I love gifts! I love giving them and, like most people, I love receiving them too. About a year ago I came across Present Day Gifts’ Instagram page and was immediately drawn to the beauty of the gift boxes and the local items that were inside. As a bit of a ‘localist,’ I was also so excited to see so many of my favourite local brands in one carefully curated box. Everything from coffee and jam to jewelry and local soaps all pulled together in such a beautiful way. Sophia, the creative mind behind present day gifts, and I began connecting online and have been chatting ever since!
Fast-forward to this October, and an incredible launch party for Assembly Toronto ( a creative space in the heart of Toronto where makers and creatives come together to offer workshops and share ideas). Sophia and I finally got to meet and continue our conversations!
Sophia and I hit it off right away! Her kind, warm and welcoming demeanor makes our conversations so fluid, we would probably talk for an entire day if we could and I love that! Since we’ve connected, we seem to run into each other more and more, something about this local connection that keeps bringing us together, I guess us ‘localists’ like to stick together.
I am so happy that I get to share Sophia of Present Day Gift’s story with all of you as this month’s Blooming Boutique. It’s kind of the perfect time of year to celebrate the act of giving!
- It’s so true that there is an absolute joy that comes from the act of giving and I think this is at the heart of Present Day Gifts. What inspired you to start Present Day Gifts and how has giving become a part of the company’s focus?
Being a part of the giving process is just such a joyful job to have! It’s incredible to be part of all the little happy, and sometimes sad, moments in people’s lives. I’m happy that I can provide a service that helps solve a problem. A lot of times people don’t know what to give, or don’t have time, so I hope that I can offer a solution and offer an alternative to the standard options out there.
One of my favourite things is when someone sends a gift from Present Day and says “this made me think of you” in the card. It makes me happy to know that I’ve helped someone give a personal gift and made both their days!
Last year we gave to the Daily Bread Food Bank during the holidays, and I hope to give the same this year. I think, when you’re in the giving business, it’s important to make sure you give to those in need as well.
- With a background in decorating for film and television you’ve been exposed to so many different local companies. What made you decide to share your wealth of knowledge through these thoughtfully curated boxes?
I just love taking a lot of different little things and putting them together to create something new and lovely. I worked in the sets department on a lot of different TV shows and movies in Toronto and my job was to create all these rooms, these spaces that were supposed to feel lived-in and real, out of nothing. It required taking a lot of different, small elements to make this one big thing. As boring as it may sound, I’ve always been good and grouping things together and finding natural connections.
I actually thought of the general business idea for Present Day in 2009 while working on a show called Flashpoint. I was a producer’s assistant at the time and I often had to find gifts for crew and network executives. My bosses wanted unique personal gifts that told a story, and were useful but also high quality. At the time, no one was making gift baskets that weren’t cheesy and full of junky crackers and summer sausages, and stuffed animals from China, so I would go out and buy individual items all over the city to create these personalized gift sets, and then wrap them up together. While I was doing all this, I thought “man, why doesn’t this exist? Someone should start a business with higher quality gift baskets that aren’t lame! That’ll be my retirement plan!” Luckily I ‘retired’ from film about seven years later, so it didn’t take that long.
As I started seeing local businesses come up with newer, more modern versions of the farmers market classics (jams, mustards, candles, ceramics) I really decided that I wanted to focus on local artisan goods. When I saw Kitten and the Bear, a Parkdale jam confiturier (jam maker) open up, with their incredibly beautiful jars, professional packaging and amazing flavours I knew that I would have to start my retirement plan earlier than expected. When I saw their jam, I wanted to include it in gifts, and it got the wheels churning. After that, it only took a couple of years to make Present Day a reality.
I also have a lot of friends around me that are female entrepreneurs, so the idea of starting a business on my own in a huge city felt less daunting and really exciting. I wanted to join the ranks of ladies that shared studios, worked on things with their hands and had a community. I wanted to start a responsible business that really put thought into what we were selling and how we were doing it.
- Ok, so your boxes are absolutely stunning! The details like the gorgeous packaging caught my eye right away. When you create a box how much of the focus is on design and aesthetic?
Thank you so much. It’s so heartwarming to hear that. Design is definitely a huge consideration. Good branding on a product goes a long way for me, when choosing what to include.
I also really wanted to make gifts that create a whole experience for the recipient. I remember being a kid and going to parties where the birthday boy or girl got a gift and it was just SO FUN. There was always so much detail – the perfect, bright bag or wrapping paper, tissue that you could pull out, ribbon you had to untie, a card, confetti – it was a whole big thing. I wanted to create a similar experience for adults, but more luxurious.
When designing my boxes, it was very important to find a proper ‘gift box’ with a lid that lifts off to reveal the inside. I just loved the action of it. But I couldn’t find any that were just right, so I ended up designing custom ones and having them made just for Present Day. I get calls practically every week from people asking if they can just buy the boxes on their own, almost as much as the filled gift boxes! Which shows you how good design speaks to many. I have the boxes made in a family-run factory in Montreal and they use recycled cardboard in the packaging. It costs a bit more, but it was important to me to keep even the packaging as Canadian, and small-batch, as possible.
But back to the gift box as an experience – The outside ribbon is chic and classy, but the stripes keep it from being overly boring and too serious. Once the lid is lifted off the gift, there’s an extra layer of tissue inside, sealed with a logo sticker, which keeps the anticipation up, but also adds a level of luxury (and it keeps everything in place, practically speaking). Once the tissue is gingerly opened, all the items are seen in perfect proportion to each other, and are all complimentary to one another. There is a menu card that lists the items so you know what you are getting, which adds a bit of value. And the final touch is a dried floral embellishment. I just love dried flowers and they give a personal touch.
