Western University Alumnus Forging Success on ‘Atypical” Career Path

By Krista Habermehl

If there’s one thing Travis McKenna didn’t want to do with his life, it was work a regular 9-5 job.

A career in aviation seemed anything but traditional, so out of high school he applied, and was accepted to the Commercial Aviation Management (CAM) program in Western’s Faculty of Social Science.

“I wanted a career that was atypical and I thought piloting was the answer for me,” said McKenna, BMOS’15, “but as I learned more about the industry itself, I discovered there were a lot of factors I didn’t like – from the increased automation of planes to the seniority system.”

Although he carried on with flight training in spite of his reservations, McKenna spent his summers dabbling in various entrepreneurial opportunities with friends: first a painting business, then a car detailing venture and, later, an app endeavour he admits failed commercially.

While those experiences showed him there was money to be made outside of a traditional career path, McKenna ended up taking a job in a corporate setting after finishing flight training.

“Even if you know you want to work for yourself, there’s a lot of external pressure – from your parents, from your program, from your friends. There’s a lot of pressure to go the normal route. I found it very hard.”

It was a repeat concussion injury, however, that forced him to reconsider his options.

“The job (post university) was intense. The hours were long – 12 to 14 hour days sometimes – and I just couldn’t do it. It was really hard on me and at the end of my contract, I had to call it quits.”

This turn of events gave McKenna the freedom to pursue a different path, and he joined a group of friends from Western who had recently launched an e-commerce bracelet venture, called Wrist & Rye. The company sells accessories and markets itself as a “social lubricant company,” tying its product line to names of popular drinks. Its purpose is “to deliver intoxicatingly beautiful accessories that incite social conversations,” according to the Wrist & Rye website.

“When no one was expecting anything of me, I was able to work for myself and make my own hours. I could bring a lot of expertise and knowledge. As my health started to get better, I took on more and more responsibility with the company,” he said.

Today, McKenna is the company’s CEO, a role he formally stepped into in April of 2016. Since that time, he’s worked to legitimize the business, establishing supply line management, inventory, manufacturing, legal and accounting systems.

In addition, he brought the company to Western’s Propel Entrepreneurship – an initiative that provides co-working space, mentorship, seed funding and acts as an advocate for local startups in the community.

McKenna said assistance and expertise from Propel helped the company navigate rough waters and set them up for success at a time when a major dispute between the company’s partners had the potential to implode the business.

“We pretty much have Propel to thank for helping us through the transition. When you’re a struggling entrepreneur, no one gives you respect. Propel helped legitimize the path. Instead of saying I was working on my business, I could say my business is part of an ‘accelerator’ that believes in us and is giving us grant funding. It legitimized it. Even my parents were proud of me.”

McKenna said the financial support Wrist & Rye received, as well as access to a community of like-minded entrepreneurs, through Propel was priceless.

“They held us to our milestones. We learned a ton from the workshops,” he said. “It also gave us a network of people who were doing the same things. People our age, all in different stages of business, but working toward the same thing and going through the same struggles.”

Since the launch of the company, the majority of bracelet sales – in the range of 50,000 – have been online through organic and celebrity marketing. Wrist & Rye has recently landed a wholesale contract, signed with a Canada-wide sales team and is now selling its product in select retail stores. These changes have the company poised to make sales in the hundreds of thousands range, said McKenna.

The company also sells a special bracelet, called the “Mustang” at The Book Store at Western, which provides students with a $10 Uber gift card when they purchase the product. The goal is to encourage students to make safe choices and avoid drinking and driving.

“We really want to take a proactive stance on students drinking responsibly,” said McKenna. “We’re hoping that if the bracelet is successful at Western and has an impact, we’ll roll out the concept nationwide.”

While McKenna admitted he finds it odd when aspiring entrepreneurs ask for his advice, since Wrist & Rye hasn’t quite attained commercial success, he does have a few words of wisdom to impart: “Start a business when you’re at school. It’s the perfect place. You have a large social network. A test market. School resources. There is no better time than university to start a business.

“The other thing is, don’t wait for that perfect idea. That million-dollar idea is never going to just come to you. Get to work on an idea. Learn a lot. Don’t get emotionally attached and blow all your money. Just start working away and you’ll learn. Then find a job close to, or in a similar field as your idea, so you can get mentorship and get paid to learn.”

Wrist & Rye bracelets are available at The Book Store at Western, or online at wrist-rye.com.

