Growing up, I think I was a pretty creative kid. My mom used to say I could skillfully handle a pair of scissors at the age of 3, and I always coloured inside the lines. Haha...maybe that was more anal retentive than creative. But, I loved making things. I belonged to a craft club that sent me kits in the mail. Oooo…the anticipation. I couldn’t wait to open the box and see what I was going to create that month. I always made gifts for my family starting with simple preschool drawings, and then moving up to school art projects, and eventually more elaborate gifts involving sewing, embroidery, and ceramics. I remember sewing my mom a shoe bag with an embroidered shoe on the front, making my dad handkerchiefs embroidered with his initials, and a ceramic hockey player painted like a Thunder Bay Twin, the local hockey team that my dad loved.
I had a love of clothes and fashion. I could instinctively put together outfits in different styles and colours. One day the head of the local modelling school asked my mom if she would consider putting me into modelling. I think I was about 7 years old at the time. It took a while to convince my parents to let me do it. They didn’t see modelling as a very humbling experience but they eventually acquiesced, I believe with my sister’s encouragement. I was very shy as a kid so my parents need not have worried about my vanity. What it did do was boost my self-confidence getting up on a stage or runway in front of an audience. It got me to be seen, not heard, but at least seen. And it was a lot of fun. I even won Pre-Teen Model of the Year, lol! I also remember doing Saturday morning fashion shows at the local Zellers store showing off the latest back to school fashions. The best part was getting a discount on the clothes afterwards. I was voted the best dressed student in my class.
My modelling days
I also had an entrepreneurial side. I think I came by it honestly. My father was the sole proprietor of Kent Sign Co., a sign painting business. When I was young, I loved watching my dad hand paint lettering on the sides of trucks, a mahl stick steadying his hand. The stroke of his brush was smooth and assured with a flourish at the end. I remember watching him paint an ice cream cone on the side of a Scollies' van and marvelling at how he could make it look so real. Scollies was the local ice cream parlour we patronized on Sundays during the summer months.
Being a family owned business, my mom, two siblings and I, boyfriends included, all worked at the “shop” (as we have always fondly called it) at one time or another. For many years, my dad silk-screened t-shirts for the school board and the whole family had to go into the shop and help, even me, the youngest of three daughters. I had to take the printed and neatly folded t-shirts and carefully place them on this huge multi-tiered rack. Later as I grew up, one of my jobs was tap, tap, tapping a little pounce bag of chalk over a stencilled paper pattern to lay out the design for a new sign to be painted. Over the years, technology has changed the business. Computers do most of the work today. Technology is great. It makes things much more efficient. But it’s also a shame we don’t work with our hands like that anymore.
My father worked hard to provide a modest living for his family. He did not work quickly, but over the years, he produced mountains of work. He was an honest business owner who believed in giving people a chance. If anyone came in off the street looking for a job, he would give them the opportunity, if he had work available, which sometimes did not turn out well in the end. When my father passed away, my sister took over the business and still runs it to this day.
Our family business Kent Sign Co. in Thunder Bay
So I guess it was natural for me to make beaded jewellery and sell it to my friends in elementary school. To make colourful tissue paper flowers and sell them to my mom’s friends. I laugh now picturing those tacky paper flowers filling floor vases in living rooms across our neighbourhood. But as you grow up and become more self-conscious and aware of the expectations of parents, teachers, society in general, you lose sight of your natural creativity, following your dreams, and doing the things that bring you joy. You lose sight of your “why”.
I did go off to college and obtain a Diploma in Fashion Merchandising but then the “shoulds” took over. I should go to university. I should get a degree in something that leads to a well-paying job, not a retail job. I should pursue a well-respected career path. And these weren’t my parents’ expectations. These were expectations I put on myself.
So it has taken me a while to come back to my creative side, in fact about 25 years. Sometimes it takes time to awaken the creativity within. It was always there, just more subdued, almost like it had gone into hibernation for a very long winter. I still did creative things like Chairing the Ottawa Japanese Cultural Centre’s Craft & Fundraising Committee. We made crafts to sell at events like the Ottawa Tulip Festival to raise operating funds for the Centre.
I also had a brief stint designing children’s clothing. It was during the time I was on parental leave after adopting our daughter. My business was called “Maddiware” after you guessed it, my daughter. I made these really cute reversible jumpers that also had adjustable straps so they could grow with your child. I made them for my daughter and her friends with embroidered initials. My sister in Thunder Bay was my business partner. We even bought serger machines imagining we would sew all these jumpers. We never did sell any of the jumpers. A year of parental leave goes by quickly. A too-good-to-be-true, part-time VP Finance position fell out of the sky and into my lap. It was a fantastic opportunity working for two former colleagues. And it came at just the right time because I was dreading the thought of going back to a full-time business consulting role. So I took the part-time position thinking I could run Maddiware on the side. But once you are back into a job with priorities and deadlines…well…Maddiware fell to the wayside. It wasn’t the right time.
My daughter in her Maddiware jumper
And then came a big speed bump in the road – breast cancer – and here I am. Not right away, of course. It’s been 7 years since I was diagnosed. But, it’s funny how one thing can lead to another. How life can take you down different paths with many twists and turns. And sometimes that windy road can even lead you right back to where you started. I have come full circle, back into fashion and design. And not doing it on the side or as a hobby but as my profession. It has taken me a while to adjust to that fact. I finally feel comfortable responding to the question, “What do you do?” I used to respond, "Well, I’m actually a Chartered Accountant, but now I design clothes”. Or more recently, “I am a recovered Chartered Accountant turned Fashion Designer”. Attention getting, perhaps, but not exactly embracing my new creative identity. But yesterday, while I was at the dentist, a new hygienist asked me what I do and I responded, without hesitation, “I’m a Clothing Designer”.
I believe we all have a creative side that we should awaken and embrace. I know some people, probably many people, believe they are not creative. But creativity comes in many forms not just the obvious art forms like writing, dancing, or painting. Looking at how to do things in a different way is creative. It’s about being curious, coming at things from a fresh perspective, finding a solution to a problem.
I asked my husband if he thinks he’s creative. And by the way, he is an IT Security Consultant. Geek or nerd might come to mind but probably not creative-type. But here’s the thing. He is creative in his work. He uses curiosity and creativity all the time when finding solutions to security issues. And he writes proposals, articles, books, and courses. Having been a consultant, I know all about creative proposal writing to ensure you cover all your bases during the RFP (Request for Proposal) process.
I believe everyone is creative in one way or another. And I think most jobs can be approached with creativity in mind or at heart. There is even creative accounting, but that one I would not recommend!
Tell me about your creativity. Do you use curiosity and problem-solving in your job? Do you create with your hands, your body, or your mind, or maybe all three? Do you have a side project, business, or hobby? I would love to hear about your creative side.
Colleen Kanna is a breast cancer champion and creator of coKANna designs, a line of bamboo knit, Canadian-made adaptive clothing for women touched by breast cancer.