Warren Steven Scott Is the Designer Behind Everyone’s Favourite Earrings

"My clients would recognize earrings on each other—once, it even happened on a patio in Florence, Italy. And then Vogue, Cosmo and New York magazine covered them."
Warren Steven Scott in his Toronto studio (photography: Vanessa Hill)

Designer Warren Steven Scott started making colourful statement earrings back in 2018 and sold them in a Toronto boutique before pivoting and launching his e-commerce site. During the pandemic, the accessories truly took off, and were worn by fashion editors, celebrities and politicians alike. Scott has since forayed into clothing and eyewear, with a recent collaboration for New Look. Here, he tells CB how he made it happen.

I grew up in Cobble Hill on Vancouver Island. It was the ’90s, so Fashion File and FashionTelevision were always on. I was fascinated by these models walking down the runway in otherworldly looks. I ended up studying general sciences at college, but after my second year, I told my parents I wanted to try fashion design. They were excited for me, and my mom even helped me find a bridal seamstress on Craigslist to teach me how to sew. I applied to fashion school at Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson). I made a pleated hourglass dress, but because I was a beginner, I cut the fabric along the weft for the grain line, so the stretch was vertical rather than crossways. Despite this mistake, I still managed to get in.

I’m a member of the Nlaka’pamux nation, and my band sponsored my studies. After I graduated in 2014, I did two internships with Toronto designers—Comrags and Jeremy Laing—which is how I learned about running a fashion label. Independent designers wear all the hats, so you need a range of skills, from sewing to managing supply chains.

In 2018, I was working retail at Comrags and thinking about what I should do next. I saw an announcement about the first-ever Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. My band pitched in to buy me my first sewing machine, a computerized Juki. My debut collection, Sissy, included floral silk dresses and high-collar prairie blouses. I needed accessories to go with them, so I created a series of oversized earrings using motifs from my Nlaka’pamux and Sts’ailes roots—ovoids, feathers, crescents and trigons. Indigenous jewellery is traditionally beaded or made with silver and turquoise. I liked the idea of rendering traditional shapes in an unexpected artificial material: brightly coloured acrylic (which also happens to be fairly affordable). I had the shapes laser-cut, and I assembled the earrings by hand in my apartment.

After that show, I couldn’t afford to produce a full collection, but I did have the capital to make 30 pairs of the earrings, which I displayed at a pop-up inside Comrags. They sold out in a single weekend, which made me think I could make a viable business out of the earrings alone. I created an e-commerce site, shot a lookbook and rented space in a shared studio in Toronto’s west end. I biked the deliveries to the post office myself and sold about 1,000 pairs in 2019.

Warren Steven Scott in his Toronto studio

The earrings caught on during the pandemic, when people were really making an effort to support Canadian and BIPOC businesses. My clients would recognize earrings on each other—once, it even happened on a patio in Florence, Italy. And then Vogue, Cosmo and New York magazine covered them. People would tag me to let me know that celebrities like Reservation Dogs’ Devery Jacobs or the comedian Benny Drama had worn them. That’s how the earrings took off: through word of mouth.

Last year, I moved into a bigger studio and produced a small run of clothes and art that I called Cedar in Sec-he Sky. Sec-he is the traditional name for Palm Springs—it’s on Cahuilla territory, where I went hiking in 2021. Palm Springs is aesthetically frozen in the ’50s, and I mixed the retro colours and silhouettes of that era with the idea of cedar. On some of the dresses I used ruching, which imitates the weave of cedar baskets—and weaving is a skill that has been passed down in my family for generations. But the fabric is contemporary: polyester in luxe shades of purple, pink and blue.

Recently, the founders of New Look in Montreal asked if I’d like to design a line of eyewear. We launched in October of 2022 with 19 retro-inspired frames. I wanted to offer a bunch of sizes and colours so that anyone can find themselves in a pair. Each one is tipped with a vibrant pop of colour and named after someone who played a role in my success. That sense of personal connection motivates everything I do. About 20 North American retailers carry my line, but it’s still a small operation. My studio assistant handles the earring production, and I still do all of the sewing, much of it on the computerized Juki machine my band helped me buy years ago. I’ve never raised the prices of the earrings—they’re all under $100—because I want them to remain accessible. I like being the local place around the corner. Maybe that’s what a sustainable fashion brand can be.

Five things he loves

Scott’s essential sources of inspiration

Under the Influence

“I listen to this podcast, hosted by Terry O’Reilly, while drafting and sewing in the studio.”

(photo: CBC)

Mexico City

“It’s on my list of places to travel for 2023. I’d like to try a jewellery or cooking class while I’m there.”

(photo: John Coletti/Getty Images)

A silk blouse

“I love the idea of throwing on a special-occasion blouse with jeans to go to the grocery store or even under an apron to cook.”

(photo: iStock)

Jann Arden

“The 25th anniversary of Arden’s Happy? has me listening to the new acoustic version of ‘Ode to a Friend’ on repeat.”

(photo: Universal Music)

The work of Audie Murray

“Murray, a Metis artist from Saskatchewan, adorns everyday objects like toilet paper rolls, socks and teabags with glass beads as a way to question what is held sacred.”

(photo: Fazakas Gallery)

This article appears in print in the winter 2023 issue of Canadian Business magazine. Buy the issue for $7.99 or better yet, subscribe to the quarterly print magazine for just $40.