Leading Ladies Roundtable Interview: Britt Hopkins of Anice Jewellery, & Christina of Fortnight
Interview By: Liron Davis
Photos By: Scarlet O’Neill
As soon as you walk into Anice Jewellery you feel Britt Hopkins’ energy emanating from every gemstone and necklace strand on display. Owner of Anice Jewellery stores in Kensington Market and on Ossington Avenue, Britt has created spaces that ooze her enthusiastic, positive energy, so that it seems more like you’re walking into a best friend’s living room rather than a store. In addition to selling beautiful quality hand-made pieces, Anice Jewellery and Britt have an almost magical ability to bring people together. It’s a regular sighting to see customers strike up conversations as if these strangers were actually long-time friends, giving each other compliments and advice on their jewellery selection. And whether it’s through her workshops or promoting her all-female staff on social media, Britt is building an army of confident, powerful #jewelbabes. One in which we at Fortnight will happily enlist.
FORTNIGHT: Who are you and what do you do?
BRITT: I’m Brittany Hopkins and I own Anice Jewellery. We have two retail boutiques in Toronto and we specialize in making custom, one-of-a-kind jewellery, repurposing old treasures to give them a new life, and working with our clients to create timeless pieces.
CHRISTINA: I’m Christina Remenyi and I’m the founder of Fortnight Lingerie, which is a Toronto-made lingerie label. We’re focused on offering a diverse range of sizes to make women feel comfortable, confident and most like their true selves.
FORTNIGHT: You both focus on craft and creating quality items that make women feel special. Why is quality and craftsmanship so important to you?
BRITT: I think it’s about that story and that connection. Jewellery is something that is a form of expression for me. It’s a way to not only adorn an outfit or be fashionable, but it can be that extra piece that makes you feel special. A lot of time we refer to our pieces as “power pieces” for exactly that – maybe you have an awesome pair of earrings or unique necklace and it just sets you apart from everyone else. I want each item be completely unique just like it’s wearer. I think it can be really special having a piece you connect to; that drives every piece I make through the store.
CHRISTINA: Yes, a connection and a feeling of purpose. I think quality and craftsmanship is what makes a garment, and the woman wearing it feel special. Especially when it’s something you wear so close to your skin.
BRITT: You said it earlier about confidence. I think when someone is wearing confidence in a room, you can just tell. Whether you’re seeing it or not, on an actual garment or whatever, it is more about the vibe that you get.
CHRISTINA: It’s in your essence.
FORTNIGHT: What do you want customers to feel when they are entering your stores?
BRITT: I want them to feel ease. Something that has been really important to me is having a jewellery store that isn’t pretentious. I wanted to create a space where I could cover the whole spectrum of different kinds of jewellery, but also allow our customers to feel chill, like they’re at their best friend’s place. That is what makes me feel good when I go into stores. I also want them to feel like they can be exactly who they are or who they want to be. When you walk into Anice you have the ability to create something for yourself that is really special, or to be someone different. I’m constantly trying to encourage my customers to step outside the box. I have so many people who say things like, “I didn’t wear jewellery before and now I’m obsessed.” It is an amazing honour to guide a customer along that journey.
FORTNIGHT: What do you think about how women in business are being portrayed in our culture these days?
BRITT: I think that it has been an amazing couple of years. It’s really awesome that there is so much more focus and empowerment towards that #GirlBoss mentality – about being confident in yourself, proud of your accomplishments and going for what you want. I think that has been really promoted over the last couple of years and has really resonated with me. I do want to see a little bit more realistic businesswoman stories, where they indicate how hard it is and how much you have to work your ass off. Those are the stories that really inspire me to keep going because I can relate to that in my day-to-day life. The conversations like what we’re having right now are really important. You have to start from somewhere and it is not going to be easy.
FORTNIGHT: We have strengths and a lot of weaknesses and vulnerabilities and hardships and stuff thrown at us that we can’t control. That is the whole picture. Both sides should exist in these stories.
BRITT: I did a panel discussion for Social Media Week with the owner of a successful business. Listening to him speak about his journey was really inspiring in the sense that he was talking about all the mistakes he’s made that he couldn’t keep track of them – and yet his business is blowing up! Of course he’s made mistakes, so have I, and so will I continue to do so. I have those moments where I wonder, “what the hell am I doing?” and these stories help move me forward.
CHRISTINA: It’s true. You can almost learn as much from the success stories as you can from the mistakes. And not everyone is as willing to share their mistakes as they are as their successes. But a little vulnerability goes a long way.
FORTNIGHT: Did you have a female role model growing up?
BRITT: For me it is my grandma Anice, who the stores are named after. That is why the stores are so important to me. She is obsessed with jewellery and got me into jewellery-making. Furthermore, she is this woman who I looked up to my entire life, who was not afraid to dress a certain way or speak her mind. People ask me why I named my business Anice, and I say it is because my grandma encompasses all I want to be and inspire other people to be.
CHRISTINA: I think family is a big one for me too. My mom and her mother are both very strong women in different ways. My Grandmother is so resourceful and creative. She taught herself how to sew, knit and cook. She immigrated to Canada with no money and made blankets out of old sweaters. That element of being resourceful and having the ability to create something out of nothing was a really big inspiration for me. My mom is a business owner as well. Watching her multi-task, raise a family and create a successful, growing business – has inspired me and made me feel like I could do it too.
