In 2016, demi-fine jewelry brand Wolf Circus had already been in business for five years. Though based in Vancouver, the line — which toes a curious line between fully eccentric and pristinely minimalistic — hadn't yet "arrived," so to speak, here in the U.S. That would soon change.
"I made the decision that season to be more true to myself — what I wanted to work on, what I wanted to wear," says Wolf Circus owner and founder Fiona Morrison. "Coming out of that, we made a boob necklace. I would say it actually catapulted our brand."
Made from recycled gold, the pendant features two cute, breast-like squiggles complete with dotted nipples at the center of each well. Morrison notes this was before this same outline would grace pillows and hats and even bathmats, and given the timing in the weeks immediately following the 2016 presidential election, Wolf Circus's shoppers were especially eager to wear their chests… on their chests.
"Women wanted to show where they stand, to put their independence on a necklace," says Morrison. "It was really important to them."
This boob necklace — yes, so aptly named the "Boob Necklace" — is a small-but-mighty token of the Wolf Circus customer. That's both the Wolf Circus shopper who's actually buying the Boob Necklace and any number of the brand's Instagrammy trinkets, as well as Morrison herself and the rest of her all-women team.
So maybe you know Wolf Circus from that boob necklace, or maybe you know Wolf Circus from Instagram, which is also where you may have seen twin-fluencers Reese and Molly Blutstein wearing that same boob necklace in post after post. But if you don't know Wolf Circus by name, you do certainly know Wolf Circus by aesthetic, for lack of a better, less contrived word.
Wolf Circus is not your finer-than-air midi rings, piled high against a bouquet of fluffy garden roses. It's cheeky and not exactly precious, like your co-worker who is a low-key boxing ace and knows the best little wine bar with a secret garden patio for a Tuesday happy hour.
Morrison started Wolf Circus in 2011 while she was still in college ("university," she says) at University of Victoria, where she studied commerce and entrepreneurship. She began encountering conversations among her friends about the lack of local jewelry that was as accessible as it was beautiful and mindfully made. It was also during this time that she was often asked about her wolf-head ring, which would later become the namesake for her business. Taking matters into her own, literal hands, Morrison began making jewelry in her parents' basement and selling it to those same friends on campus.
"My initial thought was to create jewelry for the bold, beautiful, brainy and badass," says Morrison. "For me, jewelry really has to stand out. It doesn't necessarily have to make a huge statement, but I love wearing pieces that reflect my identity, whether it be an engraved signet ring that's meaningful to me or a pendant that's in the shape of one of my favorite artists."
Morrison learned to position the brand as "attainable luxury," which is to say that most pieces will cost you anywhere from $72 for its long-sold-out Boob Necklace to $160 for a weighty pair of sterling silver baguette earrings. And while Wolf Circus is not strictly a digital-first, direct-to-consumer business, its price-conscious mentality aligns itself with a new legion of buzzy, millennial-adjacent brands sitting within the same arena.
In 2017, we at Fashionista began examining the ways in which the old-school fine jewelry market, once exclusively monopolized by blue-chip retailers with 9,000-square-foot flagships on Fifth Avenue, was being challenged by more affordable competitors. There are many differentiators between, say, a Tiffany & Co. and a so-called "Warby Parker of fine jewelry." But above all, it's the direct-to-consumer model that cuts wholesale markups and extravagant marketing — and that also makes the more traditional stalwarts scramble to overhaul their retail strategies.
Again, Wolf Circus is not direct-to-consumer, yet it occupies a similar ecosystem as those same brands angling to disrupt the jewelry industry from the Tiffany Blue box up. In addition to its own dedicated digital retail site, the company has an army of delightfully eccentric wholesale partners across both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce.
When more and more businesses both in and out of the fashion and beauty space are steering clear of the turbulent retail environment, Wolf Circus is running toward those neighborhood boutiques that come alive on sunny Saturday afternoons, when friends may stroll in together after brunch to peruse lockets. In the U.S., Wolf Circus can be found in 18 states and territories sprawling the 3,000 miles, from Oregon to Florida.
"We launched our brand working with wholesale providers right away," says Morrison. "As I shop for myself, I love focusing on spending my money at smaller boutiques that are really focusing on showcasing up-and-coming, smaller designers that are promoting sustainability initiatives. We've always loved working and aligning ourselves with those stores."
Morrison is keenly aware and even a little skeptical of the ongoing sustainability conversation. Every Wolf Circus piece is produced in Vancouver, where on clear days, the team can see the peaks of the North Shore Mountains from their studio windows. Environmentalism remains within view, rather than simply serving as a concept to involve in a business plan.
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"Growing up on Vancouver Island, sustainability has always been ingrained in our beliefs and what I've stood for," says Morrison. "I look out my window and I see the mountains. Nature is always something we're constantly thinking of, just because we're surrounded by it."
To that end, Wolf Circus exclusively uses recycled metals provided by a supplier in New York State that repurposes once-disposed everyday items like gold teeth and silver spoons that Morrison's team then receives and coats in gold plating. Wolf Circus uses a lost-wax casting process, in which each piece is hand-carved out of wax around which a mold is made. The wax is melted, and that recycled gold tooth is replaced in that mold. It hardens and becomes the Boob Necklace we get to wear each and every day.
"We really believe in this process because it decreases our brand's impact on the mining industry," says Morrison. "We're very mindful of the longevity in our production process and of the materials we use. It's important to be thinking of longevity as a part of sustainability when you're sourcing your materials and building your pieces."
As much care as Morrison may take to ensure that Wolf Circus remains conscious, both environmentally and ethically, she would be remiss if she didn't also admit to feeling the pressures of the current fashion calendar. Industry-wide burnout extends to jewelry, too.
"As we want to promote sustainability, we're still stuck in that fashion cycle of always needing to create new products," she says. "So I find it challenging to make people understand that in order to be more sustainable, we have to slow all cycles down. We're so used to always seeing new stuff, and that has a huge impact in sustainability."
In this effort, Morrison is joined by Wolf Circus' all-women team — "an accident" simply in that she says she has not yet had any qualified men apply for positions within the company. The majority of the staff has been working with Morrison from the start, fostering a certain familial atmosphere. You may find the Wolf Circus team at a weeknight pottery class or snowboarding together over the weekends. And as you might expect, the Wolf Circus consumer is also not unlike the Wolf Circus team itself, wearing her signet ring or, yes, Boob Necklace, through her daily adventures from point A to Z.
"Our customer is really on the go," says Morrison. "She's wearing her jewelry so effortlessly, and it needs to move with her. It's important that we as a brand recognize that. A lot of the pieces we create are so easy to wear and have a certain sense of minimalism to them, yet they have something that promotes that individuality our customers also focus on."
Between its extensive wholesale relationships and its direct-line to shoppers via its highly-followed social media platforms, Wolf Circus has ample avenues through which it can grow alongside of — and not simply connect with — its customers. So when facing her five- or ten-year plan, Morrison only knows that she wants to continue her relationship with those on the opposite side of the store window or phone screen. It's kind of like she's still making jewelry for her friends, just like she did in Wolf Circus's earliest days.
"It's so special when I meet people who are like, 'I met you at a craft fair once 10 years ago!'" she says. "Honestly, getting the opportunity to meet our customers and have one-on-one chats with them is my favorite thing to do in the world."