Kena Paranjape and Jen Lee Koss are the entrepreneurial masterminds behind BRIKA. Even more inspiring than their extensive selection of handpicked products is the community of crafters, makers and designers that these women have thoughtfully created. We admire their reverence for the artistic process and genuine interest in the story of each item they sell, so we were positively delighted to learn a bit more about their blossoming business!
BRIKA is a marketplace for handcrafted goods, curated by your team. Can you tell us a bit more about the company’s philosophy and how it was born?
Jen: BRIKA is the destination for finding the best of modern, elevated craft, with a beautiful shopping experience intended to inspire creativity in our customer. We are passionate about finding creative distribution opportunities for our insanely talented under-the-radar artisans and designers. Our tagline, “A Well-Crafted Life,” was born of the belief that our lives are as beautiful as we wish to make them—that everyone harbors the tools to craft a beautiful life.
BRIKA came to be because of a blog that I stumbled across when I moved to Canada. I started reading “In Life and In Fashion,” and when I looked to see who wrote it, I realized that the author (Kena!) also lived in Toronto. I emailed her and asked her out for a coffee. Many coffees later, BRIKA was born! We recognized that we had very complementary skill sets—and a deep desire to ignite our entrepreneurial spark. After a combined two decades of working in the corporate world, we were ready to venture out on our own.
What led to your appreciation for handmade artisan products?
Jen: I think it definitely started with my mother and her “craftiness.” I grew up watching her sew our dresses and dolls. I was a very serious cellist for many years, and she made every single one of my concert dresses. I have always loved going to craft shows, scouring the Internet for small indie designers and searching for small local boutiques in cities around the world. I’m continually inspired by the stories of these individuals—I love knowing why they are pursuing such creative lives.
Kena: My parents were born in India, so I grew up surrounded by beautiful handmade objects—embroidered silk saris, intricately carved wood boxes, batik-dyed bedspreads and the most finely crafted jewelry I’ve ever seen. My appreciation started there, but grew as I started traveling on my own and exploring crafts from all over. Like Jen, one of my favorite things to do in a new city is find boutiques that stock locally produced goods. But my love for handmade products and the artisans who make them was solidified when I ran a high-end eco-friendly shop in Toronto. There, I worked closely with artisans to bring their products into the store, and I was instantly drawn to the quality and passion behind each product.
The products available at BRIKA are eclectic yet harmonious. How do you achieve this type of unified variety?
Kena: I love this description! Our focus at BRIKA is on modern, elevated craft, and we apply that lens to every product we review. It helps us achieve a cohesive aesthetic. We look for products that are made using ancient techniques or products that combine unexpected materials in fresh, modern ways.
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What makes you realize that a potential maker would be the perfect fit at BRIKA?
Kena: Our first thought is usually, “Our customers will love that!” While our brand is relatively new, we’ve established a strong point of view very quickly, so it is very easy to know what would be a good fit. That said, we’re very focused on what is unique, authentic, beautiful or relevant. If a makers’ collection fits those four criteria, it is usually the perfect fit. Occasionally, we will have a specific maker or product that will cause a pretty heated debate in the office.
What about BRIKA’s philosophy do you think most appeals to your customers?
Jen: We believe our customer is someone who has a very creative thread in them and is looking to exercise that in some way. That could mean pursuing a hobby such as cooking or doing DIY projects with their kids, reading lifestyle blogs, decorating a home or shopping. Shopping is definitely a creative act.
Ultimately, I think what appeals to our customers is the beauty and uniqueness of our products, the personal touches and handcrafted elements that go into making the products and the stories behind the individuals themselves. Our community of artisans and designers is definitely an inspiring one.
You must see hundreds of artisan crafts every day! Do some things start to look the same after a while? What gets you excited about a specific new item or maker?
Kena: I believe that every maker has his or her own voice. Some makers have spent more time developing their talent and unique offerings, while others are still at the early stages of that process. On the surface, some products might look the same or seem as though they’re inspired by another makers’ product—but that is part of the learning process. We often work with makers at different stages in their growth process. Some are just starting but we see a really strong, unique point of view that just needs a little direction and feedback. Others are off to a great start and rapidly growing, and others have a very clear picture of who they are and what they stand for. Personally, I get most excited about makers who have a vision for their craft and their business—people who are eager to learn in order to grow from it. That is a sign of a serious maker.