We are thrilled to bring you a special feature and very thoughtful interview with Danielle Suppa, cofounder of SOUVENIR Studios on College Street in Toronto, expertly and artfully captured by PGM's own Lauren Kolyn. Danielle's words are full of a refreshing dose of enthusiasm, paired with a level-headed approach to business, and the interview is a very worthwhile read for anyone working to help their entrepreneurial spirit thrive. SOUVENIR as a space is one that you won't easily forget, and although Danielle writes that she is still working to realize her vision 100%, we think it's pretty darn beautiful—don't you? Enjoy the read and be sure to visit SOUVENIR if you're in the neighbourhood or visiting Toronto, or simply let Danielle's infectious spirit wash over you.
WHEN DID THE IDEA FOR SOUVENIR STUDIOS FIRST STRIKE YOU?
As a designer and maker myself, I've participated in various pop-ups over the years, selling my own small accessories lines. Some experiences were great, some less so—but I always left each show with many, many ideas on how I would run a pop-up or do things differently. One evening about two years ago, I mentioned this idea to one of my dearest friends, Trisha, over a particularly inspirational evening/party platter we were sharing at my place. I already had the name—SOUVENIR—and the general idea—and soon we started discussing how to turn this idea into a reality. Trisha is super creative (as well as incredibly organized). With her background in PR and marketing, it was a perfect balance and so wonderful to have such a supportive collaborator. Between the two of us, we knew so many talented friends, fellow designers, and colleagues who were also making great things that weren't currently being sold anywhere in the city. Once Trisha was on board, SOUVENIR really came to life and we launched our first Holiday pop-up shop in November that year. We had no plans after the first one really—other than having the show happen in general! But when we saw that it was such a success, we knew we had something special. We hosted 4 pop-up shops in various galleries around the city which were a joy to execute and we could see that the concept was building momentum.
With the pop-ups forming our foundation, I started thinking more about SOUVENIR in the bigger picture and creating a permanent home for the shop. At the same time it was important to retain the essence of the pop-ups—their freshness, diversity, and excitement. The idea and shape of the space solidified while travelling on my own in the fall of 2014. I was living mostly in Amsterdam for about two months and had a LOT of alone time to think and plan. I was on inspiration overload while experiencing and enjoying all the diverse and multi-purpose spaces I had encountered on my travels. Instead of limiting myself, I realized that I could also create a space that would encompass all the things I was looking for—retail shop, design studio, and event space—all under one roof and allow real magic to happen. Almost a year later, SOUVENIR Studios opened its doors.
CLEARLY YOU FELT THAT THERE WAS A NEED IN THE TORONTO MARKET FOR A STORE SUCH AS SOUVENIR. CAN YOU EXPLAIN A LITTLE ABOUT WHAT MAKES YOU DIFFERENT?
I like to think that SOUVENIR falls into several niches that make it different than what's currently in Toronto. I feel like there are not many places in the city that fall somewhere in between shop and gallery for designed goods and products. As in our pop-ups, we wanted to space that represented multiple designers and disciplines —while still emphasizing an extremely focused design sensibility and an accessible price point. I like to think that our shop represents a refined and modern aesthetic but infuses that with a lot of heart and warmth.
I designed the space as a (literal) blank canvas (ie. white everything!) that could be adapted to suit a multitude of purposes and clients. When we were hosting pop-ups, a space like SOUVENIR did not exist in the city (and as far as I know still does not exist). Galleries were the closest type of spaces to our aesthetic but they did not have the interior fittings and displays that we needed (we brought all those in). Everything that I bring into the space now in terms of decor, fixtures, etc. can be easily adapted to anyone's needs. I'm so honoured that I can now provide a little white box for anyone with a great idea. Designers/brands or event coordinators can take over as much or as little of the space as they'd like and I can either clear out or curate the rest of the assortment to compliment the featured brand or idea.
I also think it's exciting to have a shop owned and run by a designer—it gives the shop an innovative perspective and in my opinion allows so many more things to happen within the space itself. I can work directly with designers on projects that are in the initial stages and help to develop these ideas into actual products that can be featured and sold in the shop. For our events and rentals, I can also offer my own graphic, product, and event design services to take their idea to the next level and make their event truly personalized.
