Robin Fitzsimon at Etsy: Made in Canada 2017

Robin Fitzsimon, the founder of Fitzy, a brand dedicated to modern leather goods, opened her business by simply creating a new item every day for a year. The 365 project first turned into an Etsy shop, then it became Fitzsimon’s full-time job. Sharing a studio in Toronto with paper artist Ali Harrison, Fitzsimon makes modern leather backpacks, bow ties, cord keepers, and more. Her new green and gray leather items will appear in Etsy: Made in Canada show at the MaRS building on September 23.

Robin Fitzsimon

Sveta: Robin, your 365 project sounds really inspiring. Tell me how it helped you to start your business.

Robin:  It was kind of crazy, but also really good. I made something every day for a year, and I posted it online by midnight. I did drawing, painting, sculpture… I started doing jewellery and working with leather. And then I started doing leather jewellery. Because I was posting every day, I had friends and family following. So they knew if I didn’t get it done on time.

I had a lot of people saying, Oh, your stuff is really great! You should start selling it. I never thought that I would own my business. I haven’t been to a business class or something like that. But with Etsy, it’s so easy to start your own shop, and I was like, Why not? I opened my Etsy shop in 2013. And then I sell my pieces online, I sell to stores mostly in North America but some overseas as well. It just kind of snowballed, and then it became a full-time.

S: Were you still at school at that time?

R: No, I had finished school. I went to OCAD, and I have a BFA in Sculpture and Installation. I was looking for a way that’ll bring some spontaneity back to my art work ‘cause when you are making art for school, it always has to be very well thought out. It takes a long time. So I missed doing stuff like quickly and not overthinking things. That is what the 365 project was for me. I only had until midnight and couldn’t overthink – I just had to get it done and not worry about it too much. And sometimes I made the stuff that was not really great, but sometimes it was really great.

S: What is the hardest and what is the best thing in running your own brand?

R:  The hardest part is just making sure you have enough money to pay your bills and buy materials. You make more money in different times of the year. You have to account for that. That’s may be the one thing that you don’t love. The best thing is…I don’t even know. I love being in charge and making my own schedule. It’s just me, so I can decide how I wanna do it. Being able to work with your hands every day and make your own things is really amazing. It’s really cool to be like, I made that from start to finish. It’s a real sense of pride in doing that. It’s also really fun to be surrounded by creative people.

S: What was the first item you sold and how did you feel about it?

R: The first piece I sold was a green leather bracelet. It was in that moment when my business finally felt real.

S: Do you always make your pieces by yourself?

R: I make everything myself in the studio except for the screen printed pieces. I have a printer that does the screen printing for me.

S: Where do you get your materials from?

R: Lots of different places. All our hardware is a manufacture of the States, and all of our leather is from local suppliers.

S: What is the main element of your style?

R: I always try to use really nice hardware, and especially in my purses I like to use copper rivets, so they add an interesting colour to the piece that you don’t see everywhere.

S: And what makes the rest of your pieces unique?

R: I think it’s the aesthetic. I try to go for something very clean and minimal. Everything is there for a reason. I don’t want any extra pips and bows and things like that. A lot of my pieces are stuff that you’ve never seen before.

S: Do you organize your pieces in collections?

R: I’m just trying to design items that people will really love and that will last for a really long time. So I try to do less but better. I don’t want to come up with a new piece all the time – I want to make sure that everything I’m making is done very specifically. Like I’m trying design a bag in a way that makes sense for what the bag needs to be.

Though, I’m starting to do kind of seasonal colours. The dark green leather and the grey leather are both brand new for fall [points at freshly-made backpack and bag hanging on the wall of her studio]. And for the first time you’ll be able to get them at the show. It’s been fun to work with the colour rather than do just black and brown, which are nice classic leather colours, but people seem to really like the colour.

S: How would your describe your customers?

R: Usually, urban women 25 to 35 who really appreciate handmade. Generally, creative types looking for something cool but also want to spend their money on something they really need.

S: I know you’ve participated in One of a Kind and Makeology craft shows. Is it your first time at Etsy: Made in Canada?

