet Union. I thought that was really interesting. I think that the idea of enjoyment is not always simple. For me I enjoy what makes my entire life richer.

I don’t think I’ll retire in the sense that I’ll sit around and do nothing. I will always have projects, whether they are business projects or they're personal projects. I'm just really bad at staying home.

As told to Wealthsimple. We make smart investing simple and affordable.

Wealthsimple uses technology and smart, friendly humans to help you grow and manage your money. Invest, save, trade, and even do your taxes in a better, simpler way.

Money Diaries

"I WAS WORKING AT A VEGAN BODEGA WHEN MY VIDEO WENT VIRAL."

Awkwafina Tells Us the Money Secrets of Viral Fame

subscribe

Get the best stories from our magazine every month

Sign up for our email newsletter

  • Money Diaries

    Friends with Money: Playwright Jeremy O. Harris

    In the second installment of her series, Tori Sampson talks to her friend from grad school, who has become a TV writer with an HBO deal and the author of the play that this year received the most Tony nominations ever.

  • Money Diaries

    Friends with Money: Comedian Sam Jay

    In her interview series Friends with Money, playwright and writer, Tori Sampson, talks to people she knows (and some she doesn’t) about money, what it’s like to have it and to be without it. Here, in her first installment: stand-up comedian, Saturday Night Live writer, and star of the Netflix special “Sam Jay: 3 in the Morning”, Sam Jay.

  • MEET WEALTHSIMPLE

    A new kind of financial company

    Invest, trade, save, spend, and even do your taxes in a better, simpler way.

    see-more cta
  • Money Diaries

    Joel Kim Booster Was in Massive Student Debt Until Last Year

    Before he was cast in Sunnyside or had a Comedy Central special or wrote for Billy on the Street, he was raised working class in Illinois, saddled with huge student debt, and worked marathon hours doing customer service for Groupon. Joel Kim Booster shares his money story.

  • Money Diaries

    Tynomi Banks’ Big Break Was Probably Getting Fired From a Corporate Job

    On the heels of her elimination from Canada's Drag Race, the world-class drag performer talks about inequality in the drag world, her mother’s lessons in hustle, and drag during the time of covid.

MEET WEALTHSIMPLE

A new kind of financial company

Invest, trade, save, spend, and even do your taxes in a better, simpler way.

GET STARTEDright arrow icon

Our best stories, once a month.

Sign up for our newsletter

The content on this site is produced by Wealthsimple Technologies Inc. and is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be investment advice or any other kind of professional advice. Before taking any action based on this content you should consult a professional. We do not endorse any third parties referenced on this site. When you invest, your money is at risk and it is possible that you may lose some or all of your investment. Past performance is not a guarantee of future results. Historical returns, hypothetical returns, expected returns and images included in this content are for illustrative purposes only. By using this website, you accept our (Terms of Use) and (Privacy Policy). Copyright 2022 Wealthsimple Technologies Inc.

;