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.

Talking Old School Technique and New School Design with Ken Chow of KRANE

Photo courtesy of Krane

‘Old-school leather techniques meet a new-school design attitude’ in KRANE. The rarity of the meeting of the pair in today’s fast-fashion industry is so well known that it’s become a platitude — all the more reasons to appreciate the conjoining of beauty and utility in Ken Chow’s label.

Ken has many backgrounds — he was born in China, grew up in Ontario, and studied at F.I.T. in New York; his early passion was for drawing and fine arts; and now he is the founder and creative director of KRANE. But with Ken, it’s easy to see a sense of continuity in all his endeavors, as though his efforts from early on has somehow directed him to his success today and his renowned military-inspired designs.

We recently had a chance to chat with Ken regarding KRANE, its latest Spring Collections, and what the designer likes to do in his home city, Toronto.

Photo courtesy of Krane

Hoon: Tell us about Krane’s latest collection.

Ken: Spring takes Krane into a slow(er)-fashion territory for the main Krane line. A new category called Krane Artisanal will be introduced later in the season with emphasis on handwork and reworked, up-cycled, remixed one-of-a-kind pieces. K by Krane — Krane’s more accessible line of essential carry-alls — is coming back with core silhouettes with an injection of energy.

H: Take us through your creative process. How do you begin new designs? Do you revisit your old work for inspirations?

K: As you may know, the brand has a military DNA. I have a go-to book of military uniforms that I refer to — you could say that it’s Krane’s bible of a sort — and I do a light trend research every season to update the core silhouettes. The majority of the time, it starts with the inspirational industrial or military detail, then the materials, the sketch, the pattern, the first proto, and finally the final sample. There are different names for the collections. The permanent collection is organized according to the Morse Code alphabet starting with the Alpha Collection — Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, etc. Because the inspiration and design ideas originate from specific themes, I absolutely recycle and re-explore past ideas. Fashion moves too fast at times and too often, and I feel that certain ideas are not given enough time in the market. With time, your audience grows and reinterpreting past collections allows them to be loved again and appreciated for what it is.

H: You’ve been interested in the military aesthetic since early on. What draws you to it? And what keeps you going back to its essences?

K: My attachment to the military derives from my spiritual side, which I got from my mom. I have always believed that the activities we engage in as kids are precursors to later stages in our lives; and that every event that you are in tune with is leading you to that next stage. Growing up in Halton Hills, Ontario, I entered a lot of Remembrance Day Poster Design Competitions, which peaked my interest in the military aesthetic. The Military theme has so many positive qualities associated with it. At its core, it is utilitarian and focused on good quality. It also has a sense of strength attached to it, which are all qualities that I want Krane to represent.

Photo courtesy of Krane

H: What does it mean for you to have Krane products made in Canada?

K: Canada has an abundance of skilled artisans, so keeping production local allows me to keep the products at a desired level of quality. Keeping production in the country also allows me the opportunity to create jobs in the industry. As Chinese manufacturing takes over (with the takeover of Fast-Fashion), this is becoming increasingly important for the Canadian apparel industry.

H: What would you say are the challenges behind being a creative in Canada in the context of its economy, society, and culture?

K: Economy – attaining a cost-effective production cost to meet the desired MSRP to stay competitive with the (international) market.
Society and culture – introducing forward thinking ideas into the collection due to the conservative buying habits of the majority of Canadians

H: Tell us about your time at F.I.T. and working in New York. What did you see, learn, and do? What was it like working with Geller and Plokhov?

K: F.I.T was a well-rounded fashion experience. Everything you wanted and needed to learn about fashion, they had, but the curriculum alone wasn’t going to give it to you. You had to be focused and hungry and seek it out for yourself. I attended special guest lectures by Renzo Rosso, Anna Sui, Rose Marie Bravo (CEO of Burbery in 2000); I saw the Antwerp Six (including Martin Margiela) and Visionaire exhibition at FIT Museum; I made use of workshops outside of my program to teach myself accessories design; and I scored myself a Marc Jacobs internship!

Also GenArt was huge then with their famous International Styles Competition, so I entered and won an opportunity to showcase my designs with them for the Styles 2001 Edition. That was the year I competed with Cloak (by Alexander Plokhov and Robert Geller) in the Menswear category. We both didn’t win, but we formed a friendship in the process, and I got to spend some time working with them aftewards where I learned more about precise Russian tailoring and the cool German style.

Photo courtesy of Krane

H: How has drawing and fine art in general influenced your work?