R: I always do Etsy: Made in Canada show. It’s so good. I wasn’t actually there last year, but I had my sister running the booth, and it went very well.

S: What do you like most about shows like that?

R: It’s only one day, and all the customers are so good. Everyone is really excited ‘cause everybody likes that scene. It’s like our perfect target market. It’s kind of going to a summer camp. You get to see all of your maker-friends. You only see each other at the shows because everyone is working. Usually craft shows that’s when the community comes together.

S: Are there any designers/makers who inspire you?

R: I wouldn’t say I have one favourite designer. It’s always nice to look to other makers to get an advice and inspiration. Like Arounna Khounnoraj from bookhou. She’s been my mentor. She’s so generous with her help. She came up to me during One of a Kind show. She’s very successful in a Toronto scene, and she gave me all that amazing advices.

S: How did you used those advices?

R: I used to hand sew before I made bags, when I just made little accessories. And she was just like, Why don’t you have a leather sewing machine? You could make stuff so much bigger because hand sewing takes so long. And then I did, and it was a game changer. It was so much better, I started making bags. It’s great to be able to make stuff so much faster than before.

S: What else besides new leather colours should the attendants expect from you?

R: We’ll also have the brand new large backpacks and Toronto T-shirts. It’s like a spin on the ways people say “Toronto”. So you know, if you are from Toronto, you don’t say the second “T”.

S: Any special plans for the near future?

R: I’m trying to do more teaching. I teach leather workshops too. I’ll be doing one at the show. I have an online workshop through Skillshare. I want to do it more often.

S: What is your favourite Fitzy item right now?

R: It’s a mini backpack, the little kind of triangle one. That is new from spring. I try to ride my bike as much as I can in the summer, but regular purses don’t work very well when you riding your bike, so I wanted a cute little backpack that worked well as a purse, but that was hands-free. Right now it’s my favourite, but it will probably change in a few months.

Etsy: Made in Canada is happening on September 23rd at MaRS Discovery District. Continue following our fashion and lifestyle coverage on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

Catchin a cold at Toronto new surf shop

Aliya N Barnes in front of Elie Landesberg’s photo.
Photos by Sveta Soloveva 

Try on a juicy rash guard, flip through a surf magazine, grab a board of your dream and … go surfing!

Are the Great Lakes too cold for you? Don’t worry, Surf the Greats company got you covered. Their new surf shop and café at 276 Carlaw Avenue offers thick cold water wetsuits, surf booties, and mittens from Rip Curl. While the warmest gear keeps your body comfortable, the beach-inspired events and parties will take care of your mood. For example, until July 29th, Catchin A Cold photo exhibit showcases works from 16 artists who represent all five of the Great Lakes.

Hidden in the labyrinth of the building, the shop became one of many surfers’ favourite spots in Toronto even before it opened. Even while under construction, it hosted Toronto’s premiere of environmental movie Island Earth and welcomed adventure photographer Chris Burkard who was in to Toronto to present his surf documentary Under An Arctic Sky.

Now the shop is officially open and it offers everything surfers need for their soul and body, from surfboards, apparel, sun care, and printed matters to surf and yoga lessons, energizing drinks, and many exciting events like film screenings and live music concerts!

“The atmosphere is totally amazing,” said 20-year-old Aliya N. Barnes, who attended the grand opening party on June 29th. “It’s colourful and bright, but it still has a nice surf chill feeling. I feel like I wanna live here.”

Surf the Greats’ owner Antonio Lennert said that the physical shop is an extension of their online platform that brought many surf enthusiasts together through organizing beach cleanups and free yoga classes and offering surf equipment and lessons for the last three years.

“We started online as a media outlet to connect all different communities of surfers over the Great Lakes using hashtag ‘surf the greats’,” he said. “I feel like we’ve earned the community’s trust by giving, and now the community is giving back to us. That’s why now we have a home, and there’s so many people here and so much positivity. It just feels very special.”

Surf the Greats’ sign over the bar table is shimmers in its juicy colours, shifts from pink to blue and from blue to green. Dj Great Lake Shark (Ellie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe with folktronica tracks until the band Gold Complex takes over with their live acoustic.

