To the metaverse and beyond

To the metaverse and beyond

Cavin Hayer, 25, is both excited and apprehensive about the metaverse. (Photo by Rajpreet Sahota)

For Cavin Hayer, the metaverse is the future and young people must prepare.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if the metaverse is the next step of what social media has already done to our society,” Hayer said, “whether that’s good or bad. I’ve got mixed reviews.”

Hayer, 25, a finance manager who works for Bell Media in Toronto, thinks the metaverse is a virtual movement as powerful as globalization.

One of the principal architects of this digital world, Mark Zuckerberg, recently capitalized on the idea of the metaverse by changing Facebook’s name to Meta Platforms.

What all this means for how people will interact with one another in the future is murky. There are significant grey areas as far as regulations to address issues with sexual harassment and other ethical considerations in virtual reality spaces. But as the world inches out of the COVID-19 pandemic, major companies are flocking to invest in the next age of the internet.

And that has some advocates embracing this brave new world.

An entirely virtual space to interact

The term “metaverse” is credited to author Neal Stephenson in his 1992 science fiction novel, Snow Crash where he described lifelike avatars who met and interacted in 3D environments.

For Zuckerberg, this means creating an entirely virtual space to exist and interact. Big tech companies have been building the metaverse infrastructure for the past decade. New models of smartphones are all augmented reality capable and virtual reality is finding ways to seamlessly enter the everyday world.

Meanwhile, Microsoft has highlighted how it plans to allow employees to meet in virtual spaces with their avatars using the Teams infrastructure they are already familiar with.

Screen shot of a Microsoft Mesh meeting with virtual avatars as participants
Microsoft unveiled its Mesh for Teams which allows users to join virtual meetings using their customizable personal avatars. (Photo provided by Microsoft)

Won Sook Lee, an engineering professor at the University of Ottawa, specializes in the human-computer interaction.

“Better human-computer interaction has the possibility to bring more equal opportunity to people,” Lee said. “We have to develop this technology to make it more comfortable.”

Lee said with any new technology, a small group adopts it quickly. A much larger group, sometimes referred to as the “moveable middle,” will pick up the tech only once the kinks have been worked out and they can seamlessly incorporate it in their life. Making this technology more comfortable can have the power to draw in Canadians who are hesitant about trying it.

When considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s rapid advancements in digitization, or virtualisation as Hayer put, Lee said the direction of the metaverse is one that has been chosen for us.

“We have to think, is this really the good direction for humankind?,” Lee asked.

When virtual lives become ‘more enjoyable’ than real lives

Hayer is excited about the business opportunities available in the metaverse, listing off real estate, casinos and shopping centres as enticing avenues for investment.

Hayer also emphasized the opportunity for job creation through the metaverse.

“When I enter the metaverse casino, there is a virtual black-jack dealer who is maybe working somewhere on the other side of the world,” Hayer said.

“I am gambling, and they are getting paid to do that work.” Hayer said, adding he is excited by the prospect of introducing a human element to what was once a solitary experience on 2-D gambling platforms.

Hayer explained this monetization resides in the individuals using the platform and away from centralized websites like Facebook or Instagram. For example, in the metaverse you can create marketing spaces that do not exist in the real world. The potential for profit is skyrocketing, with real-estate currently selling for millions.

Hayer explains how there is finite real-estate to be purchased in the metaverse.

“The opportunities are endless, particularly in entertainment and retail,” Hayer said. He spoke to the new level of consumerism that is at its dawn as people will begin to purchase things for their Metaverse avatar.

 “We all like stuff, and now we can begin to like stuff virtually,” Hayer said.

At the same time, Hayer expressed concern over where to draw the line in placing too much value on something that is not real.

“We are already at the point where we all have a social profile where we identify ourselves in some form of social world,” Hayer said. 

“At the moment, we only have one screen, say an Instagram page. In the metaverse, we will be able to welcome our friends to our metaverse house to see how our friends live and dress.”

Jonah Brotman, 35, co-founder and CEO of Canada’s leading virtual reality (VR) services company House of VR, is proud to use his company’s reach to employ VR as a tool for empathy building in schools and communities.

Still, he is skeptical of the metaverse’s ethos. It’s being created by large companies for their own objectives, pushing young people to spend even more time on their screens than they already do.

