Alison Garwood Jones

My Freelancer Life: Think Diversification

October 5, 2020

In these clips with my interview with Nargiz Mammadova, I talk about:

  • Learning magazine writing on the job
  • Preserving my naivete, and not giving in to fear
  • My dashed dreams of being a newspaper columnist (don’t be a dinosaur, Alison)
  • Why the media business model is still in flux
  • Adapting constantly
  • Why the old markers of success — where you went to school and who you know — are losing their power.

Nargiz Mammadova, the co-founder and CEO of the Destin AI app, an AI-powered virtual guide that simplifies the immigration process to Canada. (@destin.ai)

Nargiz and I met a few years ago after I delivered a talk for IABC Toronto. She came bounding up to me. 

It turns out, while building the Destin AI app with her team, she was simultaneously filming a web series of interviews with creative entrepreneurs, both as a way to fuel and encourage herself through the day-to-day challenges of building something that didn’t yet exist, but as inspiration for her friends, also trying to make their way through disrupted workplaces and the evolving technological landscape.

Our conversation was shot pre-Covid. 

You can check out all of Nargiz’s full interviews (including this one) at “Insights With Nargiz.”

• Produced by Nargiz Mammadova • Videographer: Gary Chen • Video Editing: Elnur Valiyev • Extra family photos added by Alison Garwood-Jones

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Growing up in an artistic home

October 5, 2020

The soil I grew up in was planted with art, music and literature. Mind you, I didn’t start seriously reading until university. I was too busy staring at the layout of my marker sets. 

The following clips are from my interview with Nargiz Mammadova, the co-founder and CEO of the Destin AI app, an AI-powered virtual guide that simplifies the immigration process to Canada. (@destin.ai)

Nargiz and I met a few years ago after I delivered a talk for IABC Toronto. She came bounding up to me. 

It turns out, while building the Destin AI app with her team, she was simultaneously filming a web series of interviews with creative entrepreneurs, both as a way to fuel and encourage herself through the day-to-day challenges of building something that didn’t yet exist, but as inspiration for her friends, also trying to make their way through disrupted workplaces and the evolving technological landscape.

Our conversation was shot pre-Covid. 

You can check out all of Nargiz’s full interviews (including this one) at Insights With Nargiz on YouTube.

• Produced by Nargiz Mammadova •Videographer:  Gary Chen •Video Editing: Elnur Valiyev • Extra family photos added by Alison Garwood-Jones

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Do you have to be an extrovert to be on social media?

September 28, 2020

Photo: Gary Chen

I only take to social media when I feel I have something compelling to share.

Compelling for me is not about waving your arms or starting fires, it’s about being quietly and deeply human. It’s about embracing the original ideals of social media — namely scaling empathy through the power of self-publishing.

In these clips, I talk about how you don’t have to be an extrovert to be on social, but you do have to learn and practice “getting outside of yourself.” The following clips are from my interview with Nargiz Mammadova, the co-founder and CEO of the Destin AI app, an AI-powered virtual guide that simplifies the immigration process to Canada. (@destin.ai)

Nargiz and I met a few years ago after I delivered a talk for IABC Toronto. She came bounding up to me. It turns out, while building the Destin AI app with her team, she was simultaneously filming a web series of interviews with creative entrepreneurs, both as a way to fuel and encourage herself through the day-to-day challenges of building something that didn’t yet exist, but as inspiration for her friends, also trying to make their way through disrupted workplaces and the evolving technological landscape.

Our conversation was shot pre-Covid.

You can check out all of Nargiz’s full interviews (including this one) at: https://bit.ly/2FK0olj

Produced by Nargiz Mammadova • Videographer: Gary Chen • Video Editing: Elnur Valiyev

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Avoiding a scoreboard approach to social media

September 23, 2020


Taking a competitive “scoreboard” approach to social media is guaranteed to mess with your mind, but even more so when you are an artist. 

Somehow, though, we have to balance creativity with being our own PR and Marketing Departments. I have opinions on that.

The following clips are from my interview with Nargiz Mammadova, the co-founder and CEO of the Destin AI app, an AI-powered virtual guide that simplifies the immigration process to Canada. (@destin.ai)

Nargiz and I met a few years ago after I delivered a talk for IABC Toronto. She came bounding up to me. 

It turns out, while building the Destin AI app with her team, she was simultaneously filming a web series of interviews with creative entrepreneurs, both as a way to fuel and encourage herself through the day-to-day challenges of building something that didn’t yet exist, but as inspiration for her friends, also trying to make their way through disrupted workplaces and the evolving technological landscape.

Our conversation was shot pre-Covid. 

You can check out all of Nargiz’s interviews at Insights with Nargiz on YouTube.

Produced by Nargiz Mammadova • Videographer:  Gary Chen • Video Editing: Elnur Valiyev

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“Toronto Made”? Yes please!

September 14, 2020

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.

I’d like to see this for my design store, PenJarProductions.

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).

City of Toronto’s Economic Development & Culture division (EDC)'s Toronto Made survey

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.

Toronto Island Ferry Pillow

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My next IABC Keynote Address

September 11, 2020

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) 

My title slide:

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The official invite:

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Bye for now,

Alison 

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Outdoor dining in Winter

August 22, 2020

Muskoka chairs in winter?

Steve Behal’s apres-ski routine. Photo: Jeannie Catchpole

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.

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Borscht Belt Humor

August 20, 2020

Illustration of a car doing to the Catskills by Alison Garwood-Jones

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Will the fashion industry listen?

August 19, 2020

As I search for a new fulfillment partner for my design biz, PenJarProductions.com, all eyes are on the fashion and garment industry.

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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.

Source: Lily Cole sits down with Imran Amed in episode 225 of the Business of Fashion Podcast.

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Milton Glaser

August 12, 2020

Milton Glaser was (and is) my teacher. He didn’t know that. But I know it and so do the thousands of other attuned souls who sidled up to him for wisdom.

When Milton explained that “Attentiveness is the great benefit of drawing,” I instantly understood why drawing had taken hold of me over words. 

Becoming attentive about your life is a question for every human, he said, not just artists. 

But there’s a rub: to pay attention without preconceptions was massively challenging. As he explained it, too much belief spelled the end to observation and understanding.

“Looking is not seeing.”

And so I have my marching orders: connect the dots, accept what is, ask, “Am I doing harm?” and know that the iconic will rise from the force of your intuition.

Thank you, Milton

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