Gold Complex performs at the surf shop on June 29

Guests sample RISE Kombucha, order beer from Sweetgrass Brewing Co., and explore newly arrived surfboards and apparel. There are a couple of major brands like Vans Canada and Rip Curl, but Surf the Greats tries to stay local as much as possible and carries products from Montreal, Tofino, BC, and Toronto, along with their own brand.

Walking through the rows of beach bags and rash guards, the visitors occasionally stop and stare at the photos of Catchin A Cold exhibit. The sixteen photographs vary from black and white to colourful, and show surfers riding or waiting for waves, walking to and staring at the water. “What you see on the walls is a mix of professional photographers and people who go to beach with their phones,” said Lennert. “We tried to make sure that we represented all the Great Lakes, amateur and professional photographers, male and female photographers.” Surf the Greats announced the photo competition in the winter and, working with Vans Canada, selected the winning works out of 700 submissions.

Dj Great Lake Shark (Elie Landesberg) creates a tropical vibe at Surf the Greats’ grand opening party
“I took this photo in Scarborough, Ontario, in a very-very stormy day, and there was one surfer out in very turbulent water,” Elie Landesberg told Novella about his black and white photo. “Because the sky was so grey and the birds were blowing around the sky, I thought it was a metaphor for my life and for surfing to see somebody sitting insulated, so calm among so much turbulence and chaos.”
Lennert said Surf the Greats will host a new event every week. Many of them are free or by donation. Check out a screening of a the surf movie GIVEN on July 20, a wave forecasting workshop on July 29th, and beach yoga every Sunday morning.
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Cold and Amazing: Recent Events to Celebrate Surfing in Toronto

Antonio Lennert says his company Surf the Greats partners with some local exclusive brands for their new surf shop in Leslieville that will open on June 29th. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Even though many Torontonians think they have to travel far to surf, the local community of wave riders is growing in popularity. More and more people are popping up on the boards in the midst of lakes Ontario, Huron, and Erie.

The adventure and lifestyle company Surf the Greats is going to increase the excitement for the new obsession even more with a couple of big surf events. The screening of Under An Arctic Sky at The Royal (608 College Street) welcomes its renowned adventure photographer Chris Burkard this Thursday. The other — opening of a surf shop/cafe in Leslieville next month — will get surfers everything they need for their soul and body.

Over the past three years, Surf the Greats has been fostering the local surfing community through film screenings, art exhibitions, beach cleanups, surf lessons on the Great Lakes, and surf camps in Nicaragua, Mexico, and Costa Rica. This year the company partnered with Chris Burkard Studio to present the documentary Under An Arctic Sky by Burkard and filmmaker Ben Weiland. The film follows six surfers in the most remote corner of Iceland.

Surf the Greats’s CEO Antonio Lennert said he’s excited to meet Burkard in person for the first time“[Burkard]’s been a big inspiration for us to get outside, explore the nature and take beautiful photographs,” he said.

In order to spread the world about surfing in Toronto, the event will also screen two local short films: On Days Like These You Must Surf by Jake Kovnat and Sweet Water by Andrew Wyton“They were the best short films on Great Lakes surfing we’ve seen so far,” said Lennert. “I thought it would be a great opportunity for local filmmakers to show their work to the big name surf-photographer and filmmaker.”

Kovnat and Wyton were each going to their surf spots over the course of Novella’s interview with them: to Hawaii and to Lake Erie, respectively.

“I feel so amazing! I feel high every time I come in from the surfing on the lake,” said Kovnat. “No matter what else is going on in my life, it feels incredible.”

His black and white documentary tells the story of Larry Cavero, who, together with Lennert, introduced Kovnat to surfing on the Great Lakes. Every time Kovnat shares his surfing experience, the excitement grows in his voice: “I heard about surfing in Toronto around 2013, 2014…And in 2015 I met Antonio and Larry. That was the first time that I went to surf by myself. In the process, Larry actually sold me my first wetsuit and he let me borrow a surfboard just for free. So, I went out on lake Erie and I did horribly, but it was so cool to be out there in the water. And water is really cold. You were always told to be careful and safe in the water, and then you are out there, you feel amazing.”