“As Meta is growing, I worry that they are going to have in head-set advertisements at some point, and it would be terrible because you can’t look away,” Brotman said. 

When he founded the company in his early 30s he did not know the success it would see.

House of VR now leads diversity and inclusion workshops using VR devices, produces VR empathy films and does in school programming for education purposes.

“The scary tipping point will be when people find their virtual lives more enjoyable than their real lives,” Brotman said. “For many people in this world, that will not be that difficult. That is scary and the implications for that are really major.”

Brotman echoed Hayer’s belief that it is more intriguing to be in the metaverse with your friends, than passively scrolling with your thumb on a cell-phone.

Hayer cautioned users may come to enjoy VR more than their normal life.

“If this reaches a point where social media is today, what will you value more, your identity in the metaverse, or your identity in our real universe?” he asked. “The way I see the metaverse is that it is unstoppable at this point.”

Capacity for harm

Thea Berringer, 27, opened Colony VR in Ottawa in 2015 along with her parents and brother. The family’s vision was to host a community space to share their excitement about VR and offer the opportunity for groups to try out immersive experiences.

Echoing Brotman, Berringer explained VR is an empathy machine which allows people to fully immerse themselves in the perspectives of others.

“However, I also think the reverse is true. When you are getting rid of barriers, there is real risk of desensitization.” Berringer said.

“The abstraction of digital and real in VR is much slimmer,” she explained. “You are still touching someone’s body for example, even if you are not physically there.”

Sexual harassment was prevalent in Colony VR’s unique social settings. The conversation on consent became a routine need for teen parties held at Colony VR as sexual harassment of participants’ avatars was a daily occurrence.

Berringer, who now studies in the interaction, design and development program at Toronto’s George Brown College, explained a majority of those working in designing the infrastructure of VR are often male-presenting and white. This can inform the cultural and racial expressions they offer for the avatars that exist in the metaverse. This can also influence how the virtual infrastructure is coded, making it inaccessible to users who may not fit the coder’s own profile.

On top of this, Berringer is concerned about the loss of community spaces that are not privately owned. Can you loiter and just go for a walk in the metaverse, or do you always have to be consuming and engaging with something?

Since the pandemic began, her family business had to close its physical doors and now leads virtual workshops on VR for Ottawa based businesses.

Knowing about the shortfalls in VR regulation and ethics, Berringer was motivated to become an architect in the field and limit its capacity for harm.

What does this mean for the future?

Brotman pointed to the importance of QR codes during COVID-19 as an example of how quickly the metaverse is becoming a norm.

Hayer discusses the real-world applications of the metaverse.

“The goal is the blurring of digital and physical realities. It is going to happen,” Brotman said. “Right now technology is moving so fast. However far you think it is away, it will probably happen faster.”

Brotman wonders how his intrinsic desire to be outside and interact with other humans in person will mesh with the pull of the growing metaverse.

“If I’m totally honest, I am a little dystopian about it,” Brotman said. “I actually see more harm than good and that’s what concerns me.”

Despite some trepidation, Hayer is leaning in.

“People are starting to come around to the sense that it is here, especially because of COVID. This is the next step in terms of where technology takes us,” Hayer said.

There is a lot of cautiousness among his friends who are not already using it, while those who do are excited, he added. 

“This tells me that the more people use it, it will become mainstream quicker because the excitement will spread like wildfire.”

Are trendy thrifters a cause for concern or the future of fashion?

Are trendy thrifters a cause for concern or the future of fashion?

Kenzia Loucks, 17, stands in front of the Instagram wall that features the Mission Thrift Store in Orleans’s trendiest items. Loucks manages the Instagram account and social media for the Orleans store. Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

When Taniel Campbell, 21, needs to decompress or find a bit of time for herself, she can be found getting lost among the aisles of clothes thrifting at the South Keys’ Value Village.

Campbell, a Carleton University student, discovered her love for thrifting two years ago after seeing curated thrift-store clothing was trending among Instagram influencers. Since moving to Ottawa this past May, she has become hooked on the fun.

According to the thredUP 2021 Resale Report, 33 million Americans bought second-hand for the first time in 2020 and 53 per cent of millennials and Gen Z shoppers said they expect to spend more on second-hand clothing within the next five years. The online second-hand retailer was launched in the United States in 2009 and since 2017 has released annual reports that track retail and consumer data.

