Get to know a Toronto startup: BRIKA

Ecommerce has provided an incredible platform for small designers and artisans to showcase their creations to new consumers around the world. Online stores like Etsy are a treasure trove for stylish and creative shoppers looking to support smaller creators and get away from the banality of cookie-cutter, mass-produced goods from big chain stores.

Toronto startup BRIKA has joined this niche online marketplace with its whimsical, Pinterest-inspired virtual store. The website offers a carefully curated selection of "modern crafts," including jewelry, housewares, clothing, bags, stationery and baby items, from a hand-picked batch of independent creators.

Unlike other online stores, the stories behind the creators themselves are front and centre in this e-boutique, where you can get a glimpse into what inspired each maker to create the products sold on BRIKA, though a charming and highly Pinterest-friendly interface. Their motto of "building a beautiful life" definitely shines through the charming layout of every page of the site.

The e-shop is the creation of high-calibre duo Kena Paranjape, whose marketing and branding expertise was honed working for big brands like Old Navy, Banana Republic and Joe Fresh, and Jen Lee Koss, a Juilliard-trained cellist with degrees from both Harvard and Oxford, and a former career that included management consulting and finance. Here's what this dynamic duo had to say about their startup.

There are online shops that focus on small artisanal products and flash sale sites. What inspired you to combine the two ideas for BRIKA?

We wanted to create a website that showcases the best well-crafted, hard-to-find products curated in a beautiful way. Other sites either have no filter, so it becomes difficult to find the gems, or they deeply discount product, under-valuing the talent and hard work of the maker.

The fact that we offer a special launch price for the beginning of each maker's sale is to create an urgency to buy (as if there wasn't enough of one already!). One of the biggest driving forces for starting BRIKA was to ensure that makers are never devalued. We never take more than a 30% discount (if any), because ultimately, our makers are building brands, too. The last thing we want for them to do is to price themselves out of the equation.

BRIKA puts a lot of emphasis on the story behind each creator. Why is this story so important to you?

Prior to BRIKA, Kena was also the buyer for a lovely eco-friendly shop in Toronto. She worked closely with many under-the-radar makers and was so inspired by their stories and talent. When we launched BRIKA, we focused on finding a way to bring these stories to life online. Connecting to the maker through their story increases the intrinsic value of the product, making it feel that much more special.

What kinds of shopper would absolutely love your website?

People who love giving unique and special gifts will love BRIKA. It's perfect for injecting some (non mass-made) personality into your wardrobe or home.

How does BRIKA's business model work?

We currently take a percentage of each sale. We ensure that everyone who works with us makes more than their cost back. Everyday we feature a new maker on our site. For the first two weeks, you can purchase pieces from the collection at a special launch price (never more than 30% off). After that, you can still come back to shop from that maker, but at regular price.

What are your plans for the rest of 2013?

We have lots of big plans this year, but one of the most important is launching Canadian makers on BRIKA. Currently we ship in Canada, but feature U.S.-based makers as part of our roll-out strategy. We can't wait to feature and celebrate all the creative talent in Canada - because it is so rich.

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