Renée Power’s fashion brand, A Bronze Age, began with a 2015 trip to Morocco. There, Power fell in love with the markets and artisans and partnered with a local manufacturer to import to Canada small batches of handmade babouche slippers.
In 2019, she began experimenting with her own accessory and clothing designs, with the aim of redefining traditional ideas of femininity through timeless pieces (think Victorian cuffs on blouses, oversized tulle scrunchies and ruffled dresses in updated prints and textures). This time, instead of looking abroad for factories to help execute her vision, she decided to keep the business in her multigenerational family, which is based in Vancouver. Her three aunts, Amy, Irene and Cathy, would produce all of the accessories while uncles Michael and Harry would pitch in cutting patterns and packing orders. Cousins Mikayla and Amarra would help with production and administrative work.
“Working with family means using our shared history to work together to create something of a legacy to pass onto future generations,” Power says. “Each woman in my family has a unique identity and lifestyle, which translates into a diverse set of skills.” Power has harnessed those abilities to create a family-focused business model that has often been part of the fashion industry. It’s a smart strategy for a small Canadian fashion label that wants to get itself on the map and stay there.
Working with family certainly comes with its challenges – separating work and family life; keeping any business differences professional – but in Canada there are many examples of it being a viable way to build a lifestyle business. Montreal-based footwear brand La Canadienne became a national success after Penny Shuster and her husband, Gianni Lamanuzzi, took over from the company’s founder, Penny’s father, Michael Shuster. After designer Linda Lundstrom retired her namesake line, she began working alongside daughters Mosha and Sophie Lundstrom Halbert on their outerwear brand, Therma Kota, which has been featured in Vogue and Elle and worn by former U.S. first lady Michelle Obama.
Power sees the family first approach as an asset. Her relatives are equipped with a range of skills. Younger cousins have a knack for technology and trends. Her aunts, who learned to sew from their mother as children, have an understanding of craftsmanship from decades of working as seamstresses, making their own clothes as well as costumes for dancers.
The strategy fits A Bronze Age’s ethos. Each piece is made to order, usually in about two to three weeks, to minimize waste and overproduction. “We are so proud to work in slow fashion and think sustainability is crucial for brands to consider,” says Power’s aunt, Amy Yuen. “We hope we can provide an example to others that you can achieve success using ethical practices, mindful production and benefiting the local economy around you.”
In fashion today, brands that focus on small and local production are an attractive sell to retailers and shoppers. “I think it really resonates with today’s consumer, understanding the origin of their clothes and who is making them is a deciding factor,” says Beth Nicholson Crago, co-owner of the Canadian online shop Friends of Jenny, which stocks A Bronze Age’s ethereal tops and floral scrunchies. “The fact that Renee’s aunts are helping her sew each garment, and that each piece is made-to-order in Canada, makes every A Bronze Age piece unique.”
“Any imagined future of Canadian fashion depends on creating an industry again in our own country,” says Kealan Sullivan, the founder of Toronto vintage fair, Hippie Market. “This label is setting the correct example for young Canadian brands.”
Power has her eye on growth while maintaining a strong foundation rooted in her family. “I see the brand evolving into something bigger than I could have imagined when I first started,” she says. She plans to expand the selection of clothing, accessories and footwear while adding knits and intimates.
Power’s family is turning to the future, too. “We’re always looking for new initiatives to make us more sustainable as our business grows. We’re also hoping to be available in more local boutiques internationally,” Yuen says.
“We are so proud of Renée and everything she has done with A Bronze Age,” cousin Mikayla says. “It’s been incredible to watch her company grow and we are so lucky to be a part of it.”