I'm also focusing on building interesting and engaging concepts for the shop. I'm hoping to roll out a few of these concepts every year, in between rentals, artist features, and periods of general retail. In terms of the products themselves, we are trying to work with many designers to bring us SOUVENIR exclusives or limited edition products. It's great to be able to give designers a place to test drive some of their ideas, and we love when our designers take our concepts to the next level and blow us away.
YOU WRITE THAT "BEYOND SIMPLY SELLING GOODS, OUR TRUE PURPOSE IS TO FOSTER MEANINGFUL CONNECTIONS BETWEEN OUR DESIGNERS, OUR CUSTOMERS, OUR SPACE, AND OUR PRODUCTS." HOW DOES SOUVENIR HELP ACCOMPLISH THIS?
We like to say that our items are "treasures to give and to keep". Keeping in mind the meaning of the word SOUVENIR itself—French for "to remember"—every object is a memento in some way. We like to be able to tell our customers the names of the people that made the goods, where they live, and the little stories and details about each brand or item that make them special in our eyes. From a customer perspective, we love to know who received our goods, where they ended up in people's homes, and how and when they are used. This dialogue between us and our customers is incredibly important. We love having customers return and relay their stories—it's these stories that are really the foundation of SOUVENIR.
We also think of our roster of designers as the SOUVENIR family in many ways. We've been so lucky to continue to work with some of the designers from our first pop-up and be able to support them in such a meaningful (and now) more long-term way. For our vintage or travel finds, another layer is added on to the story, as we can convey the circumstances of where and how we came across each piece and what drew us to it.
Beyond the products and concepts, the events and happenings in the shop allow us to give our clients an even deeper connection to the products, designers, and the space itself. I try to think about the space with all the senses. When you enter the space, what are you seeing? What are you hearing and touching and smelling? What music is playing? How are you greeted? What do you take away, either physically or in spirit? If I can create a great experience for someone and connect with a stranger—even if it's just for a minute or two—then my mission is accomplished.
YOU ALSO EMPHASIZE YOUR PASSION FOR CANADIAN DESIGN—IN WHAT WAY HAS THIS SHAPED WHAT SOUVENIR HAS BECOME? WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SOURCING NEW PRODUCTS? HOW DOES SUSTAINABILITY FACTOR IN?
I feel like it's truly a golden age for Canadian design in so many different areas and disciplines. There are some incredibly talented designers and makers, particularly in the radius directly around the store. I've honestly been blown away by the talent that has come through our doors. That being said, I'm also actively looking outside of the city—in small towns or other city centres in Canada—to find interesting pieces that are not currently or widely available in the city. SOUVENIR leaves no stone unturned!
Regarding the process—it involves a lot of scoping—either in person, while travelling, or online. I'm an extremely curious person and often fall into Instagram rabbit holes and keep following a trail until I find something magical. Trisha and I are always looking during our actual travels for interesting makers and products we see while wandering and exploring. I love finding artists who have excellent technique and ideas and being able to work with them to create something special that fits within the scope of the shop.
In terms of sustainability, of course most of the product we have in the shop is handmade. These items are created to last and made with purpose by skilled human hands in small quantities. Our makers are (hopefully!) enjoying the process while figuring out ways to streamline and make their processes more efficient—without sacrificing the heart and quality of their product. I think that's really the future of where things are going for product design, and I'm really encouraged to see customers responding to this level of craftsmanship and quality.
SOUVENIR IS NOT ONLY A RETAIL SHOP, YOU ALSO HAVE A COLLABORATIVE EVEN SPACE. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT WHAT KIND OF EVENTS YOU RUN THERE?
I like to keep the events fairly broad and diverse, but somehow always tying back to the store, our concepts, or design in general. I've had a variety of events in the space so far, ranging from mama groups to floral workshops to entrepreneur building sessions and even a concert! The overarching idea is to give guests a memorable, engaging, and beautiful experience, no matter what the subject.
I love running events in our space because the whole point of SOUVENIR is to bring people together. I've been joking that our space is essentially a design community centre—which is especially ironic considering I spent many years of my life working in city-run community centres—but I think this really rings true in many ways.
