Tuesday, March 26, 2013

T.E.S.T. Interview: Beyond The Jar

We hope to introduce you to all the great Etsy sellers to be found right here in Toronto. Here at the T.E.S.T. blog, we plan to interview them all. This is the 49th in our series with Flavia and Dona of BeyondTheJar.

How did you two get started?

We crossed paths during our early years of university and since we have been tight like a lid on a jar! Over the years, our passion for social change, community work and art strengthened our relationship.

Beyond The Jar specifically started with the both of us (Dona & Flavia), as bridesmaids to our really close friend who is getting married this year, landing on some gorgeous decorative mason jars while searching for wedding related decorations and venues. During this time, the idea of starting our own social enterprise was in the works, but we were still unsure what our focus would be! When we saw these mason jars, and the infinite ways to use them, we thought: why not combine our fields of work (one in the environmental sector and one in social work) and upcycle* mason and glass jars, only to then give back to the community? (* upcycling is the process of converting waste into new materials for better environmental value)

Sounds too ideal, right? Well, we’re here now!

We followed through and started this small business as a vehicle to unleash our creativity, while reducing our environmental footprint! When thinking about which population group to work with, we realized that the best group to engage in art would be newcomer youth, since we were both one at one point and this stage truly shaped who we are today.

Tell me about how your creative/collaborative process works.

We are dreamers. Our style represents an eclectic, one-of-a-kind, upcycled and handpainted decorative glass jar art, which reduces waste and supports art projects for newcomer youth. We try to create most of our jars working together - it’s the most fun we have (with music playing in the the background)! We work as each other’s sounding board and we enjoy sharing feedback to enhance each creative vision. At times though, we have to work separately to get customer orders out as quickly as possible, based on the jar designs we have each mastered. This way we can maintain a balance between enjoying the work we do while keeping our customers happy.

Where do you go for inspiration, and how do you come up with your designs?

We get inspired a LOT, by many things we come across (thankfully this world offers so much beauty). A lot of the time we get inspired through browsing the internet, following trendy art blogs and getting to know fellow business owner who upcycle, decorate and refurbish furniture. We also collect pages of magazines and take pictures or sketch anything that catches our eye. Most of the time, we purposefully walk outdoors. Being embedded in the natural environment invigorates us and stimulates the deepest parts of our creative brain and imagination, so we capture that inspiration, and then unleash as soon as the jars are in our hands!

Social justice and environmental responsibility seem to be central to you - can you talk about the role of these values in your work?

Being a social worker, and working with marginalized women, including newcomers, Flavia wanted to create a way to support this community through her own creative, healing and fun enterprise. She has experienced and witnessed how art therapy and art in general helps women find a safe space to express themselves, build friendships and escape their complex and multifaceted realities. She wanted to spread that engaging medium to newcomer youth.

Dona’s heart is set on stewarding our environment and particularly our water resources, and was determined to make sure what we embarked on would have a minimal environmental footprint. In addition, inspired by the books “Walk Out, Walk On” by Meg Wheatley and Deborah Frieze, which focused on how marginal communities upcycle "junk" and inventively transform it to address their most basic needs, and “The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau, they were motivated to adopt the concept of upcycling in their mission statement and just go ahead, trust their guts and venture into the world of social entrepreneurship.

What are your biggest dreams for your business?

We plan to continue facilitating youth art workshops! It’s a really fun and fulfilling part of our lives outside of our daily jobs. We will also be participating in summer hand-made markets (so do come and check us out on Facebook & Twitter to find out where we’ll be!) and we will definitely continue creating beautiful jars.

As long-term and hopeful goals, we’d like to one day open our own studio where we can host workshops on-site with newcomer youth and other marginalized groups (and sell home-made cookies, fresh coffee and tea and listen to International music!). We might even make our way into the wedding market - stay tuned!

Your store is called “Beyond the Jar” – can you tell me a bit about yourselves beyond “Beyond the Jar”?

Flavia is a social worker who works with marginalized and street involved women in a community-based agency. She is also a research coordinator for a participatory action research project at York University. She has been a dancer since the age of 3 and during her off time, when she is not working or creating new jars or updating Beyond The Jar’s social media sites, she enjoys taking Zumba classes, which lets her latin flare out, and hip hop classes! During her entire university career she was part of the university's competitive dance team! She was born and raised in Italy, although her dad is from Ecuador, and came to Canada with her family at the age of 12. Now she lives alone in Canada, while her family is in Bolivia. Throughout Flavia’s childhood and adulthood her mom, who is an eclectic artist herself, instilled in her a love and appreciation for all types of art, all that is handmade and decorating. Her mom is her number one inspiration and supporter!

Dona works as a Hub Manager (for Southern Ontario) with Waterlution, a non-profit organization, acting as a community-builder, host and facilitator for multi-stakeholder dialogue around water. Outside of her day job she has an admiration for languages and is currently taking Spanish courses (already speaks Arabic and French fluently) and loves adventurous and cultured travel. She was born and raised in Lebanon and moved with her family to Canada at the age of 14. She has taken art classes since a child, entered competitions and won awards. She always found art to be the perfect outlet for her creativity and for the extensive alone time she spent as a kid. Today, in her spare time, Dona likes to browse coursera.org and take (free!) classes on innovation, creativity and business management.

What is your biggest passion outside of your craft business?

Flavia’s biggest passions include social work, community based research, dance and photography. She also loves to knit and is looking forward to learning how to sew. And of course food and travelling! For Dona it’s really simple. Water stewardship, travel and exploring creativity.

Toronto Pride: What’s your favourite real-life haunt or neighbourhood around the city, and why?

It’s a hard to pick one because we have two! Queen Street and Kensington Market place equally on our favourites list! We love all the unique shops, restaurants and artists who occupy both areas!

Beyond The Jar will be at the Blooming Earth Festival Handmade Market + Fashion Show in Kitchener on April 27, 8am-4pm and at the Gifts of My Hand Market at the Sorauren Park in Toronto on May 27, 3-7pm.

Check out the other items available from Flavia and Dona in their Etsy shop! You can find more of their work on their website, Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest.

Interviewed by Sarah of BllkBox Clothing in March 2013 in Toronto.

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