Posted with permission, Western News

The Girl with a Passion for Fashion: Nicole Snobelen

By Veerta Singh, WorkStory Ambassador at Western University

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When Nicole Snobelen was 8 years old, her Nanny gave her a designer game where she could draw and color outfits. Nicole knew right then and there that this was something she wanted to do with the rest of her life and she made her dream a reality!  Nicole Snobelen is the owner and designer of Evelynn by Nicole Snobelen and the Founder of the Abby Girl Fund. She studied Fashion Design at Fanshawe College in London, Ontario during the years of 2009 – 2012.

Evelynn is a Canadian fashion line based in London. The collection is targeted towards young women who love to stand out in a crowd! Nicole also founded The Abby Girl Fund, a fundraiser that started in 2015 to help lift the spirits of girls suffering from illness. Volunteers with the Abby Girl Fund visit girls in the hospital and work with them to design and colour their dream dress. In the days that follow, they secretly fabricate the identical design and make the young girl’s dream dress come to life. A few days later, they surprise each girl with her very own custom dress!

Prior to seeing her dreams come to fruition, Nicole indulged herself in many different experiences that really gave her a better sense of the fashion world and helped her get to where she is today. She was the marketing captain at The London Tap house, where she was put in charge of customer relations, marketing the business, running Friday nights, planning events and getting people involved with the company. She also trained new employees – both servers and members of the marketing team. 

Nicole also assisted fashion designers at Toronto Fashion Week, where she furthered her knowledge in the fashion industry. And as if that isn’t impressive enough, Nicole put together over 23 fashion shows to raise money for charity organizations like The Canadian Cancer Society, Canadian Diabetes, Lupus Canada, Cystic Fibrosis, and MS Research.

So what does a day in the life of Nicole Snobelen look like? “Being an entrepreneur, I typically start working when I open my eyes and, until I close them, I am never really not working—I am my business. I start my day off by checking and replying to emails, followed by updating social media outlets. This usually includes updating my website, prepping orders to be sent out and mailing them. I try to get in 3 to 5 hours of sewing—new inventory or custom work. Some days I schedule trips to the fabric stores. I like to set aside an hour a day to spend time on the Abby Girl Fund submissions—whether that would be patterns, making the design they came up with or actually putting it into production to sew”.

Nicole says that four things are very important when working in this field. “Passion is so important. If you’re going to run your own business, you need to love and be passionate about what you are doing”. She stresses that patience is also key because you cannot expect to be successful right away—things take time to grow. Dedication is also important. “It not only takes a lot of work to create a job where there wasn’t one, but to actually wear every “hat“ (run and control every part) in your business from the start can take a lot out of you. I have sacrificed a lot of things in my journey, like having a fixed income. When I first started Evelynn, I was living dress to dress in order to get where I am today”. Last, but not least, creativity. The fashion industry is very competitive and you need to be able to find inspiration easily.

The reason Nicole is involved with fashion design is because her favourite thing to do is brighten people’s days or bring them out of their situation. “I am very passionate about what I am doing and who I have become in the process. I wanted to use my talents to help people, which is why I started the Abby Girl Fund. I use my gift to brighten the days of little children going through a hard time. To not only see, but be a part of putting a smile on the children’s face, it fills me with so much joy. I can honestly say I have the best job I could ever imagine. I get to wake up every day and live my dream, choose the people I want to work with and be a part of something amazing that I created”.

Nicole has some great advice for people who are relatively new in the workforce. “Don’t give up on your dream! Things will get tough and you will feel discouraged but if this is your dream, fight for it! Listen to people; you can learn something from everyone you meet. Be a good person and help people when you can”.

To see some of Nicole’s fantastic work from Evelynn, visit her Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/EvelynnByNicoleSnobelen/

To get more information on the Abby Girl Fund, visit:

https://www.facebook.com/abbygirlF/

 

Lisa Charleyboy’s Fashion Mag Will Tackle Aboriginal Issues With Style

By Tiffany Hsieh

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    Photo by Sofie Kirk

Photo by Sofie Kirk

Lisa Charleyboy (BA ’10, York University) always felt like an outsider to her Tsilhqot’in community and reserve in Alexis Creek First Nation, B.C. What helped ground her while growing up in Abbotsford, a suburb of Vancouver, was her insatiable interest in fashion and magazines. At 10, she devoured Vogue magazine cover to cover. By Grade 10, she decided she would move to Toronto upon graduation to study fashion communication. But it was at York University that Charleyboy discovered her indigenous roots and her true passion, which paved the way for embracing her native culture through writing on fashion and all things lifestyle.

