Woman Crush Wednesday: Two Dressmakers Seamlessly Tackle Their Local Market


I’m sure you’ll be just as shocked to hear that the average Western woman (that is not Suri Cruise or Ivy Carter) will own 620 dresses in their adult lifetime. 620! That’s about 10 new dresses a year.

What doesn’t come as a shock is what you get when you combine that sort of demand with a pair of hard-working women – a powerhouse in Toronto’s independent fashion scene.

Rory and Kelly met in fashion school some 23 years ago. “We certainly had youth on our side” they laugh, reminiscing about jumping head-first into entrepreneurship.

Makes sense – their store exudes youthful energy. Walking into Doll Factory by Damzels makes you feel you’ve found a portal to another world. A world in which beauty and feeling damn good reigns. Dogs greet you, chandeliers are made of jewelled vintage necklaces, and there are dresses with Pacmen on them! Everything’s perfect in a world where there are Pacman dresses.

“I think [the entrepreneurial gene] is an embedded thing. Both our mothers were entrepreneurs, so we just have it in our spirit. We knew we could do this from the beginning because we saw that it was possible.”

Now more than two decades deep into running a business, these women are experts in taking one calculated step at a time. Fresh out of school, Rory and Kelly began to design their own line of vintage-inspired dresses for women who want to make an impression.

“It’s all part of the fun of being in business – thinking of new ideas, strategies and approaches to your success. And then watching that success come to fruition. We ideate, research and then we execute. That’s why we’re still in business. Cautious, but not so cautious we won’t take the plunge.”

They did ‘studio’ right – they drew up their own patterns, made a sample dress, sourced their manufacturer, and made the sales all on their own. “We did thirteen years of wholesale and manufacturing our own designs. Eventually we just felt like switching it up.”

“We used to have in-studio parties where we’d sell our merchandise directly to our customer base, and they were always a huge success. So [ten years ago] when the opportunity came to open our first store presented itself, we knew we were well-suited for retail. Now we love it even more than manufacturing! When you’re a wholesaler, you’re [often] very removed from the customer – but we really like them! – it’s great to be able to meet amazing women all day long.”

Not only do they get to hang out with cool people for a living, they also work hard to build a community of likeminded women around them. Even the best have mentors – “There’s always somebody out there who has already done what you want to do” Rory quips.

“We love Betsy Johnson. She’s been bankrupt, and started again; was bought by Steve Madden, and started again; she just keeps rolling with the punches. Women like that are really empowering to us. She’s the epitome of what we’d like to be when we grow up.

“[We’re inspired by] women who have accomplished their goals on their own terms.”

More locally, Rory and Kelly found a mentor in long-established clothing store Comrags. “They were also two women following their dream and were gracious enough to give us advice when we were starting. That little bit of mentoring is always a nice thing.”

“Now that we’ve made a name for ourselves, sometimes we’ll have people approach us for advice. But there’s a way to go about approaching a mentor. Come with a plan and say, ‘Listen, here’s what I’ve already achieved. I know that there’s going to be days that I don’t get dinner. I know there’s going to be days that I pay my staff and not myself. But here’s what I’m thinking.”

“You can learn so much by just opening your eyes and looking at your mentors. Because they did it – they got there.”

“Anybody can start their own business – it’s just that fear that keeps people from doing it, or the inability to start executing their ideas. We’re lucky we didn’t really grow up with that fear because we saw [in our mothers] that it was possible. 

“Just start – take the first step. And then the second. Eventually you’ll get there if you dedicate yourself and you’re passionate. You’ll get there.

Latest Great Read: Bossypants by Tina Fey. “I read it last year when I was on holiday… Tina Fey is amazing! I was crying – she’s that perfect mix of comedy and keeping the eye on the prize. She takes control.”

The Rainbow Comes and Goes by Anderson Cooper & Gloria Vanderbilt. “My mother keeps telling me to read it.”

Favourite music for the shop: “Most of the songs we like we can’t play in the store because they have swear words in them.” Spotify leads the way in these ladies’ place.