Kovnat said, as his film was self-funded and all the participants donated their time, the most difficult part for him was the production and getting everyone together:

“When you do a ‘passion project’ like this with basically no money but a really great story, you have to work around the schedule of your crew and schedule of the waves, which is completely unpredictable.” The best part for him was getting shots of Larry and his daughters in Larry’s house and seeing Larry “living his life outside of the water.”

For Wyton, who has shot videos about surfing before, the weather was always one of the most challenging things. “You can never shoot in the wind because your lens will be drowned in the water,” he said. “It’s frustrating just keeping your lens clear all the time.”

Wyton said he enjoyed observing nature and capturing its mystery, which inspired him to do even bigger projects in the future. “I’m happy, but I’m never satisfied,” he said. “I’d like to make another one [film], but I’d like to get more professional surfers.”

The screenings of the three films will be followed by a Q&A with Burkard and a 20-minute presentation about the documentary. The guests will be able to talk to Burkard and purchase his new book. 

Lennert added that they wanted to organize a similar event in 2014 when Weiland and Burkard released their film The Cradle Of Storms. However, it took them a long time to build the network with the Californian producers. “We just opened our company, so we didn’t have enough connections to make it happen,” Lennert said. “We’ve been in touch with him [Burkard] since then. And when we saw he’s releasing his new film, we reached out to him and his producers in California… It took us a while to find the right venue in Toronto that could accommodate 350+ people at an affordable rate. It was a big risk.”

During the event, Surf the Greats will also announce the grand opening of their new shop in Leslieville on June 29th. Lennert said his shop will have everything surfers need: boards, wetsuits, and exclusive clothing brands from Tofino, Montreal, California, and New Jersey. It will be a kind of surfers’ hub with a small cafeteria and space for workshops, yoga classes, and live screenings of surf competitions like the World Surf League (WSL).

“Now we have only one surf shop in Toronto,” Lennert said. “And we don’t actually have the space where the community can hang out outside of waves. So this is going to be a kind of a community’s home.”

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Toronto Dancer Creates Beyoncé and Rihanna Sweaters to Help Charities

Owner and creator of 1Club, Shawn Bracke says his 50/50 percent cotton/polyester sweaters are perfect for an active person, someone in a creative space. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Whether he’s teaching a dance class or sketching in his notebook, Shawn Bracke always uses his art to support charities. Now he creates sweaters with faces of celebrities on them and donates 35% of the proceeds to a different charity each month. Founded in September 2016, his online clothing brand 1Club stands for the idea of “all for one and one for all”.

Sveta: Hi Shawn! It’s exciting to learn a new artistic side of you besides dancing. How did you come up with the idea of creating your brand?

Shawn: The idea was always charity, donations. But not all. I was sketching a lot for the last five years or so, and I started putting it on clothing myself. People really liked that. On top of that, I was donating once a month from classes that I teach to different charities. So I kind of just fused the two ideas together. I thought, instead of donating from the classes I would start a brand.

Sveta: Did you have any background in fashion?

Shawn: Yep, I used to be a stylist. I used to live in London, U.K. I was a stylist there for two years, mostly just like on set for music videos, TV, and films. So it’s not the most creative because you can’t do really much with film and TV — you literally give them like this template —, but I definitely had an understanding of the industry. Honestly, fashion doesn’t really apply to my brand. The whole goal for it is to be comfortable and wearable and easy.

Sveta: How does the design of your brand express its idea?

Shawn: We stand for all for one and one for all. So the goal of the brand is essentially to create all-inclusive type of company, something comfortable and supporting. Originally, they [sweaters] are just faces of people that really inspired me. People who are using their celebrity styles to make a change in the world. There are pretty big names, like Beyoncé and Rihanna, Gigi Hadid, Victoria Beckham. They all are known for what they do either as musicians or designers, but I love all of them because they are affiliated with charities. And obviously, I know that people would love to wear a Beyonce sweater or Rihanna [sweater]. And I like that it’s all strong women. A lot of charities that I focus on are geared towards helping women.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: What are some charitable organization you work or have worked with?

