When Jen and Kena, the ladies behind the fabulous new online store BRIKA, reached out to me to collaborate, I was beyond excited! ( Check out my feature on their What We Love page this week! )
I just know you’ll fall in love with them as much as you will fall in love with the beautiful pieces sold in their store.
Jen Lee Koss and Kena Paranjape just recently launched BRIKA on November 20, 2012. Since then, the brand has exploded in popularity. They’re clearing doing something right! Be sure to enter the amazing giveaway after you learn from these lovely, business savvy women!
Tell us your story before BRIKA. What brought you to the place you’re at now and what was the inspiration for starting anonline store that celebrates A Well-Crafted Life?
Jen: At the most basic level, I’m Korean-American, I grew up in New Jersey, studied very seriously as a cellist growing up, went to school in Boston, went to more school in England, and I moved to Toronto right after graduating from business school to be with my husband. I spent my professional career in management consulting, investment banking and private equity mostly focused on the consumer retail space. I have always been fascinated by what drives purchasing behavior, trends and brands.
I met Kena because of her blog–her creative outlet from her corporate career! I built up courage and reached out to her randomly and asked her out for a coffee, and the more we talked, the more we both realized that we would make great partners in something entrepreneurial. We started very close to home by thinking of a place we wanted to shop for amazing and unique items made by makers with a story to tell. We searched high and low and couldn’t find anything that really spoke to us in a voice that we wanted to be spoken to. We held some focus group, we talked to our friends, and ultimately, we knew we were on to something…
We believe so strongly that everyone has the ways, means and tools to build a beautiful life. Hence, our tagline: A Well-Crafted Life! Kena and I are truly living this out in what we are building with BRIKA.
Kena: I’ve spent my career to date in retail and specifically merchandising and buying. Just prior to launching BRIKA I managed a beautiful eco-friendly lifestyle retail concept in Toronto where I had the opportunity to develop close relationships with many of the makers we purchased from (read more of the story here). I was so inspired by their passion for their craft and admired the incredible quality of their products. When I saw how the customer who came in reacted to such beautiful things and the stories behind them, Jen and I thought – how can we make this happen on a much larger scale? And the seeds for BRIKA were planted….
How did the two of you decide to go into business together? And, for anyone thinking about going into business with a friend, what advice would you give them?
Jen: The first time we met was in a coffee shop here in Toronto (read more of the story here). I think I intuitively knew after meeting Kena that we were going to do something creative together. I know that may sound, hokey, but were were both in a place in our lives where we wanted to pursue our passions in a real way, do something entrepreneurial and take a risk. We are really a very balanced team. We have very complementary skill-sets, and as I say to people, I am the ying to her yang.
I think a very interesting part about our partnership is that we weren’t friends before we started BRIKA, but we are developing as we go along! Undoubtedly, when we first met, there was a feeling that we had been old friends in past life…
Kena: I have always, always wanted to be an entrepreneur. There were some conditions around my dream though: 1) I needed to have an idea I was so passionate about that I couldn’t NOT do it 2) the timing had to be right and 3) I had to have an AWESOME partner to do it with. When Jen and I met, I felt it was truly the universe telling me, “Do it, NOW!”
I think it is absolutely key that you are friends with the person you go into business with. You have to have an underlying trust when so much rides on your partnership. Luckily, I felt I had that with Jen pretty much as soon as I met her. Beyond friendship, I think it is important to be able to communicate openly, understand each others strengths and weaknesses, and have clearly defined roles.
It seems that BRIKA was an instant success, but that has to be a product of a lot of hard work. What were the first steps you took to get the word out about your new site?
Jen: We knew that we wanted to launch BRIKA before the holidays to ensure we caught the momentum of the gifting season. It was around that time that we noticed that Rena Tom, of the Makeshift Society, started following us on twitter and facebook. We couldn’t have been more excited! The MS was a place we thought was just amazing. It really speaks to BRIKA’s core values.
We reached out to Rena cold (it’s a common theme in my life…read here), and when we connected we realized–our DREAM was to do an event at the MS. So prior to our launch, we flew over to San Francisco, invited a bunch of people we loved, admired and respected and had a little party. I think it was really this event that got a some buzz going for us. It hasn’t stopped since then!
All of the products on BRIKA are a work of art. Is there a curation process that you go through when choosing makers for the site? How do you go about saying “no” to those that don’t get chosen?
Kena: First of all, thank you, we think so too! The makers we work with are so incredibly talented. We are inspired by them every single day. For a product and maker to be featured on BRIKA we consider a few things: 1) the product itself must be beautiful, high quality and fit into our unique aesthetic point of view of modern craft. The techniques and processes our makers use are hundreds or even thousands of years old, but the products they create are contemporary and fit into our 21st century lives.
You must need killer self control to refrain from purchasing every item that is sold in the store! Do you have any products from BRIKA decorating your office right now?
Jen: We have had a few office moves already! We started in a shared work environment with two little offices in the basement, and we are now in a bustling shared office with four other start-ups. We haven’t landed on somewhere permanent yet–we’re still looking! One thing that HAS traveled with us on our journey is an absolutely gorgeous watercolor of our logo that one of our Makers who we launched with, Shana Frase, made for us. It is so beautiful and it is so special to us as it was presented to us in person.
Thank you, Jen + Kena for sharing so much wonderful information with us!
Continuing their generosity, it’s time for an amazing giveaway!
TO ENTER: leave a comment + tell us your definition of a well-crafted life!
DETAILS: Giveaway ends Tuesday, April 2, 2013 at midnight EST. One winner will be chosen at random and notified by email the following day.