Now that it’s been nearly a decade since graduating from the Ryerson School of Fashion, I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on my experience at Canada’s top fashion school. There were plenty of pros, and definitely a few cons, but, to this day, I’m still very happy that I went and saw it through for the full four years of the program. Ryerson’s fashion program is tough AF and surviving the entirety of it is a serious achievement with a finish line that most who start don’t often cross. The process is definitely meant to help prepare you for “the real world” when it comes to working in the fashion business, and by the end of the four years, you’re really left standing with some of the most talented people in the country. This, I’ve found, has been my favourite part about being an alumni, and I’ve loved seeing where and how my peers have been kicking ass in the world even years on. Someone who stands out is definitely Jennifer Allison, who, after working as a shoe designer for some of the biggest fast fashion brands in the game, moved back to Toronto and opened up the first full-time shoemaking school in Canada. Keep reading to learn more about Jennifer and her amazing company, The Art & Sole Academy.
Business Name: The Art and Sole Academy
Name & Title: Jennifer Allison, The Shoelosopher
Location: Toronto, ON
Education: Bachelor of Design- Ryerson University
Edit Seven: Tell us about your business, what do you do?
Jennifer Allison: I am the founder and lead Instructor at The Art and Sole Academy. The Art and Sole Academy is the first full time studio in Canada to offer courses and consulting for those interested in the art of shoemaking.
Our studio offers group workshops, studio intensives, private sessions, studio rental, corporate events and consulting for all skill levels. Shoes are our star product but we also offer handbag, millinery and small leather goods workshops!
E7: How did you start your business? What inspired you to start?
JA: Art and Sole was founded in 2014 with the goal in mind to make shoemaking accessible to a general audience. Our “shoe-losophy” is quality over quantity and use hands on workshops as our tool to highlight the importance of craftsmanship and traditional techniques. Throughout these experiences we hope individuals will walk away with a new found appreciation for the “process behind the product”.
Before launching Art and Sole I worked as a designer for a handful of fast fashion brands around the globe. Designing for both large and small scale companies provided me with a well rounded overview of the industry.
While working as a designer a large part of my role was to travel overseas 3-4 times a year to work in the factories to detail our collections each season. It was working in the factories where I fell in love with the hand made process of shoemaking. I was fortunate to work with both Italian and Brazilian technicians who were a wealth of knowledge and very generous in sharing their tips and tricks.Up until this point I had never made a pair of shoes by hand. I initially studied Fashion Design at Ryerson and specialized in evening wear before shoes. At this point in time it was very difficult to find someone in Canada willing to teach the art of shoemaking. This was my main inspiration for opening Art and Sole! I thought if someone like myself who was already working in the industry had such a hard acquiring this information what about others who simply want to learn for fun?
When I made the decision to move back to Canada I started hosting pop up workshops at The Bata Shoe Museum and Ryerson University to test out my business idea. Luckily after 3 months of full enrolment, it was safe to say the workshops were a hit and this gave me the confidence to commit to a full time studio space.
E7: Why do you love what you do?
JA: All walks of life step through our studio doors! I feel fortunate to meet so many inspiring and creative individuals on a daily basis. It is really rewarding helping others bring their ideas to life!
E7: What makes your business special?
JA: Art and Sole is more than just a studio space. We are a creative community. Our studio provides a space for like minded people to create, connect and collaborate! Our workshops and services are also designed to provide students with the opportunity to take creative control over their projects to ensure they end up with something special that they can wear and be proud of for years to come!
E7: What have been some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned from running your business so far?
JA: Working smarter, not harder, is essential to surviving as an entrepreneur. I am still trying to implement this idea into my daily routine.
E7: What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a business owner?
JA: The biggest challenge has been building and managing a team. It has been tricky to find individuals who are talented at their craft and who are also interested in sharing their knowledge with others. If you are reading this and you are a “maker,mover or shaker” please reach out! I am always looking to collaborate with other creatives to host new pop up workshops or events!
E7: What was it about Toronto that made you decide to return to the city and start your business?
JA: After living and working throughout the USA, Asia, Europe and South America I felt like I had gained enough industry experience to start something of my own! Toronto was an obvious choice to set up shop. There is a large population and a strong creative scene for a speciality studio like Art and Sole to thrive. I also wanted to build my company close to my friends and family. I believe it is essential for entrepreneurs to surround themselves with a strong support system.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own business?
JA: Be true to you. No one else is walking in your shoes.
E7: What is your #1 piece of advice to keep in mind when starting your own education/workshop-based business?
JA: As an business owner and Instructor it is important to empower, encourage and ultimately provide a positive atmosphere for your clients. For any service based business it is important to realize that how you make people feel during the process is just as important as the product.
E7: Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting your business?
JA: “Be strong but not rude. Be kind but not weak. Be humble but not timid. Be proud but not arrogant” – Zig Ziglar. I wish I had stumbled across this quote earlier. It is the perfect reminder for anyone in a leadership position.What is a challenge you’d tell future entrepreneurs in the education/workshop business to prepare for?
Starting a business of any kind involves a lot of sleepless nights and a ton of hard work! As your business grows, each stage will require a different version of you. It is important to constantly evolve and edit.
For Art and Sole this means I am constantly updating how we run our workshops, adding new workshop ideas to the mix, sourcing new materials, purchasing new equipment and updating our patterns and project offerings to stay relevant with the trends.
E7: How do you stay organized, balanced and motivated?
JA: Motivation for me has never been an issue but balance on the other hand has always been a struggle. To be honest I am not sure if “balance” even exists.
Rather than balance my goal is to work towards “work/life” integration. My aim is to merge and incorporate all of my favourite things and people into my world. For example, in regards to business I only offer programming that I am truly excited about. Once this excitement starts to dwindle I know it is time to switch things up!
On a personal note, my inner circle keeps me going and are very involved in my business. My husband is extremely supportive. He helps out with sourcing and has a great eye for design. My parents are also a huge help! They pay frequent visits to Toronto to lend a helping hand whenever they can. Then there is Dorothy the shop dog! Dorothy is my french bulldog who comes to work with me most days. She is the perfect stress relief and is just so darn cute!
E7: Do you have a daily or regular ritual you practice that you love?
JA: Every morning I take Dorothy for a nice long walk. I use this time to mentally map out my day and enjoy some fresh air before heading into the studio.Who are some of your mentors/role models?
I admire anyone who has been able to make a living doing what they love and who are truly in tune with their authentic self!
E7: Where do you go or what do you do to look for inspiration?
JA: Travel! Whenever I travel I make an effort to meet with local artisans or take a class to learn the traditional techniques native to that region.
E7: Who is the Art and Sole customer and why should we all book one of your classes?
Whether you are looking for a new hobby, creative outlet or thinking of stepping into the industry we have a wide selection of workshops and services suited to all skill levels! Everyone is welcome!
For more information on The Art & Sole Academy click HERE.
(Story by Editor-in-Chief, Gracie Carroll)