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Working Outside the Box

Three businesses born from creativity

It takes a lot of creativity to start your own business. You have to think outside of the box – how to promote yourself, how to design a better widget, how to stand out from the crowd.

But a large number of start-up businesses in Airdrie are based on creative endeavours to begin with, from web design and photography to an innovative way of delivering retail.

airdrielife spoke to three local startup business owners who wear their creativity on their sleeves.

Joanne

03 06Images by Joanne

Joanne McMonagle never expected to make a living shooting photographs, much less photos of newborn babies and glowing mothers-to-be.

“Many photographers have a dream when they’re young to be a photographer when they grow up, but I never thought for two minutes I would be one,” says McMonagle, who left her job in a law firm and started Images by Joanne in 2012, based out of her home studio in southwest Airdrie.

“I bought a nice DSLR camera and a girlfriend had a baby and I said, ‘Just for fun, do you want me to take some pictures?’” McMonagle recalls of the moment the shutterbug bit. She found she had a knack for photographing newborns (as in fewer-than-two-weeks-old) and babies, and taking maternity photos, as well.

But she didn’t put up her shingle overnight. McMonagle says that she spent the better part of two years learning her craft first. “I didn’t feel good enough to start advertising … I wanted to perfect my art before I started up an official business,” she says. “So it was two years of hounding friends for their babies!

“When I look back at the beginning stuff to now, it was, ‘My lord, what was I thinking?’ But everyone has to start somewhere,” she adds.

McMonagle says that the fact she launched a new career later in life also helped. Her children had grown, which allowed her “time to sit at the computer for hours and edit and learn,” she says.

While she has done some weddings and even boudoir photography, McMonagle focuses on newborn, baby and maternity photography. “The size of Airdrie, there are plenty of babies to go around!” she says. “The most rewarding is seeing the parents’ joy when they see the finished product.”

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Seven Saints Designs

Last spring, childhood friends Jen Friesen and Erin Hardy launched Seven Saints Designs, a fashion boutique on four wheels.

Rather than anchor themselves to a storefront, the partners bought a 22-foot 1976 Vanguard motorhome, renovated the interior for display areas and fitting rooms, and since late April have taken their show on the road to the Airdrie Farmers Market, private residences and venues from Calgary to Red Deer.

“We have everything you’d find in a regular little fashion boutique, only on wheels,” says Hardy. “I’m an interior decorator and we tossed around the idea of one day having a shop, and I always loved fashion.”

Partner Friesen says that the “fashion truck” format, similar to food trucks, offers the type of flexibility a storefront doesn’t.

“One of the benefits is we don’t have the overhead a typical store would have, and we’re not locked into a lease,” she says. “So that way we can put our resources into our inventory.”

Besides turning up at the farmers market, the two also host Home Shopping Socials for customers. (“They want us to bring it to their house, we’ll bring it to their house,” says Friesen.)

Seven Saints (named in honour of the seven children between the two partners) offers lines of fashions that Friesen and Hardy say appeal to their sense of style, yet are practical. Accessories and jewelry are also part of the mix.

“Erin has done a great job sourcing labels that is exactly the stuff we would wear,” says Friesen.

According to Hardy, social media has been a major booster of Seven Saints, as followers on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter keep track of where they’ll be next.

And Friesen adds that she hopes to see a Seven Saints online store launched in the near future.

Switchback Creative

Since June 2014, Trevor and Suzy Rounce have parlayed their passion for creativity and web design into their own start-up, Switchback Creative, which focuses on print and web-design services and marketing.

“I’m actually a master electrician by trade, but I always had a passion for web design,” recalls Trevor, originally from Fort McMurray, who played hockey across Alberta before settling down in Airdrie 14 years ago. “I never really got serious about it until a couple years ago when we talked about doing this full time.”

Suzy, originally from Calgary, studied digital communications at ACAD (Alberta College of Art + Design). After working for several companies and moving out to Airdrie a few years ago, she felt it was time to launch her own web-design business.

Switchback has worked with several businesses, non-profits and events in Airdrie, Canmore, Cochrane and Calgary, including ARTember and Creative Airdrie.

“We want to [help clients] create a following that loves their brand and what they’re doing,” says Suzy. “People think they need … to put an ad in every newspaper and have 20 different social media accounts. If you do one thing well, whether it’s a print ad or a great blog section on a website, then it focuses on what you’re doing.”

The demands of web design mean that Trevor and Suzy have to keep up on the latest technology and design trends. “One of my rules is to always try to beat my last website,” Trevor says. “But unless you’re trying to better yourself, you fall behind and you look dated very quickly.”

The Rounces hope to eventually expand their business into a storefront, and attract more businesses from Cochrane and Canmore. Suzy says that they’re passionate mountain-bikers – the name Switchback comes from the sport – and would love to work with more outdoor-adventure businesses.

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