Ok, artists and creative entrepreneurs, the ground is rumbling.
Could this be the start of the repatriation of manufacturing? If you want to source products and services (t-shirts, totes, pins) from Canadian, better yet Toronto-based, companies, and stop relying on cheap foreign labour, please take a few minutes to fill out this survey.
The City of Toronto’s Economic Development & Culture division (EDC) is currently examining the feasibility of a “Toronto Made” brand for locally-produced products. Such brands exist in many other cities in Canada and the US including SFMade (San Francisco), Made in YVR (Vancouver) and Made in NYC (New York City).
Thank you, Liv Mendelsohn for bringing this initiative to my attention.
Finally, I would love to see my Toronto Island Ferry Pillow made with fabric produced and printed in Toronto. It was designed in Toronto (by me) and until last February was printed in Toronto. Now let’s close the circle and have it made in Toronto too.
When Covid-19 sent us into lockdown in March, I spent the rest of the month, and all of April, endlessly scrolling on my phone, with no focus and zero discipline.
By May, I was taking notes on how the pandemic was rearranging the economy.
By June, I was ready to put myself back out into the world with freelance pitches. Using my notes on the economy, I adjusted my marketing strategy to meet the changing needs and behaviours of customers and clients. To wit: I only marketed skills that would best serve this moment (in my case, drawing), plus I paid careful attention to tone in all of my messaging and storytelling.
If you’re a freelancer and would like to learn more about my “pandemic process,” join me on October 15th from 6:30-7:30 pm for my next IABC Toronto keynote address, “Creative Ways to Market During a Pandemic.” (via ZOOM)
Whenever I take a course — I took Creating Comics and Graphic Novels (2489) last fall — I always Google the instructor. I want to know who they are, what they do in their day job, and if they have an original spark before I commit to spending several months with them.
In that time, Vine has died, TikTok has burst out of the gates, and Facebook’s true colours have been revealed — as an espionage tool, an enabler of ads that target conflict and lies, and an all-round toxic waste dump.
Whatever happens next — Facebook and Twitter toss the uncivil ad model and become subscription-only, perhaps? — my course has adapted with every twist and turn, providing up-to-the-minute strategies and tactics on how to build and market your blog, vlog or podcast.
As a journalist, illustrator, host of the web series Willful (now on hiatus), and a Shopify vendor selling my hand-drawn illustrations on household wares (also on hiatus as I search for more eco/ethical suppliers), I know a thing or two about combining creativity with an entrepreneurial spirit. Digital tools have been central to my work and skills being discoverable.
Illustration by Alison Garwood-Jones
Let me share a couple of success stories so you can see how some of my former students have leveraged the course learnings to start new projects, or to land some really cool gigs in content creation, digital marketing, journalism, PR and politics:
• Marcus: Marcus chose to blog about graffitti in Toronto for his class project in Foundations. His amazing story after he finished the Digital Strategy and Communications Managmemt Certificate was featured on U of T’s SCS blog in May 2019:
The most important thing this certificate taught me was how to tell and market your story.
Marcus Tignanelli isn’t your typical 24-year-old. As a City Councillor for North Bay, he is dedicated to revitalizing the city he loves. But his path to political leadership was not what you would expect.
Marcus began his career working as a hair stylist. After a few years, he grew interested in business strategy, and noticed a gap in his company’s social media presence. “I went to my boss and told him that I wanted to improve our social media, but I needed more education” says Marcus, who earned his Digital Strategy and Communications Management Certificate at SCS in 2018. “The company liked my enthusiasm, and supported my learning at SCS. I took on managing their social media strategy, and I would apply the skills I learned in class the next morning at work.”
Although Marcus was living in Toronto at the time, he was still very connected to his North Bay roots, and wanted to find ways to help his hometown thrive. “There is a large Indigenous population in North Bay, and I wanted to help youth learn new skills and foster self-confidence” he reflects. “So I started a training program, teaching high school students on the Indigenous Reserve hair dressing skills.” Marcus secured government funding, and launched a one-week fundamentals course, going into schools and teaching his trade pro-bono. The program was a huge success, igniting a training partnership with Mushkegowuk First Nation. It will soon run eight weeks out of the year, helping youth learn hands-on skills.
Meanwhile, Marcus wanted to go a step further in supporting North Bay. “I decided to run for City Councillor. It seemed like a natural step forward for me, because I have always been interested in politics. But everyone laughed. They said I was too young” he recalls. “All the other candidates were producing tons of print marketing materials. That wasn’t feasible for me cost-wise, so I leaned on the skills I learned at SCS.”
