Why did you choose to attend OCAD U?
When I first heard about the Material Art and Design (MAAD) program at OCAD U, I knew it would be a good fit for me. My interests have always been hard to pin down, and while I came into university with a strong interest in fashion design, I didn't want to confine myself to one discipline. In MAAD, I was able to study textiles, ceramics, jewelry, printmaking and wearable technology. The breadth of techniques and topics at OCAD U really appealed to me, and exposed me to techniques and methodologies I couldn't have conceived of when I was enrolling.
Please briefly describe your current job/practice.
I am a wearable technologist, seamstress and a community organizer in Toronto's maker scene. I just wrapped up a stint as a Studio [Y] fellow at MaRS Discovery District, a program that helps support young people through socially engaged projects and builds capacity to create social change. For me, that meant organizing Toronto's maker and makerspace community through a series of meetups called Make Friends along with another OCAD U alumni Lindy Wilkins. This work culminated in a conference, Make Change, that ran as a satellite event for Toronto Maker Festival. I jump back and forth between a lot of different approaches in the work I do.
How did you get started in your career?
I've always doggedly pursued people who I think are interesting, and made it basically impossible for them not to work with me. Good mentorship, and organizations that I am passionate about have taken me further than I have ever imagined. I applied to my internship at WORN four months before the deadline, and kept taking on projects past the date of the internship. From seeking out people I admire, and projects that fascinate me, I've met all kinds of wonderful people I've been lucky enough to work with, like digital design firm Hot Pop Factory (http://www.hotpopfactory.com/) and the folks at the makerspace Site 3 coLaboratory (http://www.site3.ca/).
I also apply to programs, residencies, and grants frequently. While I am almost always rejected, the few times I haven't been have been incredible.
Did you volunteer or work in your field while you were a student?
I volunteered for WORN Fashion Journal all through out my time at OCAD U. I also had the opportunity to work at the Social Body Lab in OCAD U's Digital Media and Innovation Hub making wearable technologies. Otherwise, I was working as a seamstress at an independent boutique.
What were your policies regarding internships, volunteering, and paid work?
As someone who does a lot of community based projects, frequently my labour is unpaid. Most of the work I have done in the maker community has been volunteer work, but has always sprung from a deep passion to manifest the things I want to see in the world. I teach the classes that I want to exist, and try to create the spaces that I want to inhabit. I ran a community pop up shop called Site Bee (https://www.facebook.com/Site-Bee-Popup-Shop-1386623644958076/) a couple summers ago, based on the ethic of collective work, and free access to learning. I've given up a lot of leisure time to create projects and communities that are meaningful to me, and don't always fit into the market economy. Many of these projects have led to sponsorships, freelance contracts, and being able to continue this work through my fellowship at MaRS with Studio Y.
When it comes to volunteering for others, it's more of a personal choice. I take issue with large organizations only offering unpaid internships when they could afford to pay a salary. I have volunteered for many amazing organizations who struggle to make ends meet, and the financial reality of the organization has always been transparent. Free labour isn't always exploitative, but young people have enough trouble getting established that their time should be paid whenever possible. I love to volunteer for events my friends put on, like the Toronto Queer Zine Fair, because it's incredibly gratifying when you know the time you put into something makes a genuine difference.
What do you enjoy most about your work? What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
I love the variety of things I do in my work. From teaching workshops, to sewing prototypes, to running events, to brainstorming with peers, no two days look alike. For me, that's the dream. I'm not someone who can sit at a desk and do repetitive tasks. That being said, the most challenging aspect is navigating uncertainty, which comes along with variety. I'm learning to come to terms with not knowing what will come next, because anxiety about the future does not make it any more knowable.
What skills or relationships developed at OCAD U helped you participate in your field? Is there anything you would have done differently?
The emphasis on theory and critical dialogue at OCAD U has really influenced the way I approach my work. I'm always reading and this helps me contextualize the things I make, whether they are an object or an event, within a discourse of material culture and changing approaches to production.
Working with Kate Hartman, and the team at the Social Body Lab has really influenced the way I think and work as well. The lab is always focused on how people relate to technologies, which has helped me internalize human-centered design methods. The work I was involved in at the Social Body Lab has always been interesting and challenging. I worked on a project to develop fashionable cycling lights, along with fashion designer Angella Mackey. The project is called Vega Edge, and we went on to raise $34 000 on Kickstarter, produce all the lights in Toronto and ship them around the world.
If I could have done anything differently, I would have collaborated more with other students at OCAD U during my time there.
What are the key responsibilities you maintain for your practice?
A lot of the work I do is administration, which is not what I imagined I would do. But being organized, and communicating clearly is important for bringing people together. I could not survive without Google apps. Drive, gCal, and Gmail keep my life functioning. Also, having a tight group of collaborators is extremely important to me. From making wearable technology projects, to running conferences, none of the things I do could happen without a network of friends with shared passions and divergent skill sets. My practice is essential many side jobs cobbled together to make a livelihood.
What are your personal and professional goals for the coming years?
I'm going to go travel for a few months in Asia, and do independent research into maker culture, industrial production and sustainability. I want to understand the broader context of what it means to produce objects in a globalized economy before I decide how I want to move forward with my career. We live on a finite planet, and I want to find a way to create a better reality, rather than working in a paradigm that destroys resources and renders them useless.