“There’s no way a driver doesn’t see me coming with this on”, Karyn Climans quips, pointing to the bright pink princess helmet cover on her head, cross-legged on a chair in the park at MEC Bikefest Toronto. Tail Wags helmet covers are a unique fashion statement with safety in mind. They’re off-kilter and speak to the child in you. Whether you’re a 2-year old eager to dress up as a baby pink poodle, or an adult donning a devil-themed cover, there’s something for everyone; you just have to be willing to put yourself out there. And let’s face it, in a city of 2.6 million, you’ll want to do everything to stand out, especially if you’re a cyclist on the roads.
Jalal Clemens, a cyclist visiting the Bikefest knows best, “If you’re in San Francisco which is where I live, you gotta stand out a little bit, and the dragon-tail, that’ll stand out.” Clemens is right, it makes good safety sense.
So you’re sitting there, confusion fogging up your monitor and you’re wondering, why should I care about Karyn Climans? This president of Tail Wags was featured, not once, but twice on our very own Dragon’s Den, fearlessly facing the likes of Kevin O’Leary. O'Leary, the on-screen dragon, off-screen teddy bear? “People say, well, how can you stand to go on that show? Kevin is…yeah, a piece of work. I think all the dragons, other than Kevin, are lovely. They’re genuinely nice people.
"Kevin O'Leary, I’m sorry. Nobody, nobody has the right to call anybody a cockroach. But he had the good sense not to try that with me. I was wearing my red kick-ass, don’t-mess-with-me suit," she grins, the pink princess helmet cover suddenly seeming out of place over that fierce attitude.
Starting 7 years ago, Karyn’s helmet covers now boast 40+ designs. She’s got everything going, from her most famous Unicorn cover to a Goldfish theme, from a “Ticked Off Bird” to a Skunk version for those who like to leave a stink in their wake. The inspiration ballooned out of necessity. A skiing accident that very nearly killed Karyn Climans, had she not been wearing her helmet, propelled her into the world of helmet covers. Like so many striving entrepreneurs, Karyn wanted a job where she could utilize her skills and talent and still allow her passion to take flight. Cue in Tail Wags, a sassy spin on plastic shells on your head. These products are exclusively manufactured in Canada, using computer-engineered cutting technology, and local sewers for a strong finish each time.
Not only is Karyn Climans a budding name in the world of helmet safety, she is a conscientious businesswoman. Firmly against shipping production overseas, she takes a stand against menial working conditions, such as the Bangladesh April 2013 factory collapse that claimed more than a 1000 lives. In doing so, Karyn also supports our local economy, “There are a LOT of other businesses supported by Tail Wags including my photographer, graphic artist, additional sewers, fabric suppliers, packaging suppliers, printing services, bookkeeper, accountant, and legal services.” Keeping production local, she is also able to maintain the quality of Tail Wags’ merchandise with a thorough vigilance, putting only the best into the hands of consumers.
I ask about challenges, and Karyn narrows her eyes, a smirk growing on her mouth, leans in closer as if to share a secret and says, “You know what my biggest pet-peeve is with my business? I have to pay a ‘Stuffing Tax’ every year. It’s a Ministry of Ontario requirement. You know the stuffing, the foam that’s in my crown? I have to pay for the privilege. Every year.” And while Karyn remains candid about her challenges, such as the minutia of business details, she acknowledges that being a businesswoman is hard work. On a personal front, Karyn’s family, with two teenaged sons, had to adapt quickly to accommodate her new business venture.
So, everybody’s on the Tail Wags bandwagon, right? Well, almost. How does Karyn tackle teenagers who don’t want to be caught wearing covers that scream “Look at me!”? She realizes teenagers are a tough crowd to win over, but it’s not about winning them over for her product’s sake. Karyn says that if she could just make people aware that riding without your helmet is a matter of life and death, then it’s all in a day’s work. Working with the Toronto Police and the TO35Cycles to advocate for helmet safety, Karyn also spearheaded the ‘Mothers Against Naked Riding Campaign’, doing cheeky photoshoots with some big Canadian Footballers like Tristan Black, Jonathan Hood, Paul Blackwood and Isaac Brown. Their catchphrase, “We don’t care what you wear, just put a helmet on”.
As I wrap up the interview, the sun dipping lower in the sky, giving way to white clouds tinged with blue, Karyn shares some parting pearls of wisdom. To cyclists, skiers, snowboarders, and skateboarders, “Please play it safe. Stop naked riding. Put your helmet on. Save us some OHIP dollars.” To entrepreneurs, “If you have a good product, or a good service and you really believe in it, don’t give up. We need more entrepreneurs.”
There you have it folks, the inspiration is in the Tail Wags.