“At York, I was encouraged to explore my heritage through writing and assignments, to explore history and be more critical about aboriginal issues in Canada,” she says. “I was very engaged as a student and with the student paper. I really enjoyed my time at York. It was a fantastic experience.”

Charleyboy is now a writer, fashion blogger, social entrepreneur and actress. She graduated from York’s Professional Writing program after a stint in fashion communication studies at another university didn’t prove to be what she desired. While a student at York, Charleyboy wrote fashion columns for Indian Country Today, was a fashion editor at York’s Excalibur, an intern at Lush magazine and a weekly contributor at MSN.ca on beauty, fashion and lifestyle. She also started her popular blog Urban Native Girl as a way to engage in writing and social media, and connect with native peoples from across North America.

When Charleyboy was approached by York to work as an aboriginal recruitment officer upon graduation, “It felt way off path,” she recalls. “I wanted to go into fashion magazines.” However, after the University approached her a few times, she decided it was a good opportunity for her to engage aboriginal youth about pursuing postsecondary education at York and following their dreams.

“There’s a native belief that if you are being asked to do something three times, you have to really give it some careful thought and consideration,” she says. “I took the job. I got to travel and meet people. I was involved with the native community across Canada. The job changed my focus to indigenous issues.”

During her two years in the role, Charleyboy helped York build relationships with First Nations communities all across the country. Among her many accomplishments, she helped to bring renowned author and York alumnus Joseph Boyden to campus for a speakers’ series. Not only has Boyden been a mentor to Charleyboy ever since, but he’s contributed to an anthology about indigenous youth that she co-edited. The book, titled Dreaming in Indian, Contemporary Native American Voices, was published last fall by Annick Press.

“The job at York shifted my life and opened my eyes,” she says. “Had it not been for this experience, my magazine would be more fluffy.”

Urban Native Magazine, an online publication Charleyboy launched in 2013, bears a mission to be “the go-to destination for current articles on indigenous fashion, art, culture, entertainment, lifestyle, news and business.” Despite the stark reality of print media’s continuing decline, her magazine’s first quarterly print issue is scheduled for launch this winter.

“I want my magazine to inspire indigenous youth. I want to distribute the magazine in northern communities, where there is limited access to smartphones and computers and not a lot of magazines in this realm,” Charleyboy says. “One of the things I hope to explore is fashion through [photo] shoots for my magazine and to showcase aboriginal fashion designers.”

Aside from being one of Canada’s most popular bloggers, Charleyboy was selected as a 2013-14 DiverseCity Fellow, one of North America’s leading urban fellows programs for rising city builders. As part of the fellowship, she has worked on an aboriginal youth media training initiative in Toronto. In her free time, Charleyboy has also been working on a book about urban native millennials, writing a “native chick lit” novel about a young woman in a big city looking for love, and filming a 13-part television documentary series called Urban Native Girl, which follows her as she takes her blog and turns it into a native lifestyle magazine featuring aboriginal fashion. The documentary is scheduled to air on Aboriginal Peoples Television Network in fall 2015.

“Fashion is always with me,” says Charleyboy, who recently moved to Vancouver to pursue a master’s degree in business administration. “Even though I never thought I’d be a writer, I have transformed my love for fashion through my love for my culture and writing. It’s been an incredible journey.”

This article appeared in the Winter 2015 edition of York U, the magazine of York University.  Reprinted with permission. 

East Coast Fashion: Amanda & Laura’s Story

       Amanda Kincaid

       Amanda Kincaid

Another fashion story -- this time from Halifax where fashionistas Amanda Kincaid and Laura Corkum have launched Nova Fashion Incubator!    Their goal?   To provide co-operative space, equipment, expertise, ideas, and inspiring support to emerging east coast fashion design talent!  

As Amanda and Laura told Bill Powers:

        Laura Corkum

        Laura Corkum

“…there is a ready market for an incubator in the region, with about 30 people graduating annually from programs like the Centre for Arts and Technology’s fashion design and merchandising program, Dalhousie University’s costume studies program, and the University of New Brunswick’s craft and textile program.

Learn more about the Nova Fashion Incubator here.

