By Mario Toneguzzi
For as long as she can remember, Wendy Brownie, a Calgary-based entrepreneur, has had a passion for the forgotten art of textiles and fabrics.
One of her most treasured belongings is a handmade tablecloth passed down from her grandmother. And during her adult life Brownie became known for the beautiful, artisanal tea towels and linens she collected for families and friends throughout her travels to Europe.
Seven years ago, that passion led to her establishing Inspirati, a Parisian-inspired, home-finishing boutique in Calgary’s Mission district, just outside of the downtown core.
“Tea towels, tablecloths and even flatware were once made and selected with such great care that they could be passed from generation-to-generation, carrying the story of a home and an entire life with them. They were showpieces of our lives and an extension of one’s self,” says Brownie.
“As time goes on, we’ve lost our ability to share these timeless treasures because we’re no longer investing in them the way we used to. Inspirati is a place where these treasures and experiences are made real again.”
On September 15, the unique boutique is launching a new online shopping platform to extend its retail reach. Despite a struggling economy in Calgary for the past two to three years, Brownie says Inspirati’s sales in June, July and August were the store’s best months ever.
“We’re a shining example of creativity and working at what you love,” says Brownie.
Brownie has generated a million-dollar business specializing in fine linens and home essentials in just seven years with annual sales surpassing those of some of the world’s most-renowned home-finishing shops.
Brownie partners with more than 50 producers across Africa, Australia, Europe and North and South America.
Her business started out of her home seven years ago as her daughter’s wedding approached. Frustrated at the lack of quality linens in Calgary, Brownie contacted European producers who shipped her material and she began selling the product out of a trunk in her home. Her first trunk show in the last week of May 2010 attracted 257 people.
The business grew from there. Six years ago, she rented space in a building near downtown Calgary and by October she could see that her store had become a destination. More space was needed. She has been at her current location of about 1,100 square feet since February 2014.
“We do everything for the home,” she says. “Home finishing items. Home furnishings. Specifically linens. In the old-fashioned sense linens used to mean everything. Your bedding, your towels, your blankets. All of that. We branched out to a number of home decor items as well.”
“Shops like ours do not exist anymore.”
Brownie says if the right situation presented itself she would contemplate expanding to other locations.
*Photos were provided by Inspirati.
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary has 37 years of experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, city and breaking news, and business. For 12 years as a business writer, his main beats were commercial and residential real estate, retail, small business and general economic news. He nows works on his own as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.