CoutuKitsch: Our 10 Year Story
It all started back in fashion school. We had to create businesses for projects and I created one called CoutuKitsch. Kitsch is my last name, and Coutu is my dad's family name. I thought they were both suitable names for a fashion brand, and it sounded cool. Coutu like 'couture', a major reference to the fashion world and one of my favourite classes in school. Kitsch, like 'kitschy', meaning classic yet quirky.
I graduated and started looking for work in my industry — which, FYI, was very limited in Calgary. Fast forward a couple years and I found myself working at a job that at the time I thought was supposed to be my dream. Here I met Kofi. I was hired around the same time that Kofi had transferred from the Toronto office to Calgary. We started dating shortly after — wearing dresses in a sport-focused work environment caught his eye, his words not mine! By the fall of 2010, Kofi had started thinking about moving back to Toronto. We broke up, errr, actually he broke up with me and I was heartbroken. We had been spending so much time together and suddenly we weren't, and I had a lot of free time. As anyone does in an existential crisis, I thought to myself, “What am I doing with my life?”
Since graduating I really hadn't done much of anything in terms of creating. Designing, drafting, and sewing garments was time consuming and I didn't prioritize it since I was working full time.
It was October 2010, and for some reason I was inspired to make jewelry. Growing up I loved making jewelry. Stringing wooden beads, making seed bead flowers and knotting friendship bracelets were my specialties so it came back to me naturally.
Having always been a jewelry lover, I owned quite a lot of fashion jewelry at this point in my mid 20's after years working in retail. I decided to take a necklace apart and turn it into earrings. It had a lot of metal pendants. I went to Walmart (humble beginnings) to get some jewelry making tools, wire, and earring hooks. I Googled wire wrapping and I made that necklace into multiple pairs of earrings. My roommates wanted them, my mom wanted a pair — they were a hot commodity. And just like that, I was hooked.
Naturally, I decided to call my jewelry business CoutuKitsch, based off of my fashion school business name. I asked a friend at work to create a logo for me (thank you Kimberly). I was inspired by my Métis Heritage (Coutu is Mètis) and I wanted to incorporate arrows. For me they represented moving forward, which is exactly what I was doing.
A couple months later, Kofi had decided to stay in Calgary and we started dating again (he really missed me, hah!). I told him all about my new business venture and he convinced me to sell CoutuKitsch at a booth at Market Collective. At first I said I was wayyy too shy, but then I had a great idea! I would do it if he — Mr. Not shy at all salesman— came with me. We killed it. When I say we killed it I mean WE KILLED IT. The rest is history.
Okay, okay, there's more. Market Collective was amazing and shoppers loved our pieces so we went all in. We sold at every MC that we could and sold at any other markets we could find around the city — be it farmers markets, craft markets, etc. We sold jewels in the Simmons Building before it housed yummy restaurants and cafes. We drove to Banff every Wednesday to sell my creations in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. We were doing everything!
At this time, I was having a hard time balancing CoutuKitsch and my day job. I wasn't happy at my job and I had plans to quit... eventually. By the end of my time at that job, I was calling my mom every day for mental support because I really didn't want to be there. Thank you, Mom, for always being supportive and for listening! In July of 2012, I received a blessing in disguise —I was laid off. I took it as a sign. Yes, of course I cried because you know, ego, BUT I was actually so happy! I called Kofi as soon as I got home and was actually laughing as I told him that I had just been walked out.
I put all my energy into CoutuKitsch and 1 year later we had seen so much growth that I was having a hard time keeping up on my own. We knew we had something special, and we believed in ourselves. So, in the summer of 2013, Kofi quit his job. His boss was like “Whhhaaattt? You’re quitting your career to sell jewelry?!”
By 2014, our work had taken over our apartment. There were jewelry bits stuck in the carpet and market displays stacked everywhere. We needed a studio. We had met Connor and Leslie from Camp Brand Goods through the market circuit and they were in the same situation. A growing business, working from home, and dating their business partner. It was comforting to know that someone else understood our situation. We all agreed to start looking for a studio space to share.
It was close to the end of Summer 2014 when Connor found a space in Inglewood. It was huge — much bigger than we were originally looking for, and way more expensive. Also, it was a barn... no joke, a farm-red barn.
Kofi and Connor had this great idea — we could set up our studio and a shop! Leslie and I immediately said "haha no thank you'. How could we? We were already working crazy hours, and we didn't want to work even more. Plus it was a scary commitment. The boys were very convincing, and somehow they got us strong-willed ladies to agree. We pooled some of our savings and got to work. Connor suggested calling it The Livery Shop because it was historically a livery barn and the building had the word painted on the outside. (Funny story: Kofi thought it was Delivery Shop for longer than any of us really know or that he will admit.)
Although we all had retail experience and confidence, to be honest, we really didn't know what we were doing. On Nov 27, 2014 we opened a half empty retail space. While we actually had some furniture to make it look less empty, we didn't even have a sales system — we wrote all of our sales down BY HAND with pen and paper for the entire holiday season. We enlisted a couple of friends to help us maintain the shop and we were blown away by the support from our community.
Our aesthetic evolved and we were given the opportunity to showcase collections on the runway. We created stunning body jewelry that were truly one-of-a-kind designs. We are forever grateful to PARK and the opportunities that came from working together. We have also worked with many talented people in our community to create some amazing lookbooks that will be cherished forever. To all the talented people we have worked with over the years — hair & makeup artists, stylists, models, and photographers — thank you for working with us to create magic.
Since that time we have all grown so much. We’ve gotten married and had children. Our team has expanded and our growth has come from team effort. We moved into a new beautiful and customized space (thank you to our landlord Jane for believing in us) across the street from the barn. We have the best group of people working so hard every damn day to ensure all three businesses run smoothly. The Livery Shop, Camp, and Coutu staff are like a family. Thanks to all of you for helping us get to where we are today. A special thanks to Alexa and Lindsay, the women of CoutuKitsch. These are the women who are making your jewels, fulfilling your orders, and supporting me every single day.
To all of you — thank you for supporting us, our #coutucrew. If you've been here for a long time, thanks for staying. If you're new, welcome and we hope you enjoy what we have created!
Our focus is our community, and we are proud of the contributions we have made. We are excited to give back more in the future.
Cheers to the past 10 years — all the ups and downs, the long days and nights, the scary times and moments of "is this real life!?"—and cheers to the next 10. We're excited for all that is to come.
xx Dorian Kitsch