Written by Andrew Seale

During a visit to the Toronto Designers Market, the space’s owner told Garima Tewari and her Toronto Fashion Incubator cohort if they hadn't already done so, they should follow renowned Canadian fashion stylist Jessica Mulroney on social media. Tewari, who had launched a series of 22 Karat gold-plated evening clutches in 2015 under the brand name Garéma, took his advice to heart.

“The next afternoon I get a message from Jessica: ‘I need this purse for Madame Trudeau, she’s to wear it on Tuesday for the Three Amigo Summit,’ ” said Tewari. She was so blindsided by the request she thought maybe she’d mixed the Prime Minister’s wife’s name up with someone else, so she Googled it to double check. “I was shocked!”

And then she looked at the calendar. “It was Sunday afternoon and she had to wear it on Tuesday,” says Tewari. But she wasn’t willing to risk her clutch getting stuck in the mail, so her and her husband drove up to Ottawa mid-Sunday to deliver it to the receiving office in person on Monday morning. “Tuesday evening she was wearing the clutch – that really changed everything for me.”

Not that Tewari, an interior designer by trade who moved to Toronto five years ago from India, hasn’t seen her clutches worn by celebrities before; it just felt like a definitively Canadian experience to see her design held by Sophie Trudeau. Especially given that she knew nothing about the fashion scene in Toronto when she first moved here to marry her husband.

But the clean slate allowed Tewari, who’d travelled around the world looking for architectural and design inspiration for spas, clubs and restaurants back in India, to reinvent herself as an accessory designer. “Instead of designing spaces, I wanted to scale it down to make a product I could sell,” she says.

What spoke to her were gold-embellished evening clutches, a virtually non-existent style in Toronto where simplicity and elegance seemed to reign supreme when it came to accessories. She started searching around for resources to build her brand and came across the Toronto Fashion Incubator.

“TFI truly changed the course of my brand and business,” says Tewari. “It made me more confident in what I was doing because when I started it I was not sure if this product would work in the Toronto market.”

And while she’s shifted from designing spaces to designing accessories, she still finds relevance in her expertise, continually drawing inspiration from architecture and the stories that design can tell. Versailles, the famous French palace, and its luscious gardens heavily inspired her Chateau de Versailles collection which features designs like Le Jardin and Louis XVI. And her FairyTale collection includes a Carriage-shaped clutch.

“It's more interesting if there's a story behind it and people can learn a little bit more about life and what’s happening in the world,” says Tewari.

Through TFI she learned about the The Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards, which she entered and ended up being nominated for the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent.

“The Canadian fashion scene suddenly started knowing about my brand and people were contacting us,” she says adding that prior to that her sales were from “anywhere but Canada.”

But it’s more than just a vote of confidence to get recognition like a CAFA nomination or see Sophie Trudeau sporting one of her designs, it’s about building a Canadian brand, a success story story that spins out of her adopted home.

“Everybody has been so kind and so supportive of somebody who just came to the country five years ago… I truly regard myself as a Canadian already and I just love it,” says Tewari, adding that while the soul of Garéma lies within her design shop in India, Toronto is the heart. “This has to be the heart… everything else will branch off from here.”

Photos: Cameron Bartlett (www.snappedbycam.com)