Most of the events have been pitched to me and I absolutely love hearing people's ideas. It's my job to figure it all out and see if it's a good fit for us or what can be done to make it more appropriate for our space. There are so many excellent workshops and events running in the city all the time so it's really important to me that we are offering something just a little bit different than what's currently available, which is achieved through all the details and the thought we put into each event. I think about the overall experience—what can we do to make the next two or three hours really special for our guests? My main concern is that our guests feel like they had a highly enjoyable, memorable, and even somewhat luxurious experience while maintaining the overall casual, friendly, and relatable feel of the shop. That's the magic mix!
WHAT HAVE BEEN YOUR MOST SIGNIFICANT CHALLENGES AND TRIUMPHS OPENING AND RUNNING SOUVENIR?
Running any business is full of challenges, but I think running pop-ups has made us incredibly resilient and able to tackle problems quickly. We had planned to host two pop-ups in the fall/winter of 2015 but couldn't find a space that panned out. I had initially thought about opening the permanent space in Spring 2016 but in the end the Universe wanted the space to open in the fall I suppose! So we ended up hosting the two pop-ups we had planned in our current location instead which worked out perfectly. However, the night I got the keys to the shop I got taken down with a really odd infection and lost a solid week or so. That was really tough for me (both physically and emotionally) but looking back on it now I think I just needed to be forced to take some down time. Once I was feeling better the space was essentially renovated and open for business in less than three weeks. (Luckily I have a hugely supportive family and group of friends behind me that helped with this, including my incredibly talented uncle who showed up every night to help me prepare the space.) Initially I was really disheartened that the shop interior was not how I had planned (due to timing and budget). I had spent all this time envisioning the space interior and it was not nearly what I had wanted (yet). However I've really come to embrace that the shop is like a home, and like its contents and concepts, the space itself is constantly evolving as well. Instead of being discouraged by this, I've decided to embrace this as something entirely fitting with the essence of what SOUVENIR is all about. We've built and adapted the interior slowly and it's almost there. Our friends and customers have been so supportive along the way and I think they actually like seeing the evolution of the space and being part of the process.
Another challenge I come across regularly is trying to differentiate ourselves from other shops and event spaces in the city. I'm not at all a competitive person and I do this out of respect for my fellow shop and business owners (who I continue to support as a customer myself). It's more just my nature to go a little against the grain. But I really want our customers coming to the shop and finding many items and designers they haven't seen before, or at least in Toronto. I love being able to surprise and delight people that come in. We are all looking at so much all the time and it's natural that there are areas of overlap. With this in mind, I challenge myself to think of ways to set us apart, whether its in colours or limited-edition variations or even in the overall mix and merchandising of the shop. It's also really important to us to continue to support the designers and brands that we started out with and it's great to see them expand to other stores, but it's something I'm constantly trying to balance.
Of course the biggest challenge for me personally is not enough hours in the day! And trying to find balance between business and personal time and carving out time for myself. But I'm sure anyone running a business, especially creative professionals, can attest to that.
Triumphs happen every day in the smallest of ways. It's having a customer tell you that you've brought sunshine into their life; it's a father and daughter picking out a card for their wife/mother; it's knowing that handmade bowl is going to be used by someone every morning for breakfast. On the other end of the spectrum I feel like so many big things happen here. I love that there is a space in the city where so many things can happen, and happen beautifully and thoughtfully at that. I love being able to bring various people together to teach them or expose them to something new, or to simply show them a good time. It brings me the deepest satisfaction to being able to recognize and support so many talented designers and creators, many of them friends. When I can collaborate with friends and creatives to bring their idea to life—that is the ultimate triumph. It's incredibly satisfying and more meaningful than I can ever explain.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE OTHER FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS RUNNING A BUSINESS?
I've been really fortunate to have the chance to speak with many female entrepreneurs at different stages in their careers. I love the mix of the vigor and vitality of someone starting out with the wisdom and calmness of long-time businesswomen. Sometimes I think you need both. For me, being an entrepreneur is the ultimate balancing act. It means having a vision and sticking to it, but also letting the Universe shape and surprise you in unexpected ways, and maybe even allowing yourself to veer from your path at times. It means listening to your intuition and not letting other people sway you in a different direction, but it also means looking around you and listening to others while growing your business and yourself all the while.
