Friday, November 25, 2011

Colour Couture: Heed the Free on the Runway

Last week, 52 visionary fashion designers strutted their stuff down the runway at Blanche Macdonald's Graduation Fashion show.  Sara Armstrong, home grown Saskie, launched her "Heed the Free - an eco conundrum".  Sara's inspiration behind the collection was to create beautiful garments using an ecological framework. Each piece of her collection, from the head-dresses to the shoes was created or re-inspired from previously loved items. 
Here the pictures of the runway show.  

Colour Couture

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

An old soul resurrected.

She is an old soul, with a passion for making art with history and integrity and she is going to be famous.

After completing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Regina in May 2010, Sara Armstrong moved to Vancouver to study fashion design at Blanche Macdonald. One year later, her design is featured on the cover of Blanche Macdonald's fashion design graduate show, entitled "Colour Couture."

She took with her 21 years of artistic experience that included dance, painting, sculpting, video and multi-media creations. To Sara it seemed, the medium did not matter, so much as the message.

I like to think of Sara as the Marshall McLuhan of her time.

Whatever the medium, her creations tend to be arresting and soulful with a statement. For example, the 8 - foot headless mannequin dressed in depression black skirting and a metal chest plate that stood out in a field was a haunting yet respectful statement about how the great depression affects the psyche of women today.  Reaching out to her deceased grandparents whom she never knew, Sara created a turn of the century communication machine to send a message to them. 

She is talented. No doubt.  But having talent is only part of the patchwork of success.  One needs to have a head for business and marketing, be focused and determined, and be prepared for work.  Since moving to Vancouver in July 2010, Sara attended school, worked a part-time job to supplement her income, and interned for  Shelley Klassen, a Vancouver designer and owner of Blushing Boutique, who continues to teach her about the business side of the fashion business.

In between school, work and interning, Sara also volunteered to work fashion shows to gain behind-the-scenes experience. She took classes to learn how to felt wool and how to make shoes.  Sara, along with friend  Kelly Cairns, started Motel June,  an eco - fashion clothing line. 

Sara's new line that will be featured at the show carries the eco-fashion message as well, with each piece of fabric being created by Armstrong herself or resurrected from another previously loved and lived garment, right down to the shoes.

Every year, Blanche Macdonald provides the springboard for a new generation of talented designers to begin their journey into the wide world of fashion.  The School is the launch pad for many successful careers in the fashion industry including Shannon Wilson, owner and designer of lululemon athletica, Tenille Magnusson, head designer of Aritzia's and Canada’s favourite line, Wilfred, and Lisa Malcic whose Beba Bean line boasts A-list celebrity clients and is sold in top retailers including Barneys New York and Nordstroms.

On November 23, a new generation of designers, including Sara,  will launch their careers and their visions.  I will be there in the front row with a camera.

A Glimpse at the Future

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

How to conduct a memorable performance review

This article is written from the point of view of what happens when a performance review is badly managed.  Organizations that follow responsible performance management programs ensure that employees have a clear view of their expectations and performance standards and that anything that needed to be addressed during the year was addressed when it occurred.  The performance review process should therefore contain no surprises.  Moreover, the process should be transparent, in that the employee is fully aware of the discussion before he or she enters the room. Lastly, I would suggest that performance reviews are built on trust and respect, therefore it is of the utmost importance that the performance review methodology for the organization is well documented and supported with tools, processes and training for managers. When a performance review is mishandled and an employee is mistreated in the process, it is nearly impossible to regain the trust of the employee, if at all. Here is a link that I find useful in describing what a good performance review process looks like.

1.  Do not set goals and targets with your employees. That way, you can change the expectations and hold them accountable at the same time.  As an added benefit, you never risk any financial rewards. This saves the company time and money!

2.  Do not set weightings. That way, employees can be flexible and responsive to whatever needs to be done throughout the year.  Employees will rely on you every day for your excellent micro-management capabilities in balancing priorites and making decisions about how to spend their time. You will be god in their eyes. 

3.  Set up a special meeting at year end (as close to Christmas as possible is best) and send the official blank template. Ask the employee to record accomplishments, giving the person the opportunity to show off a little.  But don't let them know what will happen next. Being surprised is part of the fun and makes for nimble employees.  

4. Be Earnest! Carefully review and study their document before the meeting, in complete isolation.  Make changes to their document but do not share it with the employee.  That way, you are in control of the situation, and the employee will be surprised, and possibly speechless.

