Best Franchise of 2002:
Big It Up...
One of this season's hottest accessories is hats. And I'm not just saying that because Phan wrote about them in our last issue, or because it is, indeed, winter, and hats can store up to 70% of your body heat. And I'm certainly not saying that because we are quite proud of our hat purchases this year.
The reason why I'm saying this is because of a little Toronto fashion company called Big It Up. Since its inception in 1996, Big It Up has grown into a two-store, one kiosk deal. While that may not seem impressive, consider this: it began as a unisex skin care line with one kiosk at Humber College's bookstore.
Damien Royes, founder and head designer, was a business administration student at the college. He sold his car to start Big It Up, and like all great sacrifices for something you believe in, it paid off in the long run. He was astonished to find that students were more interested in his hat (an old Gatsby) than the t-shirts he was selling to promote the skin care line. He tracked down the tailor and ordered more. And lo and behold, Big It Up the hat company was born.
Sean Chilton and Terry Swinton, friends of Royes, joined him in his endeavors. Now, Big It Up's flagship store at 58 Spadina Avenue has grown from a warehouse to a store, complete with stylish shelf units designed by the Big It Up team. In 1998, the company spread its wings and catered to colleges and universities in the U.S., and this year was added to Eaton's and selected Sears stores. Film companies, theatres, and celebrities (like Canada's own Maestro - who wore a Big It Up hat in one of his music videos) flooded the small company's phone lines with requests and inquiries. It was also the official headgear and clothing store for this year's Caribana.
Big It Up carries over 150 styles and employs twenty staff members, who refer to themselves as a "family business." You can find casual hats from wool gatsbys to wool ascots to melon beanies, hand crocheted cottons from sixties caps to tight-knit kufis to castro caps, and winter hats from roll up toques to cable crushers to wool bells. They also sell funky wool scarves and mittens.
Royes, Chilton and Swinton founded the company because, as cited on their website, they were "tired of the same old, same old…and fed up with the mediocrity of so much that was on the market…If people see quality, they'll respond to it, they'll respect it, be proud of it, they'll 'big it up'." Each hat is designed by someone on the Big It Up team and hand-made finished by their master tailor, Louis. The final touch, an embroidered logo, makes it an authentic Big It Up hat. And in true community spirit, a percentage of sales go towards local adult literacy programs.
The quality and finish of the hats is just one of the reasons why we love Big It Up. They have one of the most vast and imaginative assortment of hat collections out there. It's a given that anyone can find a hat to fit their fancy. And let's mention the Toronto factor. To be frank, Toronto is not exactly the landmark of fashion, but with Big It Up, it's a small step to bigger and better things.
Besides their flagship store, they also have a kiosk and have recently opened a store in the Eaton Centre. With this ideal location, they can reach a large number of people and test market their new creations. Unfortunately, I had intended to buy a wool bell hat, but couldn't find it at their Eaton Centre store. In fact, half the hats on their website were nowhere to be found, either at the kiosk or the store. But it didn't matter, as I found an equally fabulous hat. See, a hat for every person. (Just in case you've fallen in love with a hat, make sure it's still in stock as some hats sell out faster than they can be restocked, and place a special order at their kiosk or online).
What's the big appeal of Big It Up, and with hats in general? As Royes said at a recent style.ca interview, "Accessories take a back seat to apparel. But hats are something you can't do without right now." He jokingly added that hats are also a cure for baldness, a "fountain of youth."
Whether you're looking for something to keep you warm this winter, or an accessory to complete the perfect outfit, look no further than Big It Up, the little best darned hat store in Toronto. ¤ C.Ho.