Armed (1024 Dundas St. W.) is a tiny storefront right across from Trinity Bellwoods that’s filled with treasures. The jewellery, which has a vintage aesthetic, is hand-crafted by owner Desiree Girlato, a Humber Fashion Management student who took advantage of a serendipitous opportunity to open her doors in one of Toronto’s up and coming destination fashion neighbourhoods. Girlato loves being a part of growing list of amazing women-run boutiques on Dundas West, like Magwood, Penny Arcade, and Dalston Grey. Armed is another one in that list of shops filled with covetable items—beyond Girlato’s work, she hosts pop-up designers like Handsome, and occasionally vintage pieces—that are transforming the sleepy strip into the place where we buy 90 % of our most-loved pieces. We stopped by the shop to talk to Girlato about the risks and rewards about opening your own business.
When did you start designing jewellery?
I started designing jewellery about three or four years ago. I fell into it after struggling with fashion design. It was a better creative outlet for me. I found a niche in jewellery making, and started one summer, totally random. I didn’t really think much of it, and my mum was like “If you don’t start doing something with all this junk on the table, I’m going to throw it out.” And I was like “No! You can’t!”
When did you transition from designing as a hobby to doing it for a living?
I feel like I’m still in that same mindframe. I’m not sure I’m totally cut out for this whole business side of things, but I really love making jewellery. When I first started doing it, it was a trial-and-error thing. I was putting together pieces with whatever I could get my hands on. I just do it, and then in the morning I go back to the piece, and go “Is that a good piece, or is that a shitty piece?” And then I take it apart and start again.
When did you decide to open the store?
The intention wasn’t to open a storefront, but sometimes opportunities arise, and I feel like this is one of those: ‘If I don’t do it now, when am I going to do it?’ Dundas is fairly new, as far as a shopping street in the downtown core, so I figure if I don’t get in on this now, then I could never get a storefront, because it will be superexpensive. I’ve always wanted to have a store, and opportunities like this don’t come very often.
What were some of the biggest challenges when you were starting out?
A huge part of myself was like, ‘How do I meet everyone’s needs?’, and that’s just impossible. At the end of the day, you have to love what you do, and you have to do it for yourself, because you can’t ever meet everyone’s needs, and you can’t ever make it so everyone loves it. It’s been ever-changing, almost like a child. It evolves so much. When I first started, it was just jewellery, and then I got my friend to come in and do vintage with me, and then I got into the idea of hosting other designers, so it’s been an evolution. You only see the adjustments when a problem arises, and then you’re like ‘Okay, adjust it, and we’ll go from there,’ and then something else comes up, and then adjust, and that’s how the evolution comes out.
What advice would you give to young women who are where you were five years ago?
Find something you love to do. I hated sewing, and I pushed myself into fashion design because that’s something I thought I always wanted to do. I think you have to love what you do, and if you have passion in it, that will come through in your work. People love a good story, and when you have your whole heart in it, there’s always a good story behind it. I think you need to stay true to who you are as a designer. As far as business goes, selling lawn chairs or selling jewellery or selling anything, you need to make sure that the business is sound, and not to get too caught up in the small things. You need to keep your books strong.
What resources did you use to expand your knowledge of the business side of things?
I’m doing a Fashion Management program at Humber, and I opened up the store last August, going in to my second-last year at school. The program is pretty good. I’ve learned a lot of accounting, and law. My parents are a really great support. My dad is really business-savvy, and he’s helped my mum grow her business. He sometimes gives his advice in the most odd ways, like a father does. He tries to stay on the sidelines, but he’s kind of rooting in his own way. He always has some piece of advice and doesn’t try to push it on me, but he always suggests I try to look into it on my own terms. He’s great to have around, and my mom is more of that support on the side. I think you need to have a good back. Sometimes you hit these low points in your business. January and February were pretty slow at the the store, and so it’s like ‘I don’t know, am I cut out for this?’ And then you get back into the swing of things.
What were some of the best moments you’ve had since opening the business?
When you go into something expecting nothing to come out of it, all great things come. I’ve met some really cool people along the way, I think Dundas is a cool up and coming street, so cool people always come into the shop, and they recognize your stuff. I guess most recently, I’ve been trying to get into stores other than my own, and someone came up to me and told me they’d been watching my stuff for a long time now, and they’d really like to have me in their store. I had set a goal for myself this summer, to get into five stores, and to be approached by someone else was really cool. It’s hard to pinpoint one thing, but I think when you really go into it with no expectations, and not worried to fail, only good things can come.
~ Haley Cullingham