Shawn: Right now we are with Red Door Family Shelter. We’ve worked with Covenant House. They are cool. They are like a shelter for the homeless slash for people who are distressed. So they help a lot of women who are in bad situations with their husbands or who are trying to escape.

Sveta: What is exciting for you about working with charities?

Shawn: I’ve always loved donating to charities, but as a dancer I would just do it with my credit card online. With the company there’s different formatting. You obviously have to build relationships with them [charities]. It’s been very cool to see their responses and meet different people within the charity. And also, knowing where the money goes is comforting. I was kind of nervous going into it, that these different charities wouldn’t be that interested and would just kind of take a donation, but they all have been so lovely and so caring. Just hearing the cool things they do to change people’s lives is awesome.

Sveta: Does anyone help you to run the business?

Shawn: Yeah, so the sketches I do myself, and then I have a company, actually, a friend, who prints all the clothing. He works in film and TV, so it’s cool we have that relationship. And I also have some friends who help me to run the company. Primarily, it’s just me, but we do a lot of events. We go to different markets, so I have a crew who sometimes writes the emails and does the administrating.

Sveta: What is the most difficult part of running a clothing company?

Shawn: I would say, continuously promoting our brand. The more promotion you do, the more you need new people. And it’s not even bad. The most difficult is the most fun in a weird sense. I think it’s just the nature of any creative person: anything that’s difficult, you like doing because you know that it’s a challenge for you. I don’t know if as a journalist and a dancer you can agree with me. I hope that answers the question.

Sveta: I think I agree with that. Would people who wear your sweaters be creative as well?

Shawn: Obviously, I would love everyone to wear the sweaters. The goal is to benefit charities and feel comfortable and cool, yeah? But, generally speaking, the people, who have been gravitating towards it, are people like us, who work during the day and take a dance class or a yoga class or go to the gym at night… Or maybe they just wanna have like a Sunday-cozy sweater to go to a brunch and go for a walk after. My mum and her friends wear it too. They wear it on Saturdays if they go out for a show or something.

Sveta: Do you have your favourite sweater?

Shawn: Right now the Beyonce-embroidered is my favourite just cause I haven’t seen anyone do an embroidered sweater and I just love the texture of it. I’m excited that my drawing can be transmitted into an embroidered sweater.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: How do you build your collections in terms of frequency, colours…?

Shawn: As we partner with a different charity every month, the goal is to do a new sweater every one to two months. The first collection is all white, and the second collection had like that salt-pepper and safari [shades]. And then for the next one we are gonna go back to straight one colour. I definitely want to keep them neutral. For me, as a dancer, rehearsing, I like to wear very basic colours or shades rather. And my clients love that kind of neutral shades, so… We might play with colours later, but for now we are gonna keep it.

Sveta: Are you planning to add more items to your collections in the future?

Shawn: In September we have few other things coming. T-shirts and some other stuff, which I’m gonna keep secret.

Sveta: Were you thinking about creating 1Club physical store?

Shawn: Right now it’s an online-brand. I think we are gonna keep it there for a while. I don’t really have any goals to make it a physical shop… like in the near future.

Sveta: What does 1Club mean to you personally?

Shawn: 1Club for me is a nice escape from the dance world [we both laugh]. That sounds terrible! I couldn’t live without it [dance]. It’s like who I am, but there’s so many sides of me. Just like there’s so many sides of you. So it’s like a break from always focusing on like, Oh, I need to do this with dance. I need to focus on this with dance. For me it’s to meet different types of people with 1 Club that I would never be able to meet in the dance world.

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Toronto Photographers Raise $13K for Children in Haiti

The couple explores the works of Zark Fatah (left) and Misha Masek (right). Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Zark Fatah’s fifth annual photo exhibit CAPTURE[D] raised around $13,000 to fund Artbound, the foundation that supports charities through the arts. More than 300 people who came to the Waterworks building (505 Richmond St West) on April 28th were able to meet Fatah and three other photographers —Misha Masek, Mark Brodkin, and Peter Cordy — and to purchase the 50 featured pieces. Fatah said that 19 photographs were sold and that all proceeds will be donated to building a school in Haiti.