 5.  Meet face-to-face. Surprise the employee  with a new document full of your good advice and surprises. Focus your feedback on non-work related content. After all, they already know what they did. See this as an excellent coaching opportunity to make the employee not only a better employee, but a better person. You might want to comment on their fashion sense, style, voice and body language. Make recommendations for improvement. 

6.   Stay on task so that you get all your points across regardless of the employee`s reaction. This way, you can communicate your valuable insights and reinforce your keen interest in their success.  As well, the employee is less likely to use the `no goals`defense strategy because the employee will be focused on matters of a personal nature. In football and in the boardroom, a good offence is a great defence.

7. During the meeting, monitor your email and text messages so that you can demonstrate how customer responsive you are. This will teach the employee two valuable lessons. 1.  Customers always come first in business. 2.  Employees always come second. 

8. During the meeting, answer your phone, every time it rings.  See number 7.
9. Give the employee an opportunity to vet your personal opinions against those of their mentors.  Offer to change your opinion if the employee's mentors disagree with your insights. This will demonstrate that you are an open-minded, fair and a reasonable leader who is concerned for your employee`s well-being. 

 10. After the employee has been excused, tell him or her this is not over yet. That way, the employee will be on the edge of the seat waiting for your next meeting. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

The long and winding road

I don't usually write about politics, or even talk about politics. But I feel inclined to say for the first time in my life, I am inspired to believe in the future of Saskatchewan.

Tonight the Saskatchewan Party was elected with a majority government, under the leadership of Brad Wall.

I do not know Mr. Wall, but he seems to be a home grown kind of guy, with good intentions. But more importantly, Mr. Wall has the ability to lead, and make things happen. He has the ability to inspire followers and engage non-believers. To inspire someone like me to believe in the future of Saskatchewan.

Tonight, he recounted the successes of the past 4 years, and the promises kept, all which are valid. We are experiencing the benefits of a prosperous mining sector, and an open door policy for business. We have grown as a province and an economy. As Mr. Wall says, there is yet more work to do.

It is important to remember that the road to change is  a long and winding road, paved with economic evolution, hard decisions and changes that spanned the 80's, 90's, and the new millennium.

Our family's hometown, Westbend, was the town closest to my grandparent's farm community. In its day, it was a thriving little town with a co-op store, a gas station, and a post office.

Since then, Westbend has slowly but surely disappeared like so many other towns as a result of changes in the agricultural economy and policies that were implemented, such as branchline relocation and the crow rate. As the agricultural economy became more efficient and centralized, small farming communities lost services and people.

There was an exodus of Saskatchewan people looking for greener pastures in Alberta. We were part of the mass exodus that left Saskatchewan to find a job and life in Alberta.  We found jobs, but not a life. Houses were out of reach and a life of driving 3 hours a day and living in rented houses was not in my plan.

I wanted to study Journalism, so we moved back to Regina with our babies, bought a house, and got an education. In the back of my mind, however, I did not have faith in the province's sustainability, so we always kept one foot elsewhere, metaphorically speaking. 

As a student journalist, writing for the Kindersley Clarion, I remember writing about the massive changes that rural Saskatchewan had undergone as a result of efforts to streamline the agricultural economy.

Incidentally, that was the year the NDP and Mr. Romanow was re-elected with his "Quiet Revolution" plan, which promised a series of changes in 3 years. To be honest, it was not inspiring. It was frightening, hardline change. I attended a conference bullpit session of Saskatchewan delegates where they were told to change, or change would happen to them.

By the time our group of student journalists were able to interview Mr. Romanow, the "paid" media had already written all about his 3-year Quiet Revolution plan.  Mr. Romanow was a master of key messages so there was no unseating this politican.  My audience was waiting for a story that was meaninful to them so I had to get creative.

At the end of the interview session, I asked him for an autograph in my daughter's book. He wrote, "The future is yours Sara." On the same page, was her favorite poem: "Fuzzy Wuzzy Wuz a Bear . . ."

I couldn't resist the irony and the temptation to include the poem and his best wishes for Sara's future in a story about the difficulties rural Saskatchewan was facing. (A tiny moment of journalistic satisfaction)

Change happened. Later I was to write about a school closure in Dinsmore. The empty halls and classrooms still dense with chalk dust reminded me of the impact of change on children, wondering how could they believe in tomorrow when their today was disappearing.

We stayed through the 90's and into the new millennium.  We earned degrees and made sacrifices to ensure that we had meaningful employment to give our kids a good life. My husband, an industrial engineer, worked up north for more than 4 years, coming home only on weekends while I raised teenagers and worked as a corporate planner and writer for large corporations and the credit unions.  

Over the past 4 years, something has changed. Our economy has grown. There is an attitude of possiblity. There is a hope for the future. 

