One of our favourite things to do at The Makers Nation is to get out of the office and meet makers and creative entrepreneurs around the world, especially in our home city of Toronto. We discovered Biko through a feature on the Toronto-based site BRIKA. The beautiful vintage yet contemporary feel of Biko reminded us of traditional Middle Eastern and North African jewelry and inspired us to get to know its creator. Corrine Anestopoulos, the designer and founder of Biko, invited us to visit their studio on Spadina to see her work in more detail and hear more about Biko’s growing success.

Hi Corrine! Can you tell me a bit about the back story of Biko for readers that might be learning about the brand for the first time?

I’ve been at it with Biko for about 10 years now. What started out as a hobby turned into a business fairly quickly. I went to Ryerson for New Media and Image Arts, which was totally unrelated, and I started to work with my hands on the side. I sold what I made at craft fairs and ended up making my rent that way. I thought ‘why not give this a try on a full-time basis?’ In 2011, about 7 years after I started, I rebranded and hired someone to give me an identity for the first time. That made all the difference. My aesthetic has changed over the years. Our tagline now is ‘modern nostalgia’ and I mostly make vintage-inspired components that are hand cast in Toronto with materials I source from all over the world. Many pieces are hand cast, replicated and dipped in oxidized brass to give it that old world look. More recently I’ve been taking that inspiration of mixing with something modern even further and working with a model maker to add twists to original pendants.

What means did you use in terms of branding to get things off the ground?

I think it’s important to have a PR team behind what you do but it can get really expensive. I used to have an agency in Toronto and New York but now I’m just focusing on the NY one. It’s important to create buzz around your brand – when a new collection comes out, for instance, a press release should be sent out. You need to get people excited, social media also helps with that and with keeping people up to date with what’s going on.

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Your new ‘Of Palaces’ collection launched recently. What were you trying to achieve with this particular collection? What were your inspirations?

Every fall I tend to do something darker, more glam, and sleek as opposed to spring/summer where I do bright pops of colour. I like the shine of dark, blackened gunmetal – again the oxidized brass. We use some jade and matte onyx beads for that matte black vintage car feel. My personal style is a lot of black and neutral with a pop of colour here and there, the collections relate directly to that.  I created the hashtag #marbleobsessed because we all are around here, and we brought out that luxurious mix of marble in contrast with darker colours in the campaign shoot. The photos are palace-inspired to pay homage to the Taj Mahal. I like the luxurious meets street-style feel of this collection.  But even though it feels that way, I don’t ever want my stuff to be misconstrued as out of reach or unaffordable. Everything retails at under $200 so it’s a mid-range sort of thing.

Totally! Recently, you created some pieces in collaboration with Nasty Gal. How did that come about?

I met them at a trade show in New York. We initially connected with Free People at another NY trade show about a year and a half ago and they requested that we design large body pieces for them with the Biko aesthetic in mind. The pieces are more like art pieces than everyday wearables. They sold them on the Free People website but since our agreement wasn’t exclusive we took the pieces to a tradeshow where Nasty Gal walked by and saw them. Nasty Gal asked us to collaborate with them and create a more glam, shiny aesthetic, which has subsequently inspired me to create more shiny pieces.

You brought Biko down to the August Capsule show in Vegas. How was your experience there?

Vegas is crazy, it’s not really my bag. It was like the garment express on the way over, there were fashion people everywhere mixed in with all the crazy tourists. The show itself is really well done and I met a lot of great people. That particular show is more menswear based, and there were more menswear buyers, which got me thinking about doing a men’s sideline. We’ve got a lot of contacts and follow ups to do.

I’ve heard mixed things about trade shows from some makers and artists I know. Do you have any tips for other creatives looking to get into the trade show circuit on how to stand out and get the results they want?

Sometimes the energy is really down at shows because of slow foot traffic – but you have to hope that the right person walks by.  The key people could be right around the corner – It’s sometimes a crapshoot but you have to stick with it! I’m new to the US circuit but a lot of people I met there have been doing them for 14 years and even they say that some shows are amazing and some aren’t but that doesn’t mean you give up. You have to keep doing it because buyers want to see that you are still there and you’re not going anywhere, so try and stay positive no matter what. It’s also all in the follow up. For example, I met Nasty Gal end of January in NY and they didn’t place their order until May. All those months I didn’t think anything was going to happen and then it did. If you don’t follow up, you might miss a great opportunity. Tradeshows can be expensive too and a way around that is to go with an agency instead of a solo booth, so you split the cost.

Do you have a booth at One of a Kind?

I’ve been doing that since the beginning and to be honest, if it wasn’t for One of a Kind I might not still be around. They really helped me feel out whether something would work or not. My local Toronto customers come back year after year to add to their collections, it’s always just been a really great show for me. It’s really good to get feedback on what’s working and not working and what people are looking for.

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Gathering vintage materials for your pieces is a constant collection process for you; did you get the chance to do that in Vegas?

I wish, but I didn’t know where to go and I didn’t hang around. Once a year, in Tucson, Arizona, there’s a trade show that spans 10+ football fields of vendors from all over the world that bring materials. There’s such an eclectic mix of characters there, and some great finds! Also, New York is great for that because people import stuff all the time. I scour online too to find interesting one-offs. I think the most I’ve spent is $250 on a piece.

What are your other upcoming projects with Biko?

A Biko website redesign, I can’t wait! The last one was done in 2011 and they feel outdated so quickly. I really want the images to be big for shopping with a lot of angles, really user-friendly with our Instagram feed streaming there as well. I’m designing spring right now too which will be finished in the next couple of months and will be shooting when it’s complete. Those pieces will drop online end of January, just in time for people to get out of winter mode. I really want to do a photoshoot with the body jewelry and body paint! I’ve got some ideas and I’m working on the inspiration for that.

You can find out more about Biko through the following links:

Twitter: twitter.com/BikoJewellery

Instagram: instagram.com/bikojewellery

Website: ilovebiko.com