Stylerunner: Julie & Sali’s Fashion Story

Another entrepreneurial sibling story!  Australian twins Julie and Sali were looking for workout clothing with fashion and style – all in one online shop.    Finding nothing that fit the bill, they made some decisive career moves and launched Stylerunner!  Sylvia Pennington tells their inspiring fashion story!

“…It was a business opportunity that couldn’t be passed up, says Julie Stevanja, who was living in London at the time. She packed in her job with a film streaming technology start-up and hotfooted it home to Sydney to team up with sister Sali, a recruitment consultant, in getting the venture off the ground.”

For more about Julie and Sali, have a look here and here.

Retail Associate Reaches for the Stars

By Annette Dawm, WorkStory Ambassador

Danielle Smelko is a Retail Associate at Maurices (stylized by the company as “maurices”).

She spends most of her time at the women’s clothing store, located in the Seaway Mall in Welland, Ontario and she wouldn’t have it any other way!  Not only is fashion her passion, it’s her job! Danielle says her position enables her to be “so much more than a retail associate” and describes her role at Maurices as “a customer and community focused fashion advisor”.

When asked why she loves to work for this company, Danielle  mentioned that it is “fun and exciting” and there are many reasons why.  As she put it, her work “allows me to get to know the women in my community,  as well as get involved with charities, fundraisers, and the like, all while expressing my passion for clothing, trends, and personal style.”  Danielle  also finds Maurices to be an inspiring place to work. She feels motivated in many ways to keep “reaching for the stars” and believes that the sky truly is the limit at Maurices.

 Like many people trying to find their way in the world of work, Danielle took a “confusing and unexpected path” in terms of how she got to where she is today.

 “I have always been in customer service. I started with call centre work and bounced from business to business finding my niche. As time went on, I decided I wanted to go to school and start a business, preferably in the nail lacquer industry or [something] fashion related.  So, off I went to Niagara College in Niagara-on-the-Lake to study business.”

 Unfortunately, the stunning campus and all of Danielle’s amazing professors and peers were not enough to keep her there:

 “I hated it. It was so hit-and-miss for me and I ended up finding myself down-right miserable.... Business wasn't for me, so I decided to continue obtaining work experience. I stayed with customer service, seeing as my strongest quality is dealing with the public. I bounced around between the food industry and the fashion industry and found myself more drawn to fashion.”

 Danielle faced a few “gruelling years with some very unappealing, unorganized, and ethically awful companies”.   Eventually she found herself at a turning point in her career and knew that making a change was essential to maintain her positive outlook on life. Although she cannot name where she worked at the time, Danielle explains that the difficulties she had in the past led her to a job she loves at Maurices as well as a better life in general.

 “There was a point after a certain company where I realized I would never again tolerate being miserable at work. I have no room in my positive mentality to not feel valued or appreciated in my work place. Growth within is important to me.”   Looking back on these experiences, Danielle would now like to thank the unmentionable companies for the hardships she went through, “because if it wasn't for them, I would never know just what I stand for in my career!”   She has also learned that there are things she has no tolerance for in her life as well. She concluded the interview by saying, “Now that I’ve found Maurices, I couldn’t be happier!”

 If you are interested in an internship, a career opportunity,  or a new outfit from Maurices,  here’s the link www.maurices.com .

A path to make-up artistry…

By Monica Pavez

Goblins. Werewolves. Aliens and beauty queens. Pretty much any character’s look you can think of in any movie (or TV series) has been created or worked on by a makeup or special effects artist. If the job has been right, you won’t even notice the immense amount of work that has been done.

Growing up, like most other people, I didn’t really give much thought to the people working behind the scenes to bring stories to life on stage or screen.  I knew of course that there must be people who’s job it was to make movies, but it seemed like this unrealistic dream job that a few lucky people got to do. Like oyster divers or panda cub babysitters, we can’t all do that for a living. Not to mention, how does one learn those jobs? Do you need schooling, or can you learn on the job? Do you have to know someone who can get you “in”?

Towards the end of my high school career, I, like the rest of my classmates, was feeling the pressure to decide on a postsecondary program.  I had been an artisitic person my whole life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I would be a good artist. The problem was that when I started to go over the university materials and programs lists, nothing really jumped out at me. I decided instead to enroll in a 2 year art program at H.B. Beal Secondary School in London, where I could take arts courses that were in many cases equal to or better than taking the equivalents at an arts college. After graduating from that program, I worked for a while before deciding that I could see myself doing costuming work for theatre as a career. I applied to the Fashion Techniques and Design Program at George Brown in Toronto, intending to specialize in Costume Design afterwards.  The program wasn’t quite for me, and I ended up dropping out. I spent the next several years working a few different jobs, but still feeling like I was waiting for the next phase of my life to start. I knew I wanted to go to postsecondary school, but I was at a complete loss as to what I should study. 