FORTNIGHT: Britt, I’ve noticed this sense of community that seems like a focus for everything you do. How did this get entrenched in your business?
BRITT: When I started it was just me, so I wanted to connect with people – that was my goal. Through the pieces I made, I wanted to get to know people, because that gave me the ability to personalize each piece. There is also a lot of trust when you’re dealing with people’s valuable items. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried with customers over the stories of their heirlooms or personal pieces. At the beginning, I also wanted to celebrate my customers. Through my workshops I was able to celebrate what I was doing with more people and have them connect to the store, to me and to each other. I still say that every time I teach a Girls’ Night Out that I’m crashing someone’s party. But it has become such a community, more than I could have ever imagined. And you get to a certain point when you think, without that community I would not be here. Without my staff I would be nowhere. Literally. I cannot operate my business without other people. It’s important for people to know that this is my brand, but that my team is such a huge part of how this brand exists and moves. I want my staff to connect to the store in a great way, because they make a lot of the jewellery too. When they sell those pieces, I hope they feel an amazing connection there.
FORTNIGHT: Have either of you ever had a mentor?
BRITT: I still have a mentor actually. I went through a program called CYBF (Canadian Youth Business Foundation) a not-for-profit organization in Canada. It’s kind of like Dragon’s Den in that they aren’t going to give you the money unless you present your business plan and prove to them why you’re going to be different than other similar businesses. If you get approved, not only do you get a business loan through them, but they also pair you with a mentor. I am so thankful for the woman that came into my life as a mentor through that program. There were so many times I called her to say that I felt like locking my door and crawling under my covers and just not dealing with anything. She was able to be a great sounding board that was objective, and was solely there to talk to me about what I’m doing with my business.
CHRISTINA: I never had a specific mentor, but was really fortunate to be able to connect with entrepreneurs from time to time who would lend an ear and offer helpful advice. But Britt, that is really wonderful relationship with your mentor. Have you kept in touch?
BRITT: It has been four years so we are not obligated to have that relationship anymore, but she has now become a friend who still talks to me about business stuff.
FORTNIGHT: What’s a really good piece of advice you’ve been given?
BRITT: I read a cheesy business book once, but something in there stayed with me and I can personally attribute some of my success because I have this mentality: if you start small, you make small mistakes. Somehow reading that made me calm down. It made me think that I don’t need to be the most successful person right now and that I wouldn’t make huge mistakes or go bankrupt. Because you see the success rate of small businesses and it’s scary. That is one of the best pieces of advice that I received at the right time.
CHRISTINA: I’m a huge fan of small steps! It has always been my secret strategy as well.
BRITT: So many people want it all right away which is why most businesses fail. I was very fearful when I opened my second store because of that.
CHRISTINA: One piece of advice that has always stuck with me is: the harder you work, the luckier you get. I love the idea that the culmination of all the energy and hard work you’ve put into something creates a positive energy that aligns opportunity.
BRITT: I would have to agree with that. It is kind of crazy sometimes how you feel like you luck out by meeting a specific person or finding a space, but it’s because you’ve worked so hard to put yourself out there and are available to what the universe has to offer.
FORTNIGHT: Showing up, being confident and doing the work. Those are the three things. Britt, What is on the horizon for you?
BRITT: I’m going to go back to that piece of advice “start small and make small mistakes.” My focus right now is to do both stores and to do them really well. We are heading into the end of one year of having two stores and I’m excited for that. So I don’t see any more expansion in terms of another store anytime soon. I really want to enjoy this time now and soak up what’s been happening.
FORTNIGHT: What is your equivalent of the power suit? An outfit that makes you feel strong powerful, like you could take over the world?
BRITT: All the jewels. Sometimes I’ll come in to the store wearing headchains, bracelets, necklaces, a kimono and heeled boots. Or something flowy is usually when I feel my best because I’m comfortable and able to feel creative.
FORTNIGHT: What are some of your favourite independent labels or products?
BRITT: I love Province Apothecary – I think she (Julie, the owner) is such an inspiring business woman and is also such an angel. And I love her products! Also, all of the small businesses run by women around me: Sole Survivor, Penny Arcade, Eleven Thirty Shop. When I really look at my favourite products, it is really cool to see that pretty much all of them are made by women.
FORTNIGHT: So if you could raid one store overnight which store would it be?
BRITT: Eleven Thirty Shop for sure. I am so obsessed with their bags I can’t even handle it. I don’t even own one yet! I’ve been saving up for it.
FORTNIGHT: In three words or less how would you describe your personal style?
BRITT: Eclectic for sure. Bohemian too. If I could relate myself to another person who my look is inspired by – it is very much a Stevie Nicks-kind-of-vibe.
FORTNIGHT: What does an afternoon of indulgence look like for you?
BRITT: Watching stupid TV at home in my housecoat eating all the candy. I know that sounds cliché, but there is nothing better than being home alone eating salted dark chocolate, licorice and any kind of ice cream.
FORTNIGHT: Who is your greatest support?
BRITT: I think my family has been phenomenal. My grandmother is incredible and I’m so fortunate to have her around to support me. This shop has been the greatest gift ever to celebrate her through the store. She is my inspiration and she has been so amazing!