MC Artist Highlight // Alora Boutique
Meet Emilyn, Jameela, and Peter…the trio behind Alora Boutique. We met Alora Boutique last Christmas for the first time, and since then, they have participated in many Market Collectives! They are always a pleasure to see at the MC with beautiful work, beautiful smiles, and all-in-all, a joy to have around! We sat down with them to find out more about their work, and the growth their business has seen over the last year.
Tell us how Alora Boutique first began:
Alora Boutique emerged in May 2013 as a way to bring African inspired home décor and jewelry to Calgary. We are very proud of our heritage and wanted to add to the cultural landscape of Calgary in a positive way. Alora means “My Dream” in Bantu. We selected this name because it represents our dream of sharing our craft and culture becoming a reality.
Before we rebranded as Alora Boutique, we had been working hard creating handmade products since 2008. It all started when my mom and I took a jewelry making class together. We started creating and selling necklaces, bracelets, and earrings whenever we had spare time. Shortly after, I took a trip to Ghana and decided it was time I got “back to my roots”. I learned about Kente (traditional, hand-woven fabric), how to make it, and the history of the cloth.
As we got better, and the quality of our work increased; we started doing shows and selling online. Peter and I started dating in 2009 and my mother and I were lucky enough to have another art focused, entrepreneurial spirit join our family and business. It has been a lot of work to get to this point, but we are very proud of where we are now!
What are some things you have learned over the years in running your own business and creative enterprise?
We learned that our business is not static; we are constantly evolving. We continually challenge ourselves to come up with new ideas and new items to add to our offering. There is always something new in the works!
We also learned that there needs to be a balance between business and creativity. There are times where all we want to do is create, but remember that there are other things like accounting, and management tasks that need to be done.
I am so impressed by the wood-carvings that Peter creates. Can you tell me the history behind this skill and what you find most enjoyable about it?
At first, Peter, who immigrated to Canada when he was 15, has always been familiar with Cameroonian woodworking, but since joining our family business he developed a profound interest in learning more about Ghanaian art and understanding the story and history behind the pieces. This desire to learn more prompted him to learn how to carve traditional Ghanaian designs. To keep the art as authentic as possible he uses Tweneboa (Ghanaian Cedar Wood) that we bring in from Ghana. With that in mind, our final designs are a fusion of Ghanaian and Canadian designs which is a way of showing our appreciation and love for both countries. The most enjoyable part about woodworking is bringing pieces that have rich history, culture, and meaning to Calgarians. It is an honour to be able to create a fusion of two of the most amazing places in the world (Ghana and Canada). Each of the pieces are made with love and it is truly rewarding when someone appreciates this.
I remember a story that a customer shared with us: it involved one of our Sankofa pieces (which means learning from the past). She had just completed her rehabilitation from drug abuse problems and the Sankofa was to act as a reminder of how far she had come and to keep her moving forward. It is stories like this that reinforce the love for what we do and how as artists we have the power to truly connect with people.
Your ties with Ghana are something that is highlighted in your practice and in your business. Can you please elaborate on this more and tell us why it is so important to you to bring this into your mandate?
I grew up with African items in my home, and both my mother have always worn African fashion. It is for those reasons I have always had an appreciation for all things African. During my many visits to Ghana I learnt to embrace and appreciate the culture, the people, and the art which is something I want to share with North Americans, especially the people in Calgary.
Our main mission is to share the culture and general awareness of Ghana and Africa through art. That is why every design we create is a conversation piece. We try to bring the passion and intensity we have for our homeland by offering it to clients who also appreciate those things. Since we are immigrants and Canadians, we try to strike a balance between the traditional craft and modern tastes. We want to make sure that we use the African technique for our work, but transform it into something Canadian. We also make sure that the bulk of the materials we use in our art is from Ghana for a few reasons: 1) to keep the art authentic and 2) to contribute to the Ghanaian economy and our family through commerce.
You both focus on many things and bring a lot of different work to the MC. Do you find that all these different mediums work with or against each together in the process of creation? Can you please let our readers know some of your favourite things to create?
We love to create! Our concept is to create and showcase the best African inspired art with a touch of Canadian design. Every piece we make revolves around this concept and the fact that we are keeping our heritage alive through different crafting techniques is a good thing. We have the opportunity to create new products to test in the market; however, the fact that we focus on many things works against us when it comes to running a business. Some products are more appreciated than others. For example, our carvings are very specific art work: they have to speak to someone before they decide to purchase. Hence we are always striving to find the right balance.
My mom and I love to create jewelry together because a) it is an excuse for us to hang out and b) it is always satisfying to see someone wearing something that we created. It is also great when someone tells us that they still have the piece they bought from us or received as a gift. The other thing we love to make together are the textiles. Again, it is a really great excuse to spend time together and make things that our customers like.
I personally love making the Black Soap and Shea butter. These are products that my family and I have been using for years, and now I am making that available to our customers. I found that customers appreciate it because they send their friends and family members to come and see us to get their own. I also love the fact that there are a handful of natural ingredients in the product I create. It makes me feel good that I can offer these products which are rare in North America. It is especially satisfying that Calgarians can benefit from the Black Soap and Shea butter because they combat the dry and harsh weather in the city.
Where would you like to see your business expand this year?
For 2014, the plan is to find an appropriate retail space for Alora Boutique, continue to build our clientele and offer four main products: baskets, skin care, jewelry, and textiles, as well as limited, specific pieces of carvings. We are working on a new style of basket which will be introduced this year. We are hoping that our customers (new and old) will continue to appreciate and embrace our new African inspired art this year!
If someone would like to see some more work, what is the best way to contact you?
www.facebook.com/aloraboutique. The best way to contact us for those who love social media is to like us on facebook. We are always posting new product pictures, useful tips, stories and special promotions on our page.
www.alora.ca. This is the best place to buy our products and read our blog which has home décor, skin care, and fashion tips in addition to African history and fun facts.
If you want to be old school you can email me, Jameela at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last, but not least, we will make sure to attend every Market Collective that we can!