Marcus leveraged his new abilities in online campaign strategy and social media marketing. “The most important thing this certificate taught me was how to tell and market your story. My story was about fresh leadership and creating a vibrant and open North Bay. Instead of making promises, I focused my campaign on providing valuable information to voters who felt confused or ostracized by the political process” reflect Marcus. “I started a website and a blog- a skill I learned in class- and began educating voters. I blogged on topics like ‘why politics matter’, and ‘how to make your vote count’. I encouraged a younger demographic to care about the politics of their city, and get out and vote.”
Vote they did. Marcus won the election on October 22, 2018, and was sworn in as City Councillor on December 1. Although he is busy serving his city, Marcus, who also won a Marilynn Booth Award for demonstrating academic success, personal commitment, and exemplary leadership, now aspires to take French courses at SCS to help him succeed in Canadian politics. “The skills I learned in this certificate helped me win the election” he says. “My advice to others would be that if you want to get ahead, but you don’t know the first step, SCS is that step.”
• Eric: Eric came to class to execute an idea he had for a site dedicated to wilderness adventure.
He created, Under the Yoke. It’s not just a podcast and blog, but a brand offering a mix of interviews and tips, and a whole lot of good storytelling around the virtual campfire.
Within two weeks of launching, Under the Yoke peaked at #3 in Apple Podcast Wilderness categories, and #32 in Apple Podcasts Sports.
He averaged 800 – 1000 unique downloads a week since the start of 2020 and has tracked downloads in 29 different countries, with about 8 countries making up the bulk of his viewership (Canada, USA, Denmark, UK, Norway, Germany, Belgium, Australia).
I even brought Eric back to class to talk about the nitty gritty of building a brand from the ground up, including creating his different customer profiles, setting his business objective (SMART goal), determining his KPI’s and measuring what worked.
• Andy: Andreanne was already an established beauty blogger at A Certain Romance when she signed up for my class three summers ago. Her goal was clear: she wanted to increase her visibility and get her first paid gig as a blogger/influencer. By week 2 of the course, she had crafted a focused SMART goal (take the course and I’ll explain what that means). By week 12, she had organically increased her subscribers by 54% and her pageviews by 140%. Shortly after the course was over, Andy was offered an unpaid community management internship with a natural beauty company (which she declined). She also interviewed for a paid position as a community manager/content creator for a beauty distributor. She decided it wasn’t a right fit, so she kept looking. In the meantime, an offer to do her first sponsored post came in. Not long after, she hit the jackpot when she was picked to be the new Web and Social Media Editor at Canadian House and Home‘s French Edition, Maison & Demeure. And as of this Spring she became an Associate Editor at Chatelaine Magazine. Way to go, Andy!
Photo: Andreanne by Nick Reynolds
• Kamini: Kamini signed up for my class hoping to gain some new digital skills during her job search.
She created a WordPress blog about her cat Hewitt. OK, do we really need another cat or cupcake blog? Yes we do, if it’s funny and well-produced. Last spring, when Kamini was preparing for a job interview with Portable Intelligence, she used her blog as her portfolio, and reviewed all 12 class decks so she felt prepared. Things went well and she ended up showing her blog and some of her cat videos during her interview. Last June Kamini said yes to Portable Intelligence and became their Digital Marketing Specialist. It was her very first job in Canada since moving to Toronto from India. Go Kamini! PS: She has since retired her blog URL. Hewitt has moved on.
Hewitt by Kamini
• Julian: Julian was the first student I had who chose to use the course to set up a podcast. The idea of creating a series of fun and plain-speaking interviews for young gays who were new to big city living had been percolating in his mind for some time. In the fall of 2016, Julian debuted The Sassy Gay. Since then, he has kept a regular posting schedule and the show has become a recognized source of support in the LGBT community. Posts include: The Epidemic of Gay Loneliness and Coming out to your mom. He has also branched out and created a web series called Process where he interviews artists. Julian told me he was inspired by the class to challenge himself in the audio and video storytelling spaces. I’m proud of this guy.
• Shiva: Shiva Kumar Shunmugam took my online class in the Winter of 2016. He was one of the most active and engaged students in this class of 35. So much of what Shiva did and said was rooted in kindness and his strong desire to help other students who were adjusting to the demands of digital communications in their workplaces. When Hurricane Harvey hit metropolitan Houston a few years ago, Shiva, who manages the social media accounts for Beaumont, a town in northern Alberta, stepped in to help a family in Beaumont, Texas who emailed him accidentally. This Digital Strategy grad donned his superhero cape to help this family. Here is a teaser from CTV:
BEAUMONT, Alta. — Shiva Kumar Shunmugam was wrapping up a lazy summer afternoon tending to social media feeds for the Alberta town of Beaumont when a strange request came into the fire hall’s Facebook page.
“Terrell houses are flooding need help,” it said.
Beaumont, Alta., a town of about 18,000 just south of Edmonton, doesn’t have a Terrell neighbourhood and the area hadn’t seen a drop of rain in almost a week.
