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This Entrepreneur Followed Her Childhood Passions and Now Runs North America’s Largest E-Commerce Cosplay Company

Meet Laura Suen, Start-Up Award winner at the 2023 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards

By Khera Alexander

There is tremendous power in representation. When we find ourselves identifying with someone we can relate to, the scope of what we believe is possible for us expands. 

Growing up, Laura Suen, Founder and CEO of Fire and Steel Inc., was interested in science fiction, fantasy, and martial arts — passions that, for a long time, weren’t considered “appropriate” interests for girls.

“I would ask my parents for [fantasy daggers] for my birthday, and my parents would [say], ‘No, girls don’t get daggers,’” she says. “My parents [also said], ‘Girls don’t do martial arts, girls are in dance. We can put you in [a] class, but we’re not going to put you in martial arts class.’”

Laura also loved media and different aspects of pop culture, admiring women investigative journalists and interesting characters on popular TV shows.

“When I grew up watching the news, I saw [women] anchors. I saw people like Connie Chung, Barbara Walters, and Lisa Ling.”

Laura envisioned herself as a journalist by watching these women tell interesting stories. Additionally, a poignant fictional character inspired Laura to imagine what a potential career in science would be like. 

“I’m a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan. I watched Angel, the spin-off, and one of the dorky side characters is actually a girl who is a physicist. I could see myself as that too.”

Seeing women model careers she was curious about opened up a world of possibilities for Laura. She initially pursued journalism by following her interests, inspired by the power of representation. When she realized she liked science and tech reporting, Laura decided to get a science degree.

After earning her degree, a series of experiences and interesting job opportunities presented themselves to Laura. Instead of overthinking it, she followed her curiosity and eventually had a career in physics.

While she was making strides professionally, Laura’s childhood passions still had a strong presence in her life. She maintained her interests in science fiction, fantasy, and martial arts, and even decided to take classes.

“As soon as I started making my own money, I signed up for a martial arts class right away,” she says. “Of course, the ones that I signed up for used swords.”

Unbeknownst to Laura, signing up for martial arts class and still engaging with her childhood interests would lead her down the road to entrepreneurship. 

She began sourcing swords herself to have the right weaponry for her classes. When friends in her class expressed interest in purchasing swords and other accessories from her, Laura realized that selling these products could turn into a business.

Another circumstance that verified that Laura was on to something was when she learned that she could enter different medieval fairs and festivals for free if she became a vendor. As a fan of different fairs and expos, she could still be involved in a community of like-minded people, all while selling products at these events.

Little by little, Laura kept receiving confirmation that she was going in the right direction with her new business, Fire and Steel.

Founded in 2012 as a martial arts supplier, today, Fire and Steel is the largest e-commerce retailer for cosplay and weaponry replicas in North America. Stocking everything from traditional medieval weaponry to axes, bows, and cosplay-related products, Laura’s business gives her engaged community of enthusiasts an incredible amount of options.

Though she understands that some people may not understand her industry, Laura points out that her business supports an audience of clients whose passions are affirmed by dressing up or becoming a character they admire.

“A lot of the people that buy our stuff, they’re not just displaying it — they actually use it in costumes and theatrical productions,” she says. 

Laura expands further, mentioning that what her business provides is about more than props.

“We’re not selling [a] wand; it’s what the wand or sword or dagger represents. It makes a statement about who you are as a person, or who you want to be. It’s no different than [buying] a sweater that has a cool logo on it to represent something important [to someone], like a sports team.”

Providing community and identity to dreamers, performers, and enthusiasts for over 10 years, Laura was humbled when she found herself on the receiving end of a nomination for the 2023 RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards in the Start-Up category.

“I was recommended to apply by my commercial advisor at RBC, and I wanted to honour her — she took the time to nominate me,” she says.

Not expecting to win, Laura was stunned when she was announced as the winner the night of the ceremony.

“It just felt so surreal. It was a culmination of this overwhelming joy that people seem to watch my effort, and they recognize my effort,” she says. “This acknowledgement is powerful because it’s the first step to much greater things. New opportunities have already opened up.”

Laura embracing her childhood interests serves as another reminder that we often already have the answers we are looking for, and just like the women who modelled different careers for her, she is excited to be part of a community that will do the same for future women entrepreneurs.

“That’s why it’s so important what [the RBC Canadian Women Entrepreneur Awards] is doing when it comes to recognizing [women] entrepreneurs so that you can usher in a new generation of people who can see themselves as entrepreneurs.“