She Was A Free Spirit

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    Adding colour to this world, one bead at a time. © Erica Donovan (2)

    To create is to heal

    I take inspiration from the environment around me, from our brilliant Arctic skies to the vibrant fall hues of the tundra. I have always loved colours, so it brings me great joy to bring beautiful pops of colour into the universe through my beadwork. When I’m creating, I’m also always thinking about how I can honour my Inuvialuit culture in my work, as well as reflecting myself personally. I love the Inuvialuit dance parka trims, for example, so for my jewellery I mix the basic elements of those patterns with my unique colour combinations. 

    My journey to launching my own line started in 2017, when I joined a creative card holder course hosted by the Great Northern Arts Festival (GNAF) in Inuvik, NWT. The moosehide purse we created used the brick stitch technique. The brick stitch technique weaves one bead at a time horizontally to create your chosen design. I knew before taking the program that I could go on to make jewellery, and it didn’t take long for me to realize I had a talent for colour coordinating. 

    I’ve had an entrepreneurial mind since a young age, thanks to my late grandfather Eddy Gruben who founded E. Gruben’s Transport, so I also knew I needed to “brand” my work. I reflected on what meant most to me to define my brand, which today is known as She Was A Free Spirit. My original logo included my grandfather’s boat that was named after my mother Tootsie. The brand name itself represents my love for my mother and my resilience from the impact of intergenerational trauma. To create is to heal, and creating, for me, has had a huge positive impact for my own personal growth and my ability to move forward with love and forgiveness in my heart. It also is an amazing feeling to inspire others like me to know we can thrive in this world regardless of where we have come from or what we have been through. 

    © Nathalie Joe

    I feel really lucky to have had such positive successes with my craft in this short period of time, from receiving messages of hope and inspiration from people who are wearing something I have created, to the amazing experiences I’ve had as a result of creating my brand. There are so many fantastic Indigenous-led events and organizations providing support and networks for creators. I attended the first Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) as a vendor, and there I started to make amazing connections in the art and fashion world. We are all like-minded individuals trying to do our part in reconciliation through our love of fashion. I was invited back for the second IFWTO festival and sold out quickly and am now preparing to attend the third fashion show this spring as a vendor in Toronto. In 2021, I was also a Featured Artist two times with Fabrique 1840 of Simons, as a supplier representing the NWT, and I sold out within minutes of both of my launches on their site. 

    My line has also given me the opportunity to work with some incredible Indigenous women. Victoria Kakuktinniq of Victoria’s Arctic Fashion invited me to accessorize her show at Paris Fashion Week in 2019. I was also invited to collaborate with Caroline Blechert of Creations for Continuity, who specializes in quill work, for an exclusive collection that has truly one-of-a-kind pieces. Currently, I am creating for Proudly Indigenous Craft & Design, which has led to accessorizing two Inuit/Inuvialuit influencers with huge followings: Shina Nova (@shinanova) and Marika Sila (@marikasila). Shina Nova has worn her She Was A Free Spirit earrings in a commercial for CF Rideau Centre in Ottawa and on City News speaking out on Indigenous rights in her Tiktoks, which get millions of views. She was recently photographed wearing them standing beside the world-famous Pharrell Williams. 

    I love beadwork and I am really committed to my jewellery line but I consider myself a student of life, so I am always excited about learning new things, whether from courses and workshops or from my day-to-day experiences. I am continually participating in the local programming put on by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation, and in those workshops I’ve created high top moccasin slippers, and, just recently, a parka. I also just completed the first Circumpolar Fashion Cohort with Entreprenorth— a nine-month program where we were taught intensively how to take our craft and turn it into a business. The program was mind-blowing as a fashion enthusiast because it was led and mentored by some top names in Indigenous Fashion from all over the world. We were star struck daily as students and were given lessons that will last a lifetime. 

    I’m also excited about being accepted into the National Fur Design Competition that will be held in Toronto, Ontario, at Ryerson University this spring, 2022. I, along with other Canadian designers, will have a really valuable opportunity to expand our knowledge of working with fur to create modern yet traditional clothing. There are so many different ways to direct creative energy and to share my ideas and values. In 2019 I also used my new-found passion for creation to co-coordinate the Arctic Fashion Show in Inuvik for the GNAF, partnering with Leslie Villeneuve for a show stopping event that still is talked about today. 

    The four years since I started She Was A Free Spirit have been such an incredible period of growth and learning for me and I am so grateful to all the amazing mentors and collaborators with whom I’ve built relationships. I have been able to really clarify what is important to me in life, what my values and my strengths are, and that gives me a great sense of what I believe I can offer through my creative work. At this point I feel totally inspired to work harder than ever and I am open to whatever experiences the universe has ready for me. I can’t wait to see what the next few years bring. 

    VIAErica Donovan
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