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BRIKA Wants To Tell Maker Stories, Help Handicrafts Become Haute Couture

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Hey Silicon Valley, The British Are Coming (To Learn Your Startup Secrets)

Toronto-based startup and Extreme Startups Spring 2013 cohort member BRIKA is a sort of Etsy meets Fab company, with the goal of taking the current maker movement and helping it reach a broad and discerning audience. The company has already managed to attract a strong creator and member community, but the big vision is to now leverage its ecommerce start to take advantage of the current “bricks and clicks” trend in traditional retail.

What BRIKA does is provide provenance for artisan goods; it’s like Etsy, in terms of sourcing its wares from handicrafts makers and independent creators, but it emphasizes the story. That means you know who made what you’re buying, and why they’re driven to do so in the first place; it means you know where the materials came from, and how they were made; it means you’re connected to the goods you purchase, rather than disconnected. It’s almost Marxist. Except for the part for it’s all very much a for-profit business designed to capitalise on current consumer trends.

Co-founders Jennifer Lee Koss and Kena Paranjape both understand consumer shopping trends very well. Koss and Paranjape are both experienced retail professionals, and Koss came across Paranjape’s blog once while sourcing info for a previous job. She found that Paranjape’s passion for curating and surfacing the best in unique clothing and accessories was something that could apply on a much grander scale. The two women then developed the idea behind BRIKA, which funnels products through a multi-stage process that curates good candidates, develops them from a story perspective, presents them to consumers in a unique way, and then brings them to market.

I spoke to Paranjape about the process, which seemed to me to be fairly labor-intensive, compared to automated or mostly self-run systems like the ones employed by Etsy. She says that it is indeed labor-heavy, but that’s what makes the difference between it and blind approaches. And because the idea is to foster a small community of quality makers for now, the workload is entirely manageable by a small team. And the team should be able to grow in pace with new demand, she says, with new curators being added to help the maker community expand in step with shopper interest.

Currently, there are 150 U.S.-based makers profiled and featured on the site, and so far the company has seen around $70,000 in sales since late last year. It has just finished with a prototype mobile app, which was required after it saw that 45 percent of its traffic was coming from mobile devices, and has also just secured partnerships with Lauren Bush, Donna Karan, Madewell (a division of J. Crew) and Hudson’s Bay. The plan now is to help retailers capitalize on online shopping trends, while also giving maker culture some shelf space show time.

BRIKA is doing well, and says the market it’s targeting is worth $30 billion per year, but it still has to contend with the well-established Etsy to forge out this new space. Luckily, consumers seem to be focusing more and more on stories, and less on products, so it could ride that wave to success.