CALGARY-BASED DESIGNER AND ARTIST, ELLINOR STENROOS REFLECTS ON A DECADE OF BUSINESS THIS YEAR
Raised in Swedish-speaking Finland and recognized nationally for her bold, luxurious statement pieces rendered in contemporary Scandinavian style, Ellinor Stenroos’ use of clean lines and architectural integrity appeals to those who are confident in their style and want to stand out from the crowd.
Inspired by the simplicity of Finland’s landscape and surroundings, Ellinor has been creating from a very early age. Her desire to become a designer and craftsman led her to the Kent Institute of Art and Design in England and after three years in the United Kingdom, Ellinor made the move to Calgary and will be reflecting on a decade of successes at the end of this year.
We wanted to learn more about Ellinor’s journey, including her biggest achievements and aspirations, so we gave her a call!
The end of this year will mark a decade of business for you, how does it feel to look back on the milestones you’ve reached and the progress you have made?
In all honesty, it feels pretty crazy — wild even. When you run your own business it is easy to get stuck in the trenches. Every mountain you climb gets higher and higher so you always feel like you are climbing. You don’t get many chances to pause and turn around and realize how much you have overcome. I work in a challenging market and I have heard a lot of ‘well may be it is time to find something else’ from people, so I can’t help but be a little impressed that I am nearing the end of my tenth year. Being self-employed isn’t necessarily something you go into thinking you’re going to make it, not when you are at the mercy of so many factors. I come from a culture where it is almost taboo to think highly of yourself or brag about your achievements, but at no point in the past ten years have I had investors or loans or grants or even a partner to lean on; because of this, I feel even prouder. It feels like a constant battle, to keep pushing yourself forward, and I often forget that what overwhelmed me in year one, two, and three I can do now with my eyes closed.
What do you love most about running your own business?
There is always so much to do. The job I was at prior to this, we mostly worked on wedding and engagement rings, but in my own business I have been able to do fashion accessories and art. I have a much broader spectrum of projects and feel more well-rounded as an artist and designer because of it. I am not limited to a product that is only meant to be worn every day. You have more of an artistic freedom when you go into the art realm of things. What I love most though is the people I meet through my work. Most of my clients have become people I refer to as friends and there is nothing better than clicking with people, feeling cared and supported by them, forming a sincere human connection. The sense of trust and confidence and desire that people have for me to design something for them is such an honour. Especially since I don’t have a storefront or a showroom. It is truly amazing.
What moments or highlights from the last ten years stand out to you the most?
There are a few. I worked with Lauren Bagliore and adorn models on a runway show at Toronto Fashion Week in 2011 + 2012. I created a limited-edition fashion jewelry collection and watched the models wear my pieces from the front row. I was still relevantly new at the whole being self-employed thing so it was a major moment for me. The next year, I had a solo exhibition of contemporary jewelry art at DaDe ART & DESIGN LAB, now known as DADE LOFT. In 2014 + 2016, my work was published in British Vogue. WestJet magazine wrote a full page feature on me in 2017, and I had work featured in Air Canada’s EnRoute magazine later that year as well.
What lead you to first begin designing jewellery - was it something you had always wanted to pursue?
It was definitely evident early on that I was creative. As a child, I would cut up my mom’s necklaces and create different pieces out jewellery from the materials. Sometimes I asked permission and sometimes I didn’t. As cheesy as it sounds, I always wanted to be a princess and wear a tiara every day. Eventually, I clued in on how unrealistic that dream was and started to make jewelry in my dad’s workshop out of steel wire and beads. I grew up on a farm so there wasn’t a lot of money to buy accessories. I would tried to reproduce things on my own. When I was eighteen, I made myself a tiara to wear to my graduation out of silver plated wire and plastic pearls, and I loved it so much that I told my math teacher I would become a jewellery designer/gold smith the night of the party! He didn’t support it but it made me more determined to do it. I took some classes on making simple rings to see if I had what it took and just loved it. No matter what was happening in my life everything fell to the side when I got to work with metal. I was very involved in politics as a teenager, and I worked in politics during the first year after high school. As impressive as my job was for my age, everything I did had someone else’s name on it. I didn’t have anything to show for what I had done, which was frustrating, and I really wanted to accomplish something on my own. I made the drastic jump into the arts and continued my education in the UK. My parents were a little concerned at first but I have always been incredibly focused and stubborn.
How has your work evolved over the past ten years?
I wouldn’t say my work has evolved but my confidence has. At the start, I was willing to say yes to almost anything a client suggested as long as it was practical enough for me to make, even if I didn’t think it was the best idea. Now, I have more confidence. If you are coming to me then I want you to have the experience of me guiding you towards the absolute best direction rather than just saying ‘sure, I can do whatever you want.’ I am also more confident in my problem-solving abilities and expertise. I have all of this experience that I can lean on, so I know the best solutions and paths to take. I want my clients to feel like they are in good hands and also know I don’t produce work I am not completely happy with or proud of. I don’t compromise on my vision as much anymore.
You were born in Finland but are now based in Calgary, how did you make the move to Canada and what was it like navigating the city?
I have always loved Canada. As a 16 year old, I investigated high school exchange programs in Prince Edward's Island but it too expensive. As a kid, I was a massive Anne of Green Gables fan. Finland’s relationship with Sweden is similar to Canada and the USA, so I felt a connection to Canada because of that. When I finished my schooling in the UK, I applied to a job posting in Calgary and got it. It was a massive transition from what I had been used to in London. A total culture shock. I didn’t understand the sprawl or malls or lifestyle. I had been living here for almost a year and was debating moving back to the UK, when there was the bombing on the tube. That would have been my commute in the UK, and I realized I had never felt scared or anxious travelling in Calgary. There is something to be said for how safe and comfortable everything is here. You have a lot of personal space, you aren’t squeezed onto the train with hundreds of people. It was kind of like the silver lining to this horrible tragedy that highlighted the positives I hadn’t really seen before. There is so much amazing and vast nature that isn’t present in the UK, where the few natural parks are packed with people. You can enjoy solitude in a very undisturbed environment.
If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what advice would you give yourself when first started your business?
Save some money before becoming self employed. It wasn’t a premeditated thing for me. It was due to external circumstances - the company I worked for had dissolved and I was at a fork in the road. I didn’t have a plan or guidelines for what I wanted and this was all just a means to make a living at first.
Find the money to hire people for the things that aren’t your strength — a bookkeeper might be expensive but if you don’t know how to do it you are better off finding someone else. I have learned my strengths but I still know my weaknesses, and there is no shame in focusing on what you are good at. I struggled and felt guilty for a long time over outsourcing work when I needed help but I’m glad I have abandoned those ideas and feelings. Stick to what you excel at with reckless abandonment!
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