It’s a lot of elements, but I wanted to make the gifts as special as possible. I also wanted people to have a totally useable box afterwards, that they can keep to store their keepsakes and mementos. The box is just plain black, with no logos, and can have a life on its own beyond the gift.
- There are so many beautiful box choices: from the Wedding boxes to the Corporate Boxes and everything in between, as well as customizable options. Can you tell us a bit more about the boxes and what goes into making one?
Well, I try to keep things thematic, as well as practical. But above all, I work with what we have to offer locally. Every box starts with an item found in Toronto or Canada that I think is beautiful and practical, and I build around that. I also try to think of what people would like to use or add to their lives. Our Lovely Box is one of our most popular boxes and it has a good selection of different things that are useful but it also contains a few small indulgences. My biggest pet peeve with standard gift baskets is that all the items are usually poor quality and are just filler that end of being unused or re-gifted. As a result, they look bigger and fuller but they don’t have a lot of quality.
- After taking a look at your makers and suppliers list I was so excited to see such awesome companies and so much local love! There is obviously so much thought and love put into each box. How do you go about curating all of these amazing products?
Local is a huge priority for Present Day. I think it’s important to support your community for many reasons. Every time you support a small business, you keep money in your city, in your country. I read a study that said when you buy from a small business, that business typically invests up to 70% of the money back into other small businesses around them (landlords, coffee shops, restaurants, local hardware stores. etc) because small businesses support each other and foster community. So this then allows for more opportunity for others to start NEW businesses and follow their dreams, all while enhancing your neighbourhood with higher quality establishments.
Another great thing about supporting local is that you can get to know who is making your products. You can actually interact with the person that uses their hands to lovingly create or wrap your wares (or gifts in our case!) and when you have a relationship with the person, you know you’ll get a better product and better service because they’ll care more, and it’s more satisfying. It also allows the interaction to be more than just an exchange of currency and goods, and become the potential for new friendships. It creates a richer community.
A big feature of local is also a focus of goods. If you are a local maker, chances are that you make 1 thing or a few types of a 1 thing. By default, there is a necessary specialization, which leads to an expertise in a field – and this usually means a much higher quality product.
Lately, Toronto and surrounding areas have had a huge boom in the local maker movement, so there are a ton of amazing new products being made in our city. I typically choose products that are the highest quality I can find and have incredible branding. Since I tend to appreciate good design, I expect a certain quality from the makers that I choose, and I know that, typically, those that have branded their wares well (with impeccable logo design, and packaging) have probably taken a lot of time and effort to make it the best it can be, so I know I’m getting a good product to share with my customers.
- I know that you’ve recently partnered with some fantastic local artisans to create Assembly Toronto, a brand new space where you bring together and collaborate with local makers to host a curated selection of workshops and events. Can you tell us a bit more about this new venture and how it is an extension of your work with Present Day Gifts?
I started Present Day in my house, working out of a tiny room in my basement, with just my cats as my only social contacts all day. I quickly realized that this wasn’t sustainable because I needed more space and was growing lonely. I was used to working with 10-50 people everyday (in my film life) so the ‘solopreneur’ lifestyle was a bit of a shock at first.
I had the amazing opportunity to share a studio workspace this past spring and I jumped on it. My good friends Gillian Johnson of Hawkly Jewelry and Robyn Molnar of Nightshift Ceramics welcomed me into their shared studio space and we quickly realized that we wanted to do even more with the studio than just run our individual businesses out of it. Thus we named our studio space “Assembly, and now host a curated selection of workshops and events that bring people together by teaching them practices and artistic disciplines that balance, ground and inspire. We wanted our workspace to be a place for other like-minded individuals to gather and learn new things, share interesting ideas and create a community of creative and intentional living practices. All this to say – we host workshops like moccasin making, Beers and Bikes (an upcoming workshop about basic bike repair with local craft beer tasting), and entrepreneurial marketing for the creativepreneur.
It made sense to collaborate with my studio mates in this endeavor because I think supporting local and engaging in your community is the best thing for people in our city and generation. Bringing a focus back to local, mindful, responsible living helps us create a positive environment and supports our neighbours and friends. At one point in time, we had cultural centres and churches for gathering and entertainment. Now a days, I think it’s important to cultivate new forms of community by coming together through interests and shared ideals and making new friendships through learning and sharing. Much like the local offerings in my gift boxes, we wanted Assembly to be a local offering of the best and most interesting skills and experiences in the city. Both endeavors come from the same intention.
- Present Day Gifts is a budding new business with so much heart and so much to offer. What are your hopes for the future of the company?
Well, Present Day just had its first year anniversary at the beginning of November, so I’m very excited to say that I’m still here and going strong! It’s been an incredibly exciting adventure, seeing this business grow and it’s also been very hard. I really wanted to see if I could learn how to start and run a business and I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish so far.
I’m looking forward to this holiday season because it’s looking to be rather busy, and I’m hoping to expand our wedding offerings for the New Year. We had a good response to our wedding collection and we did a lot of custom bridal party gifts, so that is definitely something we want to focus on in the coming months. In addition to all of this, there are lots of new box ideas coming soon!
*Present Day gifts was featured in my Canadian Christmas Gift Guide and Giveaway! Check out my Instagram page for details on how to enter. here
*Disclosure: Companies featured in this series often sponsor my posts and, or send products for review. If I love the company and their products, I am more than happy to share them with you!