Meet the button-making company servicing large and small businesses from the heart of the Entertainment District.
Pin-back buttons are the original platform for voicing a point of view, with political roots stemming from the first US presidential inauguration when George Washington’s supporters dawned buttons with his imprinted slogan. Pins became a vital way for political campaigns to identify supporters and communicate an agenda. The growth outside politics began in the 1940s when Kellogg’s incorporated pin-back buttons into cereal boxes as prizes. From then on it was not uncommon to see buttons everywhere. Whether it be for politically driven hippies to sport “Flower Power” activism pins or for bands to start making buttons as merchandise. Today pins still serve politically but more commonly reflect popular culture.
It is easy imagining a teenager today displaying their individuality through a button-embossed jean jacket or canvas book bag, however the trendiness of this fashion statement goes beyond high-school students and is part mainstream merchandising. Crucial Pins is a grass-roots business, an anomaly with a distinctive down-to-earth way of doing things and is attracting big-name clients like CBC, OCAD University and Spacing Magazine. The boutique studio located at the corner of Spadina and Richmond St. has been producing custom-made buttons and magnets for locals in the GTA since 2002.
The warm one-room facility is lined with stacked milk crates filled with vintage pins and manual button-making machines. Co-owners, Rick and Warren, operate these machines to fulfill every order. Both men discovered and began working at the company through mutual involvement in the Toronto music scene and have since taken over the business two years ago.
The working environment is “a little bit of an old school vibe” says Warren “especially in this neighborhood which is so fast passed, it’s nice to slow it down.” The previous owner selected the location for its centrality in the downtown core, making it easy for clients to find Crucial Pins and access its services. Rick notes “the range of people we have emailing us (with order requests) is unbelievable, everything from bands to the CBC, TIFF, politicians and hospitals.”
Ergonomic floor mats are placed in front of the decades-old machines, making it easy to imagine the duo pumping out orders all day long. Rick and Warren are the only employees of Crucial Pins and make roughly 500 buttons per day. Warren laughs remembering a request from last year for 100,000 buttons which saw the two “working around the clock for like a month” and “hiring our friends to keep us company.”
“In an age when everything is done online, you don’t get the chance to meet the people you work with” – Warren, Crucial Pins
Personal touch is inherent to Crucial Pins. Not only do Warren and Rick produce every pin, but they welcome businesses to stop by for visits. Warren believes its location is “a big selling point since people can come in here and pick orders up” instead of relying on online ordering which feels disconnected and time consuming. “A lot of the people, even the bigger clients will pick stuff up and we will help walk it out to their cars.”
“No design coming in is that surprising anymore” says Warren, explaining orders come in at such a high volume that work quickly goes straight into processing. The two are still excited when they see pins outside of the office, “I’m always looking at people’s jackets and backpacks to see if there is something we made” Rick added.
“We are like-minded people, it’s like going to work with your best friend” – Warren, Crucial Pins
When Rick and Warren began working at Crucial Pins, they had not anticipated one day becoming business owners. Warren says being a business owner “has been really fun, and it’s been nice to do it with somebody I get along with so well.”
For what may seem like an older medium, buttons are continuing its reign with clients like The National calling on Crucial Pins for its promotional merchandise. The success had by Crucial Pins is proving that even in a digital universe, the button continues to be a relevant way to make a point, communicate a message or show personality. There is no denying the versatility and branding power of a button, whether it’s a campaign, company, band name, or slogan, pin-back buttons are crucial.
For more worthy destinations within the Entertainment District read out last blog here