Sarah Kawasaki from Fort Kids is operating a business and a family that’s a truly symbiotic relationship. Her studio is just a 5-minute walk from her home and from her work window she can spot her children, Quinn, 5, and Keir, 3, playing in their school yard during lunch and recess breaks. Her business partner is her husband Derrick Hodgson (he’s enviably part gardener/part illustrator), and together they dreamed up the idea of launching design-savvy, locally-made, cool kids clothing…before they even had kids in 2009. They’ve reached the milestones every small business dreams of (they have a workspace that’s not in their house, are in a steady routine and get to steal moments with their littles whenever they can) and are pursuing the collective goal of making work and play one in the same.
“Our business is an extension of our home life. We called it Fort because it brings up notions of a sanctuary for you and your friends. It makes you think of childhood and the idea of exploration. We’re really active, super outdoorsy people and we live a Fort lifestyle whenever we go on the road together. Derrick and I have been going on road trips since the beginning of our relationship and before we launched the business. He even asked me to marry him during a stop in Fogo Island.
We love exploring Canada’s backyard and it’s easy to incorporate what inspires us for work with our everyday lives because the brand reflects what we believe in. It can feel chaotic being together all the time on a road trip, but I love it that way. The kids spend so much time at school and at their after-care programs, so there’s actually not a lot of time with them. It’s nice to have work as an excuse to blur the lines and do photo shoots with them on the weekends. We’ll be running together as a pack for as long as I can make that happen.
The kids only see the fun aspects of the business though (and my daughter has even started providing her criticism which can be nerve-wracking). When Derrick and I have to discuss something stressful, we close the doors so they don’t have to hear about it. To be honest, I’m not even sure that they know we run a business. They don’t mind getting paid in cupcakes for the photos shoots and they hardly hear us complain. What we do doesn’t look like a job to them because they don’t see the behind-the-scenes stuff like invoicing and negotiating. I keep all that from them because kids should just be kids.
Luckily, Derrick and I work really well together. We have learned to be a team after going on so many camping trips together. We have similar interests and similar aesthetics, but more importantly, the skill sets we bring to Fort are different. He’s so good at communicating with the artists and illustrators we work with and inspiring them with appropriate direction. I’m responsible for the design and production process. Of course, we have a say on each other’s decisions, but we have clear lines that make working together easier. (Plus, in the summer he focuses on his gardening business which gives us a break that we’re both thankful for. We’re definitely better for it).
When I think about balance it’s not about separating my work from my family. It’s more strategic; it’s about the momentum of our business trajectory which we’ve always seen as being slow and steady. We have to keep the collections small so we don’t lose our shirts. It’s very important to us to use natural fibres and to be made in Canada…we have to do different tricks to make that vision happen. I’ll combine production of our spring, summer and winter collections so we can hit minimums for our mills and our factories. I work hard to figure out how to stay true to what we believe but I get to press pause in the evenings to be with my kids. If I have to do more work, it’s when they’re sleeping. I love what I do so I don’t resent a minute of it.
When we do feel challenged, it’s about how we make things and put stuff in the world which can be hard to reconcile with our want to protect the environment at the same time. In joining 1% for the Planet, we hope to give back and be part of the solution. For example, we maintain small collections and production runs in support of the slow fashion movement. Plus, we produce locally, and our clothes are made to last and be passed down from kid to kid.
Life and work can always be stressful, however I want my kids to know that it’s fun to be alive. I feel like my kids are my secret power. During any given day, it’s nice to hear them laughing and listen to their jokes. They truly balance everything out.”
HOME TOUR A city home decorated with inspiration
A Thomas Pederson chair (bought at Toronto’s Mjolk wasn’t favoured by Sarah’s dad when he first laid eyes on it. “He called it the Captain Kirk chair when he saw it and he thought it was way too big , but now he loves it. I’ve spent a lot of time on that chair hugging and feeding the kids especially when they were babies.”
The bedroom is a blank canvas, likely to give their daily design senses a break, save for one photograph by friend and Fort Kids’ official photographer Jeremy Koreski.
They surround themselves with art work which is especially sweet when it’s from a BF like this painting from Mark Puchala that hangs just outside their bedroom.
Both through their printed clothing collection and in the decor in the childrens’ rooms, the couple’s appreciation for graphic design, prints and illustration comes to life.
This is what happens when dad is an illustrator: One of Derrick’s works hangs in the Kier’s bedroom. Before launching Fort Kids with Sarah, Derrick was a character designer and artist who worked in New York and Japan dreaming up designs for toys and more.
Family wellies are stacked by the back door, along with a few Fort Kids’ faves.
MY FAVOURITE THINGS
“I’m committed to wearing oxfords because my feet are so flat. When I wear anything too high, it’s just not comfortable.” The heels that are friendly to her feet yet still stylish are these booties with a mid-size heel.
“I’m obsessed with Alexander McQueen. We even went to London to specifically see his exhibit Savage Beauty at the V & A. I loved how he pushed boundaries and was more than a designer — he was a thinker and an artist too. He was just so brave and relentless when it came to design and I appreciated being able to see every stitch in real life.” Also on her reading list: Surf Shacks by Indoek, The New Farm by Brent Preston (about a city couple who hitch their post to a farm in Creemore, Ontario), and We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
A print from Feheley Fine Arts, one of the few galleries in the world devoted to art from the Canadian Arctic, was a gift they bought for the house (and themselves) to celebrate their first Christmas there.
Her beauty routine is spare but functional, protecting and perking up her skin whether she’s working in the city or on the road. Herbivore Lapis Facial Oil, SKII Facial Treatment Cleansing Oil, Province Apothecary Healing Eczema Balm (which she uses mostly on the littles and their skin flare-ups) and Shiseido Oil-Free UV Protection.