Digging Deeper

How I found treasure, integrated myself, and found a business while in a pit of despair.

By Jo Blakely

I wanted to be a fashion designer ever since I was a kid growing up in Toronto, Canada. I studied Haute Couture in Paris and finished top of my class all three years, going on to design for Pierre Cardin before returning to Canada where I designed for a wide variety of brands including FILA Canada and Irving Samuel as well as private label for many major department stores.

This little collection above from 1996 was one of my own that never saw the light of day. Still loving that color palette and timeless but bold style.

I joke that I started at the top and worked my way down. For 12 years I worked in fashion in Canada and found myself disillusioned with how employees (including myself) were treated, disappointed in the lack of say in how I designed the collections I was hired to design, and I didn’t think anyone was winning — especially the customer. Fashion was a knock-off of a knock-off. It was broken telephone with worse and worse iterations. There were days I thought a monkey could design fashion as most places just ripped images out of magazines and copied the pictures. That was not what I studied haute couture in Paris for, nor what I was hoping to do when I left there.

I had more to give but life had a way of keeping me from really having the design career I thought I would. For 3 years I was disabled in chronic pain and required two back surgeries. In addition, whenever I could work, I was too often sexually harassed or threatened until I eventually left the fashion industry completely having had my own severe #MeToo experience that left me with PTSD.

I started my own business doing branding and marketing and had a very successful business for 10 years. I closed the business during the recession since business was slow and put more attention towards children’s illustration which I had been doing on the side. I specialize in multicultural themes and often get hired to draw Japanese and Persian folktales because of the complicated prints and patterns which I love to draw and invent. In 2017, my work won an Award of Excellence at the Chen Bochui Children’s Illustration Exhibition in Shanghai, the premier children’s book invitational juried event in China and is part of the permanent collection of the Shanghai Baoshan Folk Arts Museum, one of the largest in China.

Work from two of the Persian and Japanese Folktales I have illustrated.

And yet after all that…I still found myself struggling, in poverty, and being mistreated by an employer once again. One day, I just broke down in tears. I couldn’t function anymore. I no longer knew how to even BE in a workplace since bringing excellence brought abuse over and over again. PTSD was back and I became extremely depressed and lost all hope. I had sought help but was on a waiting list and had gone on disability unable to work anymore for anyone else.

It’s like I had been digging really deep my whole life without any reward for my efforts and suddenly I found myself deep in a grave where Death wanted me to just lie down in it and give up. I came closer than I ever thought I would, but I didn’t give up. I fought through. I dug a tiny bit deeper again and found treasure.

I went on AirBNB to look at all the amazing places I might go when I got my insurance. I found it soothing and gave me something to look forward to in the future. I started with the cheapest and found the most gorgeous places for next to nothing in places like Bali and Thailand and Colombia. I began to wonder if people gave up their apartment and things so they could just travel all the time, going from place to place and it turns out they did! I discovered a whole world of people doing this called Digital Nomads and moreover, it’s a growing community. I wanted to do it too. I love travel and had found a way to do it, with or without money.

Suddenly I was excited like never before with the possibilities of a new lifestyle, so of course I started to think about what would I pack and wear! I only like to take carry-on and wouldn’t want to lug a whole lot of things, but I’d want to still be stylish and active and comfortable. I started thinking about it and it wasn’t long before I realized I had an amazing collection and an even better a business idea.

A Capsule Collection for Boss-Bound Adventurers from our Launch Collection 2019

I am excited to be able to give fellow nomads and travelers couture-inspired athleisure. Versatile capsule collections you can throw in a backpack, do all the things you want, feel great, and look super stylish in all your photos. Best yet, I create my pieces to order with a minimum of waste and design them as capsule collections to help you live like a minimalist with maximum style. I have registered my business as a Benefit Corporation. We are dedicated to being an ethical and sustainable fashion brand and are working to be on the avant-garde in process as much as in design. This is just the beginning.

I hope you will come fly with me on this tremendous personal and professional adventure.

Jo Blakely

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