Dara Fox says that when she was young, she didn’t like going to summer camp. She didn’t like sports and – although she liked to make things – she was more interested in crafts that art class.
But there just didn’t seem to be any organized programs to nurture that interest. “I’ve always been crafty,” Ms. Fox says. “I’ve never considered myself an artist, I can’t draw.”
As a child, there were programs for dance, sports and visual arts, Ms. Fox says, “but nothing for design.” Now a grownup Ms. Fox is turning that childhood disappointment into a business opportunity.
Three years ago, she started Designher Co., a Toronto-based small business that offers crafting classes, birthday parties and a summer day camp for kids. The classes focus on making “usable goods,” Ms. Fox say, “They're not going to sit in the corner and gather dust.”
While she says “jewellery is the go-to,” participants also make things like bags, belts and games. One class focuses on making things out of duct tape. Classes cost between $9 to $30 for participant depending on where they’re held (classes offered in schools cost less than those offered in Ms. Fox’s studio) and how many classes are purchased.
Ms. Fox says she picked the name of her business to “make it obvious that girls were my target market.” That doesn’t mean boys are banned, she says, though she primarily gets boys attending the in-school programs.
Designher Co. has grown from a one-woman operation to a business that employs five people – one of whom is full-time. A move to a larger studio is also in the works. Getting to that point, however, was challenging.
“Initially, it was going to be after-school programs,” she says. “I attempted to run it out of a community centre.” It didn’t go well. Part of the problem, Ms. Fox says, was a lack of marketing. “I didn’t promote it,” she says. “If you don’t tell people that you’re going to be doing something, they won’t know.”
But most parents, she learned, weren’t interested in sending their kids to an after-school program specifically for crafting.
“[Crafting] is not physical activity. It’s not learning a musical instrument or learning to swim … people need camp, people need birthday parties.”
Cuts to art programs in elementary schools have also created another “need” and an opportunity for Ms. Fox, she says many parents are now willing to pay for arts and crafts programs offered during lunch and recess. She says the school programs started by accident, a friend who works as a teacher told her that their school was looking for programs to run at lunch.
Ms. Fox applied and her classes were approved. She’s since expanded to other schools, the way she tells it sounds rather simple. “The school really just needs to approve our programs,” she says, and provide some space. “A lot of our instructors are certified teachers,” she says, which has made that easier.
While crafting has always been a hobby of Ms. Fox, entrepreneurship has been as well. As a nine-year-old, she says she developed a series of business plans including a grocery delivery service, closet organizing and “babysitting broker” which involved “arranging babysitters for other families and taking a cut,” she says.
“My mother deemed them all unsafe and I didn’t execute on any of them.” In university, she started making and selling costume jewellery and fashion accessories, something she kept doing until a little over a year ago, when Designher Co. became her sole focus.
Her next goal is to expand into the teen and tween market, currently most of the children attending classes are between five and nine. But this move won’t be easy.
The challenge with older kids, she says, is “you have to be super cool.”