On an otherwise unremarkable Wednesday morning, Kerry Butt walked out the door of her successful seven-year-old clothing shop forever. She left her partner and a business she built from the ground up. That day, she flipped her life upside down, and as she cried into a stack of pancakes, she wondered: did I do the right thing?
Fast-forward one year and, on this particular Wednesday, Kerry’s working hard to keep ahead of online orders for her handmade candles. In her new studio, she hasn’t even had time to put up shelves, and jars and supplies cover every available surface. It all started with a stocking stuffer—a child’s DIY candle-making kit—and a dream of living in the country.
But to understand how the Red Sky Shop founder ended up here—garnering the attention of major department stores—we need to rewind. Kerry always knew she wanted to be in fashion. As a child, she’d line up shoes and pretend she owned her own store. She would later study fashion in college and spend five years in the industry as a merchandiser for chain retailers. But it didn’t line up with the dream. “I decided I didn’t want to work for big-box stores,” she says. “I hated working in malls.”
And, as is the rite of passage for 20-somethings in a career crisis, she left not only the industry, but the country too. Kerry traveled for three months through South America before landing back in her hometown, Toronto, taking a job with a friend’s vintage business. One day, she spotted a rent sign in a shop window. At just 24 and with no business experience, she signed the lease and launched Franny Vintage. “I opened it with a $5,000 CA inheritance and $5,000 [on a] credit card,” she says. “I had no idea what I was doing.”
After three years, Kerry tired of the vintage business. She convinced her stylist friend Meg Watson to become her business partner, and they put pen to paper on a larger storefront. The Future of Frances Watson opened in 2010 in the then-emerging neighborhood of Parkdale. The store sold denim, basics and curated indie brands. Kerry and Meg became like sisters over their seven years in business together and invested every penny back into making the store better.
“I don’t really know if I was paid that much,” Kerry says. “But the travel points alone on our credit card made it kind of worth it.” The trouble with a brick-and-mortar shop, however, was that it couldn’t travel with her. It was permanently affixed to the ground and didn’t give her room to explore her growing interest in living a slower, more flexible life. It anchored her to Toronto, and to a fixed schedule.
A few years ago, Kerry’s wife, Jen, gifted her a candle-making kit for Christmas. “It was like ‘candle-making for dummies’ or ‘candle-making for kids,’ ” she says. But she loved it. What started as a hobby—double-boiling wax on their apartment stove—became a business, eventually taking over the couple’s entire second bedroom. She launched Red Sky as a side gig, making candles before and after her hours at Frances Watson.
Kerry juggled the two businesses until an interested buyer approached the women in 2017. Would they sell Frances Watson? Though they didn’t accept the offer, the idea was planted, and in the end, Kerry’s partner offered to buy her out. “[Meg] knew that I wasn’t feeling living in the city anymore,” Kerry says. The deal wiped out her debt and gave her a clean slate. “I took a couple of weeks off, took my mom to Mexico,” she says, “and then started doing candles full-time.”
What started as a hobby—double-boiling wax on their apartment stove—became a business, eventually taking over the couple’s entire second bedroom.
“I definitely thought I wasn’t ready to go on my own,” Kerry says. By now, though, she was already in a dedicated studio space, with a roster of wholesale clients and active traffic on Red Sky’s site. The new business supports the life she wants to build for herself and her wife—she’s making her own hours, and working from anywhere. “Everything I do is on my phone,” she says.
In 2016, Kerry and Jen bought a cottage north of the city, and they have been feeling the pull to escape Toronto more and more. “The dream is for us to be there full-time,” Kerry says. And with the autonomy she has running a more flexible business, they’re closer to doing just that. “Maybe your orders are going to be delayed for three days because we’re snowed in and we can’t get out of our cottage,” Kerry says. “That’s the life I want.”
Photographs by Jennifer Roberts