For the first time, I can honestly say that I have confidence in a government, and possibly, a person. I believe him when he says, "We are never going back" to despair and being a have-not province.  I believe him when he says we are moving forward.

This is where my grandparents settled, and broke the land. I can honestly say I never get tired of a sunset or the smell of the air in spring. I marvel at sundogs, despite the fact that a sighting means eminent frigid temperatures. I can't help but get out of my car just to take in the vista of a clear blue sky and a golden field.  

Something has changed. Maybe it's me. Or maybe I am finally home.    

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Finding a way to make poverty and despair profitable

If we could find a way to make poverty and despair profitable, I wonder if it would exist.

Would there be enough resources to stop the cycle of abuse and violence that is inherited from one generation to the next.

Could it be in vogue to help those who can`t help themselves if it could be profitable.

The other day, I sat across the table from a man who was telling me about a vision to save people`s lives. He is the founder of the Adult Learning Centre which works to save people from falling through the cracks of our society, and to give them the tools to live in their potential.

I am inspired by his caring and understanding for those who need help. Other organizations in our city also care enough to help, like Family Services Regina. But in the people helping business, resources are tight.

Poverty alone is not the issue. If it were, the solution would be to acquire the skills and knowledge to find meaningful employment.

The people who suffer may or may not be impoverished, but most importantly, they are without hope. They are the forgotten and the invisible.

Through the course of living, learning, listening and writing, I have come to the conclusion that we are all fragile human beings.

We may not feel the edge, or see the edge, but we really do not know where the edge is, for any of us. This lesson has been brought home to me by many of my `teachers.`

Don, a `street person` by his own definition, showed me the back alleys, hotels and dank bars of our fair city, as he explained the day to day life of the people who survive on the streets.

Like many others, Don was afflicted with many problems, from drug abuse and alcoholism to sexual abuse, all of which he attributed to life on the streets.  He told me that his parents tried to help him, but the more they tried to help him, the faster he would run and the more damage he would do. Don told me that he no longer knew where his family was, and he understood. ``I wore them out. I know that.``

I also met young women who fell into prostitution to feed other habits. One young woman, who was dressed in more expensive clothes that what I could afford at the time, told me she was the daughter of a policeman, and she wanted to get clean and live a normal life.

I met a man outside of a soup kitchen who had lived a happy life as a nurse until his wife died.  I asked him, what happened. He said, ``I fell into a bottle and I never got out.  I don`t really talk to my kids anymore.``

I met a woman whose teenage daughter was being abused by a john. Despite her efforts, she could not stop her daughter from leaving the house night after night. He went to jail for a time, but how much time is appropriate for a person who steals another person`s dignity and potential worth, I wondered.

I was sad. I thought, what if that was my dad, or my sister, brother, or daughter. Would I let go of them. I hope not.

But the fact is, many people do not have the resources to hang on, and many people have lost their humanity. Many people go to bed hungry, cold and afraid.  Many people live within cycles of abuse in their families, and try to keep a job. Many people are just hanging on.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that there are so many people living like this, that it is a community, just like the one that Don introduced me to.

Changing a life that seems lost is not hopeless. It is difficult for the person to change. But it also seems to be difficult for society to recognize the problem. It is hard to look into the eyes of person whose basic human needs are not being met on a daily basis, so we look away. We are afraid that we will see ourselves.

I cannot count myself among the despairing.  I have lived a rich life, even if I did not have enough money.  I have parents who did not let go. I was raised  to believe that the way ahead was education.  I lived on student loans and the wages of a school bus driver for 5 years to earn a degree in Journalism, and focused on the light at the end of the tunnel: the ability to make enough money to have a nice house and life for my family, pay my bills and pay taxes.

The difference between me and Don is that I was lucky. I was born to parents who had the resources to make sure we had a home, the expectation that we would go to school, and the opportunity to participate in sports and other activities that help to create character and a sense of personal accomplishment. I knew how to learn.  I knew how to keep a schedule and stay on a plan. I knew how to set a goal and commit to it.  I stayed away from the edge of drug abuse and other forms of abuse.

The protests that have broken out all over the world seem to be creeping up to the edge of this problem, but they are not helping the plight of the woman whose daughter runs out to meet her john every night, or the teenager shooting up in the back alley.

They are not helping the young girl who got lost in the streets.  They are are not helping the person who has never known what it is to live a life that is safe. This week, a person (who was also described as a protester) overdosed in Vancouver on heroin. I fear the protests are making it worse for the truly forgotten.

What we need is to be find a way to make poverty and despair profitable.