By Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development
Small Business Spotlight | Fannin County | Region 1
Take a stroll through downtown Blue Ridge and you’ll be bowled over by the beauty. With the mountains in the background, you’ll notice storefront after storefront of locally-crafted products. And then the warm familiar smell of fine leather meets your nose.
Follow that irresistible scent, and you’ll find yourself in an amazing store stocked with the most eclectic handbags and jewelry. You’re now in Canoe.
Walking through the store, you’ll notice jewelry that would be at home anywhere, from a trip to the market to a black-tie gala and high quality handbags. Both the jewelry and the bags are handcrafted by talented artisans at Canoe’s studio, also located in downtown Blue Ridge. But like so many of the great small businesses in Georgia, Canoe’s beginnings were very different.
In 2000, Lynn Kemp made a few spirit bracelets featuring the colors of her son’s football team. People in the stands took notice of these stylish signs of school spirit and began commissioning bracelets of their own. Requests started coming in and Lynn soon found herself handcrafting custom pieces for lavish nights on the town.
By 2003, Lynn decided to channel her energy into her newfound creative endeavor, so she stepped away from a rewarding career in the fashion industry. She moved to Blue Ridge, a favorite weekend get-a-way, to take advantage of the artistic atmosphere of downtown and, more importantly, pursue jewelry design full time.
When Lynn first moved to Blue Ridge, she specialized in creating standout pieces of handcrafted jewelry under the name of GawdyBobbles. Her eye for design could be seen in the unique combinations of semi-precious stones, pearls, amazing color combinations and textures that added richness and depth to each piece.
Lynn worked hard to develop and perfect her lifestyle brand. But, while attending markets and shows across the country, Lynn noticed a void in the marketplace for great looking totes. She thought such an item would marry perfectly with her brand, so she set out to design eight styles of bags, each with a unique purpose.
She sourced the fabric, leather and hardware, and “Canoe Bags” were born. The bags launched at the Atlanta and Dallas Gift Shows in January of 2014 and were a huge hit with national retailers. So much so that the company was rebranded under the “Canoe” name.
Canoe’s entire selection of handcrafted artisan jewelry and totes are designed by Lynn, manufactured in Blue Ridge, and sold wholesale at various domestic and international markets. In the U.S., products are sold in Blue Ridge, Atlanta, Dallas, Las Vegas and by a team of road representatives to more than 1,500 retailers across the country. Internationally, Canoe reaches the Caribbean, Mexico and Central America.
Lynn credits her highly talented staff of sewers, cutters and jewelry makers with the continued success of Canoe. After all, they are the individuals that make the designs come to life.
“I’m proud of what we make and it’s a fun business. It keeps you young.” -Lynn Kemp, founder of Canoe
The Canoe story is unique and innovative. It takes ingenuity and innovation to succeed in today’s marketplace, and Lynn believes that her experience in the fashion industry allowed her to get to know various aspects of the industry including design, marketing and manufacturing.
Its proof that a creative and talented artisan and entrepreneur can have a major impact by becoming a manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer all in one. Canoe employees 15 people at its design and production studio to serve the needs of the retail shop, as well as its major national and international markets.
Canoe has received national recognition and has been featured in People Magazine, People Español, Parents Magazine, Where Women Create Magazine and Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Edition. This international exposure has helped increase the recognition of Canoe and Blue Ridge as an arts destination.
Canoe continues to work with the Development Authority of Fannin County, the Georgia Department of Economic Development, area businesses and industries on additional opportunities to help increase job opportunities throughout the Blue Ridge area and others.
Got a Small Business question? Start the conversation! Contact Ryan Waldrep, Assistant Director for Entrepreneur and Small Business Development, at (404) 877-8406 or firstname.lastname@example.org.