Kristie Vyse, a Fort Smith mother of two, never planned on becoming an artisan. She definitely didn’t consider herself crafty.
Yet what began as a cost-saving Christmas craft project seven months ago has turned into a thriving entrepreneurship for Vyse, thanks to an unexpectedly huge demand for bright, flouncy tutus.
“Every little girl wants to be a princess,” she said while threading silken white ribbon around the elastic waistband of her latest tutu creation. Thick strands of pink, purple and sparkly blue tulle complete the princess garment.
“These ones are going to the Ellen show,” Vyse said, citing a recent client’s request for tutus after getting tickets for the popular TV talk show that includes giving a gift. The tutus will be going to Rosie McClelland and Sophia Grace Brownlee, two young girls who frequently perform on The Ellen Degeneres Show.
Sitting in her workshop at her home in Fort Smith surrounded by bright rolls of tulle and ribbon, Vyse explained that her tutu-making business launched back in November when she was online shopping for tutus to give as Christmas presents.
The mother of two young boys doubles as a day home operator and has been running Kristie’s Kiddie Garden out of her home for the past three years. The tutus were Christmas gifts for the young girls under her care.
“To purchase five or six of them was going to be too expensive for the day home, so I learned to make them on Youtube. I ordered my supplies in and made up the first five,” she said.
When the tutu-making newbie posted photos of her Christmas crafts on her personal Facebook page, she had 12 requests overnight.
After a couple of successful months pumping out tutus for gifts, birthday parties and flower girl dresses – typically around five orders a week from across the North, Canada and even some going to international destinations – Tiny Dancer Tutus was officially born.
“It’s been going good, but it’s definitely not something I had planned to get into,” she said with a laugh. “But people seem to really like them and I really like making them.”
Vyse estimates that she has made close to 150 custom tutus to date. She sells her wares mainly by word of mouth, social media and through a retail store in High Level.
Some of her more elaborate tutus have been styled to look like Despicable Me minions, Disney princesses like Elsa from the recent animated movie Frozen, or grand, peacock-feathered gowns of her own creation.
Because of the custom nature of the tutus, prices can range from as little as $20 to more than $100 for elaborate, multi-piece creations.
While she has sometimes struggled to keep up with demand, Vyse recently found time to expand her tutu-making business to offer matching necklaces and headbands.
As far as she knows, Vyse said Tiny Dancer Tutus is the only business that offers custom-made tutus in the NWT. One reason might be the unique challenges to operating a product-based business in the North, she said.
“My beads are coming from China and my tulle is coming from the US, so shipping can take a really long time to get my supplies up here and it can cost just as much in shipping as it does for the supply itself,” Vyse said.
On the other hand, having a product marketed as “made in the North” is certainly a benefit for the new entrepreneur.
“Whenever people hear anything is made in Northern Canada, they’ll say, ‘We want it,” Vyse said.
The tutu-maker said she plans to apply for Made in the NWT tags, a joint initiative offered by the NWT Chamber of Commerce and the GNWT to promote the territory’s crafters and artisans.
To check out Tiny Dancer Tutus, visit https://www.facebook.com/TinyDancerTutusByKristie