K: My dad is the artistic one in my family, and he passed onto me his gift of photo-realistic technical precision. The key to this ability is training your eye to hone in on every little detail. I think this has affected my design style in the sense that it made me a detail-oriented designer.

H: Controversies regarding cultural appropriation pops up in fashion rather often. In this context, what does it mean to be a designer with multiple cultural heritages? Or does it have no bearing in your creative process.

K: I think if Krane were strictly an apparel brand this question would have more relevance. Because my themes are niche and all fall within certain directions, this doesn’t have too much of an effect on my creative process.

H: It’s been over ten years since you moved back to Toronto to start Krane. How has menswear — its aesthetics, qualities, understanding, etc. — changed since? Where do you see it going and where do you want it to go in the next five years?

K: Menswear has changed and evolved so much since I moved back from New York. I remember how hard it was being one of the few working specifically in this area. Because there were next to zero brands focusing on menswear, it made you feel like you had to be either extremely conservative or extremely loud. Luckily I studied in NY, so I had American ties, and I was able to play in the American market, which gave the brand peers and relevancy. Because I participated in tradeshows like Capsule (one of the first Contemporary Men’s Tradeshows), Canadians started to take notice.

I feel as if menswear had this huge boom in the mid 2000’s and that, all of a sudden, overnight, there were all these new menswear designers in Canada. Fast forward to today, we have so many menswear designers now, and they are not just concerned with the tailored conservative aesthetics that we would stereotypically associate with the Canadian aesthetic. The variety in aesthetics is a good sign of growth for menswear in Canada, and I see more diversity happening in the future, especially since we promote multiculturalism.

H: What kind of positive impacts, if any, would you say fashion has on society and the culture in general?

K: Fashion allows people to dream and become who they want to be. Through the way you dress you can be the change that you want for yourself …and society, if that is your goal in life. Fashion’s constant concern with newnewnew keeps pushing the art forward and enriches life in general.

Photo courtesy of Krane

H: Changing gears, the latest collection is called Travel Essentials. What are some things you never travel without? And with those things, you have a month to travel — where you would you go and what would you do?

K: Essential items – a good duffle bag, backpack, and a nice size dopp kit (like the ones by HALEY, ANDER and MATTEO). I would take these on a trip to Peru, do ayahuasca, hang out with alpacas, and explore the ancient country.

H: What are the key pieces in your wardrobe?

K: An M-65 jacket, a good pair of denim, a solid sweatshirt, a black T, a suit, a mid-top sneaker, a Chelsea boot, and a nice pair of oxfords.

H: What is the one fashion item every man should own? Or is there no such thing?

K: A nice pair of leather boots.

H: Describe to us your ideal Sunday.

K: A bike ride (or other leisure physical activity) to the island, art gallery, or park with my favorite person(s), and then just let the day develop organically.

H: Where and what do you like to eat in Toronto?

K: I love noodles, and there’s a ramen joint on Dundas called Sensotei that is so fresh and yummy.

H: Fill in the blank: I would like to live without….

K: War.

H: Anything else you’d like to add.

K: I love tennis.

Learn more about KRANE here. Krane products are made entirely in Canada. The Krane Man and Krane Bag lines are manufactured in factories in Toronto, Canada, with the handwork done in-house.

Bondage Fashion: Moving from hot to ‘haute’

By this point, we have gotten used to the choker trend. We made fun of it, experimented with it, rocked it, and now we are pretty much over it (pretty much). While this trend may have come and gone in similar fashion to the all-time favourite cork wedged peep-toe, striped fedora, and gladiator sandals, we, as fashion lovers, are still yearning for more. To my fellow choker wearers, it seems that our next stop is bondage fashion.

Yes, I said bondage. As in restraining, tying, and more things that have to do with *gasp* SEX! What sometimes gets a bad rep and can be an uncomfortable conversation to have around your parents has turned into a growing trend seen outside of the bedroom. Those who embrace  bondage generally carry in their wardrobes things like harnesses, leather, whips, collars (aka, chokers), and whatever else goes. An accredited shop, Northbound Leather, has garnered a reputation for designing and selling quality bondage clothing to stars like Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. They have created looks that both celebrate bondage fashion and culture and inspire designers to bring this trend onto the runway. While some prefer to wear their bondage pieces as is and for purposes which are quite literal, designers are incorporating these ideas into runway looks, creating a different vibe and a sense of chicness that is not quite seen at first glance.

