Nobody is more dedicated to gift-giving than the founders of BRIKA, Jennifer Koss and Kena Paranjape. Their stocked shops of artisanal goods are a go-to haven for shoppers on the hunt for unique, socially-conscious prezzies. With stand-alone retail stores in Toronto and Mississauga, the duo recently opened a space in Yorkdale Mall plus a pop-up shop at Lululemon in Yorkville.
With gift-giving at the heart of their business, we thought it apropos to ask co-founder Jen Lee Koss on what it takes to give the perfect gift.
Why is it so important to give a thoughtful gift?
“When you give a gift you’re giving a part of yourself to somebody else and it shouldn’t’ be taken lightly. We have a blog series called Gifting and Receiving, where we interview our makers about gifts that they’ve given and received. We want to show that giving is a real, meaningful exchange. It’s not just an exchange of goods, it’s an exchange of yourself.”
What are some things people should consider when buying a gift?
“I like to think about how a gift can be used in someone’s everyday life—how it can become a part of their life. Utility is a big thing for me. It could be as simple as giving a box of chocolates because you know your friend loves chocolate, or a beautiful wooden bowl because they love to make salads. The worst thing is to give a gift and know that it’s going to have no function in that person’s life.”
If you don’t know someone well, what are some ‘safe’ gift choices?
“Don’t go too crazy or quirky. You also don’t want to offend anybody or make assumptions of how they live their life, but there are a lot of middle of the road gifts. For example, if you’re invited to a dinner party at someone’s house, it’s safe to assume that the person likes to host dinners. Try gifting a crafted cheese board or a tea towel (they’re thoughtful but not over the top). Again, think utility. Or, if you know they have children, instead of bringing a gift for the host, bring something for the kids. It’s a nice gesture that people sometimes forget about.”
How does BRIKA make gift-giving stress-free?
“We find that people come in for last-minute gifts and may be a bit stressed about it. Our job is to make it easy for them. Our gift concierges (those are our sales associates) always ask about the occasion, what the person may be into, and if they even have something specific like jewellery or home décor. Sometimes we even show contrasting items to narrow down what they’re looking at—people have very visceral reactions which can help narrow down their choice. There’s a fine balance too. It’s event dependent. Am I going to a birthday or a dinner party? You can tone down the dollar amount depending on those things. I think it’s better to over-gift than under-gift.”
Jen’s go-to gifts for any occasion
What is the best gift you’ve ever given?
“My best friend and I have this inside joke about children’s luggage—we think that all children should carry their own if they’re able. When she got pregnant I bought her a mini suitcase and filled it with about 20 little artisan-made gifts that had meaning between the two of us, like a stuffed NYC taxi toy, a wooden teether of the home state of where she was from…every single gift had a clue and a note on them. For me it was really cool because I had to really think about it. It took me a while to come up with the idea and all the items, but I wanted it to be extra special.”
What is the best gift you’ve ever received?
“I have a couple: A turquoise ring with ornate detail that my mother saved for me when my grandmother passed away. There’s my wedding band from my mother-in-law that was given to her by my husband when he was 16. When my husband’s parents divorced he noticed that his mother stopped wearing a ring and felt sad about it. So when he was in Russia—it was still a Communist regime at the time—he traded in his blue jeans on the street to get a similar ring for her. She wore it forever. When we got married she gave it to me and it fit perfectly. The last one is a chocolate lab puppy from my husband for our wedding. It’s strange because I was never a pet person. But, I have to say it was the best training for a child.”
Do you prefer giving or receiving?
“Giving. I like being creative. For example, I made custom memory cards—like the ones you use for that memory game—for a friend who’s baby was having her first birthday. Each matching card had meaning, for example, images of crests from the universities they both went to and cities that they lived in.”
Some of my faves
Here’s what caught my eye in-store: State backpacks (their feel-good initiative delivers a backpack to an American child in need for every backpack purchased); notebooks by Anemone Letterpress, Craftbelly Paper & Pattern and Farewell Paperie; Think Happy by Karen Salmansohn (it’s a collection of pep talks for when you really need them) and a Writer’s Block journal by Potter Style.