Fatah is better known as a Toronto-based entrepreneur behind hot downtown spots including Blowfish RestaurantEverleigh, and Hammam Spa. But during his exhibit, we talked only about photography and the idea behind CAPTURE[D].

Zark Fatah showcases photographs from his travels during the firth photo exhibit CAPTURE[D] at the Waterworks building. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

Sveta: Congratulations with another photo exhibit, Zark. Could you tell me what is new this year?

Zark: Thank you. This is the first time that I invited other photographers.

S: Did you do it all by yourself before?

Z: Yes, I did about 20 photos. I did three [exhibits] in Toronto and one in Vancouver. Then my friends said, Oh, it looks great! We would like to collaborate together sometime. So I invited friends specializing in something different. Mark Brodkin does beautiful landscapes. Misha captures amazing faces and characters. Peter Cordy has never showed his photos before — this is his first exhibit ever. He does wildlife. And I just picked something from the last seven years of my travels that reflect what I like. I like shooting people and catching a moment of someone else’s life.

Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: Could you share a story behind one of your photos?

Z: I like shooting candid moments because it’s a fraction of someone’s life. Like a photo of this man smoking cigarette there [points at the black and white picture of a contemplative old man blowing smoke into the air]. I captured that moment wherein you don’t know what he’s thinking about; you don’t know what’s going on in his life. He just looks like he’s living an interesting life. You look at him and you can imagine that if you sit down next to him, he could probably fill your afternoon with amazing stories. I took the photo in Sydney, Australia, in the area called Kings Cross. It would be like Parkdale here, an area that’s a little bit sketchy. You don’t want to go there at night.

Wildlife photographs by Peter Cordy appear on the exhibit for the first time. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: You mentioned that a lot of people also like Green Eyes, the photo of a child you took in an Indian village. It looks like National Geographic-style photo. Have you ever done anything with NG?

Z: Not yet. I’d love to one day… The amazing thing about photography is that I don’t have the greatest memory, but I could tell you where I was and who I’ve been with in every one of the photos I’ve taken. The image is captured in my memory.

S: What does the name of this exhibit mean to you personally?

Z: I play on two things. Captured has to do with the moment. Also, I own restaurants, a night club, and a spa in this area, and my company is called Capture Group.

Photographer Misha Masek. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: How did you choose the other photographers for the exhibit?

Z: Well, I’ve known Misha for years. She’s great photographer. She travels quite a bit and goes to some really remote places. And Mark Brodkin…his landscape photography is just… He will travel so far and just sit and wait and wait for that moment. And Peter — I actually inspired Peter to start taking photographs. We were on a trip together and he saw how much I enjoyed it. That’s why now he keeps saying to me, You started this for me. It’s your fault [laughs]. He’s really excited to be showing his photos here for the first time.

S: What was the most difficult thing in organizing the event?

Z: It was challenging. I mean, obviously, we were doing something that was done before. But it’s just a lot of moving parts — we got four photographers, 50 photographs, the framing company, the lighting, and the operations of the bar. I had some help from my team, but for the most part it was a lot of organization.

The bar team adds more art into the photo exhibit with some creative drinks. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: You’ve been donating 100% of all the proceeds from CAPTURE[D] to charities. What are some results you’ve already seen?

Z: In November we raised $30,000 and built two classrooms in Nicaragua.

S: That’s amazing! Are there any other goals you are trying to achieve with CAPTURE[D]?

Z: It’s about awareness, so people know what we do and what Artbound is about.

Guests explore landscapes by Mark Brodkin. Photo by Sveta Soloveva

S: Who are your guests today?

Z: It’s a mixture of art lovers and friends who appreciate our work. There are people who come to our businesses and know what we do; and people who are supporting Artbound.

S: What do you enjoy most from organizing events like that?

Z: I’m in the events business, so I manage this building. So I’m always used to seeing how craziness comes together in the last minute. But most importantly, I’m super happy with these looks [looks at people hanging one of Brodkin’s landscapes]. You know, this is just unique.

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