It's always helpful to go back to the beginning—what was the reason you started this in the first place? I feel like it's so easy to get caught up in what's selling well or what you think you need to be and that's something I see with many businesses—a lack of focus. It's something we all struggle with, myself included. But it's so important to make sure your message is clear and authentic and your reasons behind your business are equally clear and are coming from a genuine place.
I think being a female entrepreneur in particular gives businesses such richness and depth. Females are so strong and sensitive and intuitive and diverse—and I think it's really important to embrace that in your business. I think it's also important to be as supportive as possible of other entrepreneurs, especially females who are in similar fields—rather than trying to think of ways of criticizing or putting them down. There's room in this city for all of us!
Don't be afraid to admit when something is not working. Don't be afraid to admit something that you really love or want.
Running a business, or in the stages before launching a business, can seem like such an insurmountable hill to climb. One of the most important things is to remember—and something I try to do all the time—is breaking it down into manageable, small pieces. What is one thing that you can do today or this week? Can you spend an hour working towards something?
I also can't stress enough the importance of great branding, and if applicable, great packaging. And great can be super simple—to me great is being thoughtful and considerate and imparting story and meaning to your product. This really goes back to having a vision and making sure it is apparent in every part of your business.
And last thing: keep inspired! Carve out time to look, to read, to write—whatever it is that feeds you creatively and emotionally.
IN WHAT WAYS TO YOU MAKE AN EFFORT TO LIVE SUSTAINABLY IN YOUR PERSONAL LIFE?
This has been something that I've really been conscious of over the last few years in particular (especially once my husband and I owned our own home). For me, that means making sure everything in the house is as natural as possible, whenever possible. I go out of my way to choose natural detergents and cleansers, personal care products, foods, etc—I think sustainability really means to keep things simple.
I try as much as possible to repurpose and reinvent pieces in my home and in my business as much as possible, or at least find a new home for them if they don't fit into my life anymore. I've always been a huge fan of vintage things and many of the pieces in our home are vintage. Oftentimes the quality and materials of these pieces are much better than many of the current offerings (especially at similar pricepoints).
Of course running a business is such a struggle because you end up accumulating a lot of, well, stuff. So as in the shop, I try to make sure that I only bring items into my home that have a lasting appeal (from a design sense and also from a construction/durability point of view) and I love pieces that are multipurpose.
Some days we do better than others. Often I get a tad overwhelmed by it all, but I think as long as our intentions are there and we are conscious of our decisions, even on the smallest of things, then that's a great start.
WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE HOPES AND DREAMS FOR SOUVENIR?
It is never-ending, which I suppose is a good thing. What I love about the space is that it's really a designer's playground—all I wanted was a beautiful white box for magical things to happen in, a place that was always full of surprises, and something new and exciting.
A huge goal for me design-wise is to have a substantial part of the store filled with SOUVENIR Studios brand product and store exclusives, either designed by myself or through various collaborative projects with my favourite designers and makers. I'd like to design my dream versions of everything from flatware and glassware to sidetables to slippers and robes, and find the right people to make these designs become a reality. It's a pretty selfish project, there's such a long list of things I'm looking for that I haven't been able to find! So perhaps others are having the same problem.
My ultimate dream is to create my own in-house line of textiles and prints for the shop, and then using these prints to reupholster vintage pieces. Nothing puts a smile on my face like a good print and I'd love to design these to compliment various concepts throughout the seasons.
I'd also like to be able to incorporate more travel into the business and have the shop continue to be inspired with fresh eyes, experiences, and a global perspective.
CONTRIBUTORS & CREDITS:
LAUREN KOLYN, Photography: Lauren is a lifestyle and editorial photographer based in Montréal and Toronto, Canada. With a documentary approach to her photography, Lauren is a visual storyteller with a unique ability to capture the essence of the moment. Drawing much of her artistic inspiration from the natural environment, Lauren's photographic work explores the modest yet powerful beauty of her surroundings. She is also currently part of the Pure Green editorial team. View her work, follow her on Instagram.