Around what is now roughly two and half years ago, I began to hear about a school in Toronto called C|MU College of Makeup Art & Design. It was and is a private college that offers courses and programs for aspiring makeup artists. My girlfriend at the time knew someone who was attending the school, and so I booked a tour and info session at the school.  Almost as soon as I finished the tour I knew that I had finally found what I was looking for in a school. It would give the skills, techniques, and contacts I would need to become a successful makeup artist. I immediately applied to the school, and I was accepted into their Complete Makeup Artist Program, which gives you a two-year equivalent diploma and you learn everything from beauty and fashion makeup to makeup for theatre and film, as well as prosthetic and creature makeup. During the program I was able to gain experience in the field by way of the job posting board that the school oversees.

I graduated from the program in early June, and am now in the process of building my freelance portfolio and hopefully a career as a makeup artist for film. If I learned anything over the years while trying to figure out my life, it is that you have to know yourself. Know what you are good at and what you are not; know what you do want out of your career and what you don’t. It will at the very least help rule out what you don’t want to study. I guess most of all, don’t panic, everyone has their own path to take!

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The Right Fit: BCom grad Kendall Barber finds startup success with Poppy Barley, a made-to-measure boot design company

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Think of a great idea, turn it into a business and spend your days passionately serving that idea—it’s a task on any entrepreneur’s bucket list. Kendall Barber’s (BCom ’05) boot design company, Poppy Barley (poppybarley.com), is undoubtedly a product of this vision. However, it is only after recounting the story of how she came to design handcrafted footwear, that this wide-eyed fashionista suddenly morphs into a seasoned executive, reminding us of the difference between those who simply draft bucket lists, and others who stomp on said bucket to hoist their way to the top. Kendall Barber is in the latter category.

The light bulb moment came shortly after Kendall’s younger sister Justine Barber travelled to Bali last February. When a local shoe store associate casually asked if she wanted to be measured for a custom pair of boots when in-store sizes didn’t fit, she was in awe. Justine returned to Alberta and shared her experience with Kendall, and they began to investigate whether custom-made footwear was something Canadian shoppers might appreciate.

After combing through survey results and focus group data, Kendall and Justine found that over 60 per cent of women struggle to find boots that fit properly. They also learned that a large number of shoe manufacturers that supply the U.S. are based in León, Mexico. The sisters decided it was time for some first-hand research. “We ultimately made the decision to buy plane tickets, go there and figure it out,” says Kendall. “We were two girls from Canada with an idea, looking for a partner who believed in us enough to commit to making some samples.”

Kendall and Justine eventually formed a relationship with a manufacturer willing to work with their requirements, such as using an eco-friendly tannery and monitoring where the materials came from. Environmental concerns have always been important to the sisters, as has maintaining a close connection with suppliers and employees in León. This is what pushes them to make frequent trips south, instead of relying only on email and Skype.

Named after poppy seeds and barleycorns, the original elements used to make made-to-measure footwear, Poppy Barley launched in November 2012. With prices starting from $450, the company strives to supply handmade boots that fit perfectly and are built to last, while providing exceptional customer service.

Poppy Barley has been open for less than a year and Kendall says the experience has been a whirlwind. That said, she is reluctant to take credit for the company’s initial success. “I think that sometimes the founders of companies get too much credit. I feel like there have been so many people that have made Poppy Barley what it is today.”

Some of Kendall’s biggest supporters have been fellow UVic business alumni she has kept in touch with since graduating. Many of these colleagues have been valuable resources while getting Poppy Barley off the ground. Kendall is glad to have chosen the UVic program—smaller class sizes allowed her to form these lasting relationships with her classmates. “I went to school with some amazing people who have gone on to be incredibly successful entrepreneurs,” she says.

Judging from the enthusiasm of Poppy Barley fans, avid followers on social media platforms and the decision to expand the product line in the upcoming months, it is safe to say that Kendall can now count herself as a successful entrepreneur—one who will keep checking off items on her bucket list.

This story, reprinted with permission, originally appeared in Business Class Magazine, a publication of the Gustavson School of Business