Written by Andrew Seale
As Barbie neared her 50th birthday, Mattel was looking for a Canadian company to design a jewelry line. So Susan Langdon, executive director of the the Toronto Fashion Incubator, put the brand in touch with Jennifer Ger and Suzie Chemel – founders of Foxy Originals. Drawing from their own nostalgia, the duo designed a line for the brand which took off across the country.
“It wound up in The Bay and was sold also in Hallmark,” says Chemel. The 2009 Barbie line stands out as one of many milestones Foxy Originals has over the past 19 years, and a prime example of their ongoing relationship with TFI. “We still connect with (Langdon) – she’s definitely a mentor to us,” says Chemel. “She’s pretty much the go-to for starting up a fashion company in Toronto.”
But Foxy Originals’ successes are a byproduct of two designers’ determination in a fashion ecosystem very different from the one they thrive within today. Originally started as a bauble business out of their dorm rooms at Western University (the pair met while sharing a ride from London back to Toronto 19 years ago) Foxy Originals began selling their designs at festivals like Lilith Fair and the Beaches Arts and Craft Show in Toronto.
“By the time we graduated we were in 31 stores,” says Ger. They received the CIBC and Enactus Canada (then called ACE) student entrepreneur of the year award. “That gave us the confidence to take that dream and vision for the jewelry business full-time.”
The pair had noticed a void for branded, well-designed but affordable costume jewelry in the Canadian market and launched Foxy Originals in 1998, focusing on the brand full-time in 2003.
There was no question the Toronto-natives were going to build their business here.
“Two major Canadian wholesale trade shows happen right here in Toronto,” says Chemel mentioning the Mode Accessories show and the Toronto Gift Fair. “The Mode is how we launched our brand across Canada – all the boutiques come to Toronto for these two trade shows.”
Toronto is also home to the country’s fashion press, adds Ger. “We're able to go and visit the fashion editors in person to show them our line.”
Since launching, Foxy Originals has created an array of custom lines for brands like Benefit Cosmetics, the Starbucks Run for Women, Umbra, Calvin Klein Underwear and Pride Toronto among other brands. And in a lot of ways success of the company is emblematic of the evolving attitudes surrounding Canadian-made goods.
Over the years the pair has noticed a growing appetite for Toronto designs, says Chemel, to the point that they’ve started to add the Made in Canada branding.
“We've always made our jewelry in Toronto and Canadians have always been so proud to buy Torontonian and Canadian jewelry,” says Ger. “(But) now you're starting to see that as a trend across North America as a whole – the word is out that Toronto has become cool.”