Shunmugam quickly realized he was dealing with someone in Beaumont, Texas, a community not far from Houston, that has a Terrell Avenue and was hit by Hurricane Harvey.
A woman near Dallas was seeking a rescue for her daughter’s family of four who had floodwater rushing into their Beaumont home.
In her frantic search for help, the mother mistakenly happened upon the page for the fire department in Beaumont, Alta., 3,800 kilometres away.
Shunmugam swung into action.
You can read the full story of Shiva’s life saving community management tactics here. Suffice it to say, we’re proud to know this guy.
• Jumol came to class as a PR & communications strategist and writer with bylines in IN Magazine, Notable Life, Xtraand Local Love. But he had yet to write for a publication that allowed him to have deeper conversations that would encourage readers, especially in the LGBTQ community, to shift their perceptions from fear to love.
So Jumol created,Deeper Conversations, a “dose of soul-stirring conversations that cut straight to the heart of the matter featuring thought leaders, spiritual teachers and inspirational influencers who are passionate about healing, wellness and wholehearted living.” I’m proud to update here that Jumol was hired by Xtra as a contributing writer. He was also the script for a recent Nike video campaign in Toronto featuring members of Canada’s Black #LGBTQ2 community.
• Anais came to my course while on mat leave.
A marketing pro who loves analyzing human behaviour and understanding why we buy things we regret, why we don’t save money, and why we love a brand we’ve never even tried, she created a blog that digs into our purchase decisions, using a snackable blog format packed with illustrations.
• Wendy created Acorn & Thimble, a gorgeous sage and blush site to showcase her sewing skills and pattern reviews.
This is her Sorrento Bucket Hat.
Could she be any more charming?
• Elsa: Wendy’s classmate, Elsa, is also a genius at the sewing machine. She came to class as a fashion entrepreneur hoping to create brand awareness for her designs, unisex African streetcar pieces called NanaBenz. Elsa explains the name for her company: “I wanted to pay homage to my matriarchs who were #BossLady of their times. ‘Les Nana Benz’ was a term used to describe wealthy West African female merchants who built their fortune from trading textiles.”
• Sarah: When Covid-19 hit, Sarah decided to go with a topic that felt really personal. Sarah’s Silver Linings is a lifestyle blog/vlog with tips and commentary about how to make the most of this life, all while growing out your silver hair.
About nine weeks into posting to her blog and Instagram. Sarah and her blog appeared on Global Morning Atlantic in a Top 10 roundup of people making the most of the lockdown .
Since I started teaching, I have witnessed many success stories. One more pops to mind. A lot of people who come to my class are fleeing dying industries. David was a copy editor at The Hamilton Spectator who felt confident enough with the new digital smarts he acquired in class to seek a job as a Communications Associate at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. “It was only a matter of time before the paper let me go,” he said. Like so many, David abandoned print media in favour of a communications job with more growth potential and stability.
Join me this term if you want to learn how to adapt to the new digital economy, or apply a strategic mindset to an idea you have for a written blog, web series or podcast. To learn more, check out this webpage from the University of Toronto’s School of Continuing Studies.
Why not? Then add some portable fire pits, picnic tables, and a team of servers in tuques and goose-down jackets.
Ski resorts, mountaintop bars, carnivals, and private Muskoka cottages have all figured out the logistics of outdoor dining in winter. We’re Canadians, for gosh sakes.
Has any friend in your apres-ski pod ever said, “I’m not going outside with my beer and club sandwich! What if I catch a cold or hypothermia?” No!
Instead they contracted rosy cheeks, a nice beer buzz, and a sense of camaraderie. And they dressed for it.
All that’s left to make this work in cities, as winter approaches, are pedestrian-only streets to accommodate our pandemic-weary selves. Our favourite local restaurants deserve some fast thinking.
Like so many things during Covid, the proposal to make Toronto’s main streets European-style pedestrian hubs has gone from pie-in-the-sky to how do we make this work in the next 8-12 weeks?
Prediction: I see an uptick in sales of snowsuits IF the city of Toronto embraces our current need for “open streets,” a concept Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam has been studying since 2012. Her powerful essay on open streets and spatial equity appears in the September issue of Toronto Life. Check it out!
Personally, I’d love to see “open streets” happen in my hood. The challenge: Roncesvalles Ave. is a major artery on the East/West streetcar line. And while extending patios across the sidewalks worked this summer — meaning you felt the breeze of passing red rockets as you dined on your cashew chicken — there are snowbanks to contend with during the winter. From a social distancing standpoint, nothing short of moving the whole line up of restaurants into the street would work.
I leave it to the experts to figure out the logistics of shorturning streetcars and adding buses, or opening up laneways to deliveries. Car traffic will still not be at pre-pandemic levels this winter, so those hellbent on accommodating cars first don’t even have two legs to stand on.
