In The Beginning

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One of the questions I get asked the most is about how I got started in my career. I love this story so much but it’s a little long so for today’s post, I want to tell you the part that takes place in my teen years.

I always knew from a young age that my dream job would include working with textiles. I’ve always loved and appreciated handcrafted textile goods, mostly because my home was full of them growing up. My brother and I had intricately hand stitched quilts on our beds, tapestries hung on the walls, many of the things we wore were hand sewn and embellished with hand embroidery, and our toys were made by hand. Each memory of cotton, wool, terry cloth, and a little nylon yarn (c’mon, it was the 70’s) is steeped in nostalgia so it’s no wonder I pursued a lifelong career that centred around these things (except the nylon yarn).

When I was a teenager, I remember walking up and down the aisles of the tiny fabric boutique that my mom worked in and just by looking at the finish of a fabric and sometimes by touching it, I was learning to identify what silk fabric looked and felt like, same with wool, wool and synthetic blends, linen, and so many more. It’s a skill that I cultivated at such a young age that has helped me deepen my love of and ability to recognize natural fibres (one that’s especially useful when thrifting!)

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I was 13 when I received my first sewing machine. It was a second hand Elna that my dad had bought from the wife of a friend for my birthday. I still have that machine, 30 years later. It needs a bit of work but it served me well for a very long time. It’s sewn everything from quilts and baby clothes to lingerie and wedding gowns. There’s absolutely nothing I haven’t tried to sew.

I was always impatient when it came to theory or slower paced instruction. I remember being very eager to get into the sewing or other hands-on making of whatever I was interested in. I definitely wasted a lot of material in my haste to cut and sew but I did also learn a lot about problem solving and innovating.

When I was in grade 10 or 11 Home Ec, my teacher, Linda Keetley shared a story of how she got her foot in the door of Vancouver’s fashion industry. Her detailed account of what she did and how she created opportunities for herself stuck with me. When I found myself living in Kitsilano, a neighbourhood in Greater Vancouver and looking for employment, I remembered her story. I also remembered reading about a pair of young women who made jewelry together in Vancouver. Their story appeared in a Canadian fashion magazine. Even today, I remember how I felt when I read their story. I knew that what they were doing, I’d be doing. I just had to figure out how. I pulled out the phone book because cell phones weren’t a thing yet and I certainly didn’t have a computer either. I looked up the name of their business, called them and asked for a meeting. They were surprised by my directness and confidence but they agreed to meet with me. When we met, I pitched my idea to them – that I work with them for a short time while we all decided if I was a good fit for their team. No commitment, no strings, just a trial. My hope was that they’d love me so much that they’d have no choice but to keep me on the team. However, as much as they liked what I was offering, it was unsolicited and they weren’t in a position to consider that yet. I later learned that their partnership was on the precipice of dissolving.

I tried again a few months later and was hired by the remaining partner, Kelli to design and fabricate plush silk velvet display fixtures for their retail clients. At that time, the two main clients were  Hills of Kerrisdale and Aritzia. I worked with Kelli to create fixtures that complimented her floral jewelry in a whimsical yet functional way. I loved every minute of it. As our business relationship grew, I was given numerous opportunities to work with her in the production end of creating her jewelry as well as the displays. I got to learn the basics of fabrication and design as well as how to source materials and the behind-the-scenes operations of a jewelry design business. We worked together, we shared meals and we traveled together. I can never properly thank her to teaching me so much and giving me a chance at such an early point in my career.

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Since then, I’ve worked in garment design including bespoke suits, wedding and prom gowns, and countless bridal party ensembles. I’ve worked with lingerie and sleepwear designers and I’ve mentored high school students who wanted to learn about fashion design. I’ve had other careers including portrait photography where I specialized in working with women at various stages of life including pregnancy and motherhood in all of its stages. Even my years of working in agriculture have granted me insights into market fluctuations and consumer behaviour that influence how I make decisions in my jewelry business.

When I look back and reflect on the extremely non-linear path my career has followed, I know that every step has brought me to this point, this place. I know that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be and couldn’t be more grateful. Not every day has been good. Not everything I’ve tried has gone as planned but every single thing has been a success, even the perceived failures. I’ve started and ended many businesses. But none have been failures. I’ve learned from each one and those lessons shaped who I am as an entrepreneur and designer. I couldn’t do my job without each one of those lessons. I know I’m going to persevere, achieve, and succeed because I’ll never stop asking for what I want and I’ll never stop trying.

I’d love to hear from you. Tell me in the comments what part of this little story was your favourite. Let me know if any of what I’ve shared has inspired or motivated you. I love hearing from my readers so please let me know that you’re reading along. Thanks for sharing your time with me. More stories next week.

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