The women of the Schmitz family are no strangers to entrepreneurship. Mary-Anne Schmitz raised her daughters to be leaders and to believe in themselves. This powerhouse and ever stylish mother along with her two daughters dish on how they fed their souls and followed their hearts. Saying goodbye to the corporate world and embracing the power and influence of motherhood, they share with us the strength and magic that happens when women support women.

Founded by Mary-Anne, Gardening by Design has been creating meaningful outdoor spaces for over 30 years. After partnering with her daughter Engelina and bringing on another seasoned designer, Erin Gillies, they have proudly built an all female-run, recognized landscape design firm. At its core, Gardening by Design believes in connection; creating spaces where people can recharge and fall in love with the beauty of the nature that surrounds them.

Elise, Mary-Anne’s eldest daughter ventured onto her own path. Following her love of design and creating unforgettable moments, Elise is the founder and creative mastermind behind Toast Events; a multi-award winning, internationally published wedding planning company. Elise’ ability to bring a bride’s vision to life is like no other and with Toast Events at the helm, you can be assured that no detail will be missed.

In honour of International Women’s Day, we had the privilege of sitting down with these incredible women to ask about their entrepreneurial journeys and life as female founders. Read along for their responses below.

1: Mary-Anne is wearing the Oliver Knit Turtleneck by Birgitte Herskind.

2: Elise is wearing the Twill Tie Jacket by Matin.

3: Engelina is wearing the David Dress by Birgitte Herskind.

August Women (AW): Coming from a family of strong, independent female entrepreneurs, did you always know that you were destined to be your own boss? Is this something that was encouraged growing up?

Elise: Never did I imagine that I would ever own my own company. I had always assumed I would join one of our family's existing companies. My mother always encouraged us to be independent, creative, and imaginative.

The most profound skill she taught me was ingenuity, how to create something out of nothing. When I was about 8 years old I really wanted a big wall calendar so I could write down all my activities. My mum came home with this beautiful bright sunny yellow calendar. My sister Engelina came along and scribbled on the WHOLE THING. My holy grail of calendars was ruined but my mother said: “Look, it's not that bad.” She started colouring little flowers within the scribbled lines and made it into an art piece. A very eloquent prequel to my life as an event planner & designer.

Engelina: I think it was more so an exposure thing for me. I grew up with both my parents owning their own businesses, and in turn was exposed to how doable it was. It was especially important that I saw my mum as an entrepreneur growing up. I think, subconsciously, it showed me how possible it was, as a woman, to own a business and also have children.

Mary-Anne: It was clear to me, at a very young age, that no one was going to boss me around including my 8 brothers. We were naturally independent, encouraged to use our imagination and never to give up.

AW: Can you describe your experience as a female founder? What have been the toughest and most rewarding parts?

Elise: For me, it can feel very isolating when you don’t have another person to help in decision making or bear the everyday responsibilities. As an entrepreneur you wear so many hats it can easily feel overwhelming. What I enjoy most about being an entrepreneur is the freedom you have to make your own choices, go at your own pace, reinvent at any time and the sheer knowledge that you can achieve whatever you put your mind to.

Engelina: Having ultimate control over all working parts of the business - this simultaneously can be so rewarding but can also be stressful and intimidating. There are many components and tasks that form a successful business and as an owner you wear several hats. I have the incredible privilege of being part of a super close team, so there are three of us who take on various roles.

Mary-Anne: The toughest part as a female founder is not feeling disillusioned when something goes wrong. The most satisfying part has been experiencing a project from start to finish and figuring out how to solve problems along the way.

AW: Engelina, you recently became a mother for the first time, congratulations! You’re also an owner and Senior Designer of a well recognized landscape design firm. What was it like to shift gears and step away from your business when your little one was born? How do you juggle motherhood and the business?

Engelina: I am so privileged to have my mother work alongside me, so when I got pregnant, we worked out a plan for her to take care of my clients while I was off on maternity leave! It worked out very well, and I was able to take off 8 months straight. That being said, I was doing a little bit of design work here and there, and helping out when I could. It kept my head in the game, which I think was good for me. I will now be going into my first Spring season after having my son. We will see how it goes, but I am confident that I will make it work!

1: Elise is wearing the Twill Tie Jacket by Matin.

2: Engelina is wearing the David Dress by Birgitte Herskind.

3: Mary-Anne is wearing the Oliver Knit Turtleneck by Birgitte Herskind.

AW: You all have incredible style. How would you describe your ‘office style’?

Elise: I lean towards a simple capsule wardrobe with classic interchangeable pieces. When I'm in the office sitting down for an afternoon of emails and event prep, I like to be comfortable and casual in leggings and a comfy hoodie or sweater. During in person meetings and site visits I’m drawn to wearing effortless classic pieces such as an oversized crisp white dress shirt with a cropped pant, then accessorising with a really nice pair of shoes and jacket. At events it’s all about blending in with guests which usually calls for a nice black cocktail dress.

Engelina: At my home office, I generally dress in comfortable, simple clothing. My true style is brought out while I am with clients at consultations, or checking in at job sites. I would describe my style as androngenous, practical, with one or two items (per outfit) that feel unique to me. I love vintage pieces that have a retro 70’s vibe. I’m feeling like this summer, I would like to add bold prints, and more colour to my wardrobe!

Mary-Anne: Practical wear, with a boho feel. I like oversized sweaters, stripy t-shirts, skinny jeans, chunky boots & trench coats.

AW: If we were to raid your closet, what would be the most interesting thing we would find?

Elise: A small obscure collection of custom fascinator hats.

Engelina: A client of mine gifted me a beautiful wool jacket designed by Issey Miyaki from the 70’s…By far the coolest thing in my closet!

Mary-Anne: A flowy white silk dress with hand painted leaves, designed and made in Hawaii

AW: What is one piece of advice you would share with a woman looking to start her own company?

Elise: Stay curious and your success will be limitless.

Engelina: I strongly believe that more minds offer more ideas. Bring on a teammate(s) you can brainstorm with, go to for support, and who offer a different perspective, or set of skills you may not have.

Mary-Anne: Follow your instincts and stay positive.

AW: Can you share three tips for creating work life balance?

Elise: Listen to your body, don’t be afraid to hire a life coach and ask for help.

Engelina: Take a quick 15 minute walk to breathe in the fresh air and rejuvenate yourself. Set time limits for work. Try to schedule your work time so that you are able to be present in other activities. And try to remind yourself that although your career is an important part of your life, it is just that -a part of your life. There are other parts that matter just as much, if not more!

Mary-Anne: Stay grounded, spend time with your little ones, and take a walk outside to refresh your mind!

Gardening by Design and Toast Events are two Ottawa based companies. For more information or to connect, reach out to and

Photos by The Notley Creative.

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