Feeling Fortified By the F-Bomb
A new keychain from Sawyer and the Owl, a profitable “hobby” from creative director Karen Larmour
“We thought we coined ‘unfuckwithable’!!” exclaims Karen Larmour.
This Toronto-based creative director describes how she and an older girlfriend came up with the word over tequila shots. Both had gone through ugly separations, Larmour more recently, and they felt the term including the F-word was empowering. So Larmour put it on a keychain. The actual process is a little more elaborate: Larmour uses heat transfer gold foil on leather. Then she folds the leather around a split ring and hammers the leather straps together with rivets.
“Words have power. Have them on hand,” reads the caption for the keychain that sells for about $14.
The unfuckwithable keychain seems like an anomaly when browsing Sawyer and the Owl. The shop features decorative wall banners mainly for children’s rooms and sweet “Pocket Pals” sweatshirts with little animals embroidered inside the chest pockets. It’s all tender and cozy, with a few bursts of bold graphic design…and then there are the keychains. It’s actually OK, as many of us go through times where such a term seems appropriate.
Sawyer and the Owl is a side hustle for Larmour, who’s worked at top ad agencies including Goodby Silverstein & Partners in San Francisco and Sid Lee in Montreal. An award-winner, she’s created global campaigns for brands including Adidas and Stella Artois as well as acclaimed Super Bowl ads. Now, she freelances in Toronto, notably for vegetarian food upstart Wholly Veggie. Her sons Sawyer (6) and Austin (4), however, are her most important project. She works on the Sawyer business when her boys are asleep and on her professional or parental days off.
Larmour came up with the idea of Sawyer and the Owl while decorating the nursery for Sawyer.
“I fell in love with interior design and kids’ decor,” Larmour recalls. “I was thinking about launching an interior design company, but that was too much.”
She embroidered Sawyer’s first word, “car,” on a wall hanging using a vintage Singer sewing machine, a gift from her parents. She started making wall hangings featuring kids’ first words, or words they misspoke “as a way to capture those memories.” Hence, the “Ukulady” and “Aminals” banners. Larmour offers ready-made banners, including ones for adults, but can customize anything — including keychains. Her dad is in the game, providing the woodworking for the banners’ rods.
While Sawyer and the Owl is a “hobby,” it’s profitable. She started the business in 2018 after Austin was born and while she was a stay-at-home mom. Larmour returned to work full time shortly after, but the work-life balance wasn’t right and she began freelancing last year. Larmour is planning to make the sweatshirts their own separate business as early as this spring.
“I watched [a talk] about getting over heartbreak [that said] when you have a broken heart, try and distract your brain with something healthy,” Larmour says. “I love going up to my attic and working on something creative, and going into this different state [of mind].”
Her advice to those with or considering a side gig: “You have got to love it, especially if it’s going to be on the side and in your spare time. It has to bring you joy.”
Sawyer and the Owl prices start at about $14 for keychains to upwards of about $50 for the alphabet banner. Prices for custom orders will vary. Shipping is a flat rate of about $7.50 (all prices converted from Canadian dollars to US dollars at current exchange rate).