What matters most is the science: when it comes to Covid, exercise, dining and schooling are safer when conducted outdoors. Let’s figure it out.
As I search for a new fulfillment partner for my design biz, PenJarProductions.com, all eyes are on the fashion and garment industry.
How long will it keep promoting a race-based caste system that only benefits people who look like me? And will it finally decide to listen to scientists and consumers who keep documenting and tweeting out the financial and social costs of its exploitative relationship to nature?
Before Covid I sold pillows and totes designed, printed, assembled and sewn in Toronto. But not all of my fabrics were Canadian-made. That bugged me.
Mid-Covid I started asking why sourcing Canadian fabrics was so hard and found out that the garment industry all but shut down and moved overseas during our 20-year love affair with globalization.
By early April, as doctors and front line workers scrambled for protective coverings and masks, Canadians were asking themselves, “What were we thinking?”
So I am back to watching the horizon for signs of change. To help me make better decisions going forward, I’m reading everything I can get my hands on that offers a road map to the future.
This week, it’s Lily Cole’s book, Who Cares Wins: Reasons For Optimism in Our Changing World. Cole is an activist, writer, Cambridge grad and former model. Having fronted some of fashion’s biggest campaigns, her insider status helps highlight the need for new business models with more transparent supply chains and new metrics to measure success.
The shareholder insistence on year-over-year growth needs to be replaced by metrics that focus on human and environmental wellbeing. From a consumer POV that means buying fewer disposable things in favour of things that last.
“Ironically, it’s about loving material things more,” says Cole. It’s like that Chanel suit your grandmother bought in 1955 and passed down the generations.
“The more you love something, the more you respect it,” says Cole. This mindset is less wasteful and places more emphasis on the artisanal craftsmanship of each garment.
This past May marked the passing of Henry Slatkoff, the white golden retriever so many of you fell in love with on Instagram and in person.
Typical reaction: “Oh look at the “snow bear,” said a nice old lady when we were out on a walk last summer. She ruffled his ears for a good five minutes and went home happy.
Yesterday, Henry’s Mom — my friend and neighbour Melissa — brought home Rupert. And the love engines are revving again.
As with Henry, I am Rupert’s “fairy dog mother” and caretaker when Mama Melissa needs a yoga time-out or a holiday. Afterall, it takes a village to raise a kid and a dog.
When Melissa asked me to bestow a middle name on Rupert, I immediately thought of Paul: Rupert Paul (RuPaul) Slatkoff. But his nature, now that we’ve met him, bends more towards sweet and floppy, not strutting and fabulous. So I suggested Trevor, to build on the British theme.
Trevor was my dad’s name. He loooooved dogs. He had a black lab from the time he was born in the late 1920s until the day he died in 2011.
What’s your best advice to young women? – Take breaks
And to young men? – Notice your surroundings, and stand up where necessary.
What’s your Five-Year Plan? – Five-year? This is 2020. No one makes 5 year plans anymore. Six months is more like it.
What’s on your lap? – My planner. Only I’m not using it to track my social media campaigns.
Explain – Since Covid began, I feel compelled to fill in the date spaces with a run down of all the explosions in the economy and job market. You know, this restaurant closed, that department store is toast, sales of floaties are up. etc. etc.
Why are you doing that? – Because it’s the only way I know how to decipher where the opportunities might lie for me and my friends in a Covid and post-Covid world. I ain’t tracking my Instagram followers like I was reluctantly doing pre-pandemic.
Why reluctantly? – I don’t take a scoreboard approach to anything.
Who’s your mentor: Anyone redefining the American definition of success.
Cats or dogs? – Look for Henry in my Instagram feed and you’ll know.
Finish this sentence: the worst kind of man ….: is over-reliant on free female labour.
Finish this sentence: the best kind of man …: sees the potential in humans who are nothing like him and looks for ways to help them succeed.
… The worst kind of woman: votes against the best interests of her gender (more life-altering stuff happens to us).
… And the best? – Becomes who she was meant to be and gives back twice as much because she feels empowered.
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned about yourself during the Quarantine? – That I’m still born to be a freelancer.
Why do you look so surprised? ~ Because I’m wondering how you got into my apartment.
My brain cells were popcorn listening to Joe Jackman in conversation with Tara Hunt and Stefani Forster for the Anatomy of a Strategy Podcast (July 5, 2020 episode). As Joe says, “The future arrives daily. Create it now. Get it out of the lab. You don’t need to place big bets. Be thoughtful about where you are going, and learn your way into it. If you are not participating in the creation of the future, then it’s being done to you.”
I picked up a copy of Joe’s latest book, The Reinventionist, to keep the conversation going.