Written by Vibhu Gairola
As a company that connects consumers with gorgeous, esoteric lifestyle goods — walnut benches, silk ballet flats, and white sage caramel sauce are all on offer — Brika is a strong advocate for the Canadian maker movement. And it found its heart and home here as a result.
“Brika resonates with the core of who Canadians are,” says Jen Lee Koss, who, with co-founder Kena Paranjape, envisioned a “highly-curated” online store which “only featured the most beautiful things.” The company first launched in the USA in 2012, but chose Toronto for its headquarters.
At the time, both e-commerce and the maker movement were in what Koss jokingly calls a “Wild West-style grey area.” But they were well-prepared: Paranjape’s merchandising, buying, and online marketing chops were an ideal fit with Koss’s background in consulting and investing. With a combined total of more than 20 years in the retail space, they tackled the wilderness head on.
Right out of the gate, they found the market shrinking as consumers sought increased authenticity. In response, they focussed on thoughtful curation both in online and physical spaces, building a pipeline of trusted makers and truly stand-out products.
“We realized very quickly that rather than playing in the tech space, we really were a genuine retail brand, and so a lot of the conversations we were having changed over time,” Koss says.
As they poured energy into their original passion for authentic, beautiful offerings, the process of building a community of suppliers became organic. The vast majority of their employees—from in-store assistants to the corporate team—reached out to the founders because the brand resonated with them so much.
From the consumer perspective, Koss’s says it isn’t just a matter of piggybacking on a trend or a simplistic if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy, even if what you’ve built is user friendly. “It’s not about clicks and getting eyeballs,” Koss says. “It’s about thinking about where the eyeballs already are. That is a billion times harder to be creative and scrappy about than just bringing in views.”
She notes that Brika stands out due to its commitment to sharing the quality and design perspective of the makers it sells. “Our services always have a narrative,” Koss says. “It helped us understand that a brand can live through so many different shapes and forms, both online and offline.”
Koss freely admits that building Brika is one of the of the hardest things she’s ever done — besides becoming a parent. And similar to parenthood, it doesn’t have an “off” button.
“This is a 24-hour gig, but I’m completely in my element,” she says. After years spent fretting over other people’s business goals, Koss and her team finally get to nurture their own. “It’s allowed us to be our best selves,” she says. “I cannot imagine having a corporate job today.”
Photo Credit: Rebecca Tisdelle