What started as an afterschool project among friends has turned into a busy, full-time career for Fiona Morrison.
It was 2011. Morrison was in her second year studying entrepreneurship and business at the University of Victoria when she started making necklaces and selling them to her friends.
“It was totally just a very spur of the moment, fun side project,” she said on the phone from an L.A. business trip. “I kind of call it an afterschool project. It was just something that I started doing on the side instead of getting a real job at the time.”
She didn’t know anything about jewelry at the time and learned a lot from watching videos on YouTube.
“I was incredibly motived,” she said. “The reason I picked jewelry was because I noticed a really big gap in the market in Victoria. There was just no affordable really cool, bold jewelry that was making a statement but was also affordable for my friends.”
She called her business, a line of demi-fine jewelry, Wolf Circus. In 2015, she moved to Vancouver and is now based in Gastown. The idea took off, in part, by a turn of events south of the border.
In the fall of 2016, Wolf Circus released a new necklace depicting the outline of a woman’s breasts. It was initially meant to be a “cheeky fun little thing,” Morrison said.
“A few months later, [Donald] Trump gets elected and then [sales of] the boob necklace just totally picked up and really put our brand on the map,” she said, adding that it gave people the ability to make a statement with their jewelry.
Today, a team of female jewellers works with Morrison to help bring her designs to life. Wolf Circus is now sold online, as well as in stores in five provinces. the U.S, Asia, Europe, Puerto Rico and Australia.
The company got another boost this month, winning a $100,000 award through the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Design Entrepreneur program in New York City. Morrison not only took home the grand prize but won it the first year the program allowed entrants from outside the U.S.
She applied, and was accepted, along with 25 other designers to take part in FIT’s brand building program. She spent a month in New York learning about everything from finances to branding and marketing. Once that was complete, participants had to put together a business plan.
“It was the most work I’ve ever put into something in my life,” Morrison said.
She was chosen as one of several finalists and presented her plan, first to a small group in a board room, and then to a larger audience that included some heavy weights of the fashion industry — designer Tommy Hilfiger, Marc Schneider, CEO of Kenneth Cole, Thomas Ott, chief merchant at Saks Off 5th and Gilt, and Henri Zirpolo, senior designer at Rag & Bone.
“It was definitely nerve wracking but it was also so exciting as well,” Morrison said.
She was awarded the $100,000 prize that, she said, will be used to help Wolf Circus continue to grow.