Shop Talk is written by OM editor Dayanti Karunaratne and Sarah Fischer, OM account executive and fashion maven.
It’s taken me over three years to write this post. Now, I’m not generally one to fall into the procrastination trap, but sometimes, I’m learning, it pays to wait.
Back in 2010, when I first spotted Laura Twiss cycling stylishly through Hintonburg, I was ready to feature her in our style pages. I dug a little deeper, and learned of her design collaboration with Tonia Weber. Checked out their stuff, watched out for them at markets and festivals, and rejoiced when they opened up a wee atelier on a side street in Hintonburg. All the while, I waited for them to really break out on their own, to claim a piece of Ottawa’s retail space.
Laura and Tonia met back in 2009 in classic Hintonburg style — at a yoga studio, at craft shows, and at Wabi Sabi. They gradually learned that they had a lot in common. For example, both started sewing at a young age, both went to school for fashion design, both had their own line of clothing but couldn’t seem to go where we wanted to with it.
Oh, and they both worked at a bank and never had any childhood illness like chickenpox. (The ties that bind!)
And somewhere along the line, Laura and Tonia realized that their business name — their last names — resonates with their vision for the label.
“You twist a fibre to make yarn, you weave a yarn to make fabric. Our name makes so much sense to us; we are meant to be working together and in this industry,” says Laura.
Among the first collaborations were hand knitting patterns. As Laura says, “Tonia ‘barfs’ out an idea and I transcribe that idea onto paper.” Sometimes they would get together and workshop a few ideas, which involved various techniques from draping to knitting to machine sewing. Most importantly, they learned that they work well together.
“We each thought, ‘Let’s see how we work together. If there is drama then I’m out.”
And while melodrama was at a minimum, the drama of life unfolded and the duo of Twiss & Weber rolled with it. After Laura got pregnant (as she tells it, “I was pretty much useless”), Tonia developed a few simple clothing pieces and put them in shops across Ontario. Well-received by the shops and their customers, the next step was to move into 177 Armstrong a “quaint but dilapidated” building off the beaten path in H’burg. Pop-up shops followed, and the ladies were about to launch an internet boutique and concentrate on wholesale accounts, but when they saw the space at 1282-C Wellington St. W., they “couldn’t shake the possibilities of what we could do with the space.”
“The reaction from our customers to our line, to our service, and to our philosophy was intoxicating,” says Laura. “This reaction was validation to us that we are doing something right. We enjoy helping our customers with our line.”
Laura describes the line, which they design and sew on the premises, as relaxed ladies fashion. She describes the Twiss & Weber client as one who is not afraid of separates and is willing to buy more pieces to wear in more ways. “She is a traveler, interested in exploring possibilities, and expects interesting designs.
In terms of the partnership, Laura and Tonia have adopted the front- and back-of-house model that many restaurants use. Tonia orders fabric, works with suppliers, manages production and skilled labour, and sews samples and stock. Laura works with customers and staff, changes the windows, corresponds with suppliers and vendors, and manages social media (check them out on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Flickr). They both mop and vacuum and “all those romantic tasks” that come with owning a shop.
And I can tell you first-hand that these designers/entrepreneurs know style — and customer service. They have helped me understand what looks good on me (and what doesn’t), and have gone to great lengths to make sure I’m happy with my purchases. Plus, it truly feels like they are having a good time with it all. It’s like playing dress up with your besties in there!
Indeed, when I asked them about their motto “take command of your own style”, Laura said “we encourage our customers to ‘Wear what she wants, listen to what she wants, hang what makes her feel good on her walls. Be happy in her personal realm.’”
If I’m allowed to hang whatever I want on my walls, I might just print out the above and tape it beside my closet. Instant happy!
Twiss & Weber also offers other Canadian-made accessories and clothing, such as Dominica Maazur from The Dress Shop in Carleton Place, young Ottawa jeweller Kayleigh Thompson of Basement Beads, JMB Canada of Chelsea, Ottawa’s own semi-precious jewellery designer Kaduna, Compass & Company jewellery from Toronto, Morganna the White fibre art jewellery from Montreal, Eliasz & Ella jewellery from Edmonton, and Saraswati jewellery from Edmonton.
Twiss & Weber, 1282-C Wellington St. W., twissandweber.com.