Last spring, couture designer, Yiqing Yin unveiled her collection of bondage inspired fashion. Each piece incorporates some an element of the trend like a harness, leather, or even just the overall frame and cut of a piece. While the whole collection features elegant and unique pieces, there are certainly some standout looks that have elevated the bondage theme and put it in a whole new class.

Courtesy of Yiqing Yin

Early on in the show — around 2:38 mark in the video —, Yin reveals a burgundy, leather, cutout crop top. She pairs this with a long patent leather skirt and fur — a flawless combination that illuminates the trendiness of bondage.

Courtesy of Yiqing Yin

A few looks later  — 5:13 — out walks a vision in powder blue. The gown is soft, feminine, and covered in roped harness, which adds a complete edge — if Cinderella decided to turn dominatrix this is what she would wear and Prince Charming would be thrilled.

Courtesy of Yiqing Yin

Just when you thought things were getting a bit safe, out walks a meshed, roped, harnessed fairy-princess. I know you never thought those words would all be used in a single sentence, but Yin has made the unthinkable possible. This gown — 5:45 — is both risqué and classic, both timeless and modern — a true example of the capabilities of this looked-over fashion trend.

Photo from the collection by Alien Moe

You know a trend has really made it when it’s worked its way down from the couture runway all the way to the urban streets. Harnesses are becoming a trend to wear not only for intimate reasons, not only for luxurious reasons such as pimping out a gown, but also for everyday use to give a t-shirt or a dress that extra layer and style.

The way that bondage clothing fits and accentuates one’s figure is part of the reason why this trend is a no brainer for everyday fashionistas. The other reason is because it gives the wearer that edge so that they can say, “Yes, I am wearing a leather harness that is normally used for bondage purposes but I am rocking this look because I am fierce as he(ck).” It is a statement piece to say the very least.

Photo from the collection by Alien Moe

New designer, Shelley Moee (or Alien Moe) creates everyday harnesses, chokers, and other leather pieces that are completely parallel with bondage looks. The difference, however, is both the price and the everyday abilities of each of her pieces. Moee sells her pieces on her website for generally under $100. They are handmade and available in an abundance of styles and colours. In terms of quality, each piece seems to be made specifically for the ability to be interchangeable from day to night. Some photos of her pieces are styled in a more typical “bondage” manner, while the same piece will be worn for an everyday look such as in the photos above.

Maybe it’s the “50 Shades of Grey Trend”. Maybe people are realizing that florals can be boring. Whatever the reason, bondage fashion and just plain edgier fashion is what we need to look out for this season. Leather, harnesses, studs, spikes, collars, and more — all of it ‘slays’.

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On Our Radar: Ela By Ela Handbags

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Photo Credit: ‘Ela By Ela’ Website

After coming across Ela By Ela‘s website, I automatically knew that they would become a reference to look at in the Canadian fashion landscape. I haven’t yet had the pleasure to meet its co-founders Ela and Martin Aldorsson in person, but given how much I admire their vision and brand philosophy, I wanted to include them in our list of influential people that we’ve been featuring throughout the month of May for ‘On Our Radar’ series.

Both coming from very entrepreneurial families, husband-and-wife duo Ela and Martin embarked on a fashion adventure and founded ela. This is a Canadian, Toronto-based handbag and accessories brand, which is positioned and defined as humble luxury by its own co-founders and creative directors.

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M.I.L.C.K. CLUTCH – BLACK STUD: 11”x7” – 100% Lambskin Leather

The asymmetrical flap and custom closure are their main design signatures. Plus, all of the products are exclusively handcrafted in Spain with premium leathers.

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EDITOR’S POUCH WHIPSTITCH – BLUSH & GREY MICRO PERFORATED: 11.25”x8.75” – 100% Lambskin Leather

Once again, the ‘less is more’ becomes a crucial fashion rule to follow.  They have captured a simple yet sophisticated silhouettes that make their timeless designs a staple statement piece for those who look for labels that care about small details on every product, yet don’t project a pretentious vibe.

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MINI M.I.L.C.K. CLUTCH WITH CHAIN – BLUE MICRO PERFORATED: 8″ X 5.75″ X 1″ – 100% Lambskin

As expected, the strong and coherent brand identity of ela has already got deserved recognition in the fashion industry. Now, we can find these handbags and accessories in specialty stores and retailers across North America and Asia including Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols, and Holt Renfrew. Even some celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Taylor Swift and Keira Knightly are added to ela‘s fan base.

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D/N BAG CLASSIC – GREY MICRO PERFORATED: 11.25”x7” – 100% Lambskin Leather