Thrift Stores like Value Village and Mission Thrift Store have gained popularity as thrifting has become trendy among Gen Z and millennials concerned about shopping more environmentally sustainably on a budget. Yet, as thrifting becomes trendier, there is a debate among both shoppers and thrift shop managers over the impact this trend will have on low-income communities who rely on their local thrift store.

When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ “Thrift Shop” topped the Billboard charts in 2012, stealing your “grandpa’s style” suddenly became a popular trend with millennials, with the National Association of Resale Professionals reporting a spike in sales within the resale industry.

“You had to go to the thrift store and find some sort of crazy looking sweater to kind of pull off that look, and I just remember going with that goal, and finding a bunch of really awesome pieces that I still have a couple today,” Amy Benzie, 22, said. She recalls getting into thrifting when she was in grade nine in 2014, back when grandpa sweaters were a trending style with her peers.

The quality of clothing found at thrift stores has kept Benzie, a former graphic designer based in Lethbridge, Alta., thrifting for the last seven years.

“I find that it’s just better quality and cooler designs than what’s in stores. You can find some real hidden gems that no one else has and [it’s] better for the planet,” she said.

Campbell enjoys thrift shopping for the price value as well as the quality of clothing, which she finds lasts longer than anything else she could find in a regular store.

Racking up the prices and the problems

According to thredUP’s report, second-hand fashion is expected to double fast fashion by the year 2030. Yet, this boom in second-hand fashion is worrying some experts about the affect it might have on low-income communities.

An article written by the Berkeley Economic Review found that, “the rising popularity of thrifting among more wealthy consumers,” such as younger generations or those living in more affluent communities, “reduces the already limited options available to low-income communities.”

Campbell, who is originally from Jamaica, thinks there might still be a taboo surrounding thrifting in some communities of colour, mentioning that she does not tell her mom that she thrifts and none of her friends who are people of colour are thrifters.

“It’s coming out of a poverty mindset,” she said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, why would I go back there?’ Because this thing is something that people with nothing… that’s what they do. So why are you doing that?”

Although Benzie understands that the gentrification of thrift stores is keeping clothing out of landfills by fast fashion shoppers, she worries about the consequences.

“Obviously, it’s taken a huge boom, like people with carts full of clothes, and it’s just kind of wasteful at some point, in my opinion,” she said. “But at what point are we racking up the prices, because people that don’t necessarily need to be getting cheaper clothes are thrifting.”

Benzie has noticed rising prices at Value Village. “With the boom in Tik Tok thrift shopping, everyone wants to do it. Value Village has increased their prices incredibly,” she said, preferring to shop more at Mission Thrift Store.

a young woman stands in front of a rack of beautiful thrifted clothes
Curating second-hand clothes is part of how Jessica Vaillancourt, owner of Bee You Creative Styles is working to change how people, particularly younger people see thrift shops and make them more excited to participate in circular fashion. Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

Jessica Vaillancourt, 36, is the owner of Bee You Creative Styles, a thrift store located in Carp, Ont. Vaillancourt sources 70 per cent of her inventory through consignment with existing clientele and the other 30 per cent through thrift stores like Value Village. In the last year, she has noticed a two to three times price increase, as well as changes to their retail strategy.

“The fact that they’ve taken away any of their regular sales, the fact that they have a rewards program that really isn’t a rewards program. Like, I could go on,” she said. “They’ve taken out all the change rooms. Obviously, that’s not necessary, but I feel they’re making more money that way.”

John Garfield Knight Jr., manager of the Mission Thrift Store in Orleans, Ont., said their store has recently dropped the prices on their clothing by five per cent.

“We are a thrift store, we are a non-profit, and the money we do generate goes elsewhere, Garfield Knight Jr. said. “But the same token, we don’t want to price ourselves to a point where only certain people can come, we want everybody.”

Despite these concerns, many thrift stores are welcoming younger shoppers with hopes of changing their perspectives on thrifting and second-hand clothes.

Watch as store manager, John Garfield Knight Jr., takes reporter Joy SpearChief-Morris behind the scenes at the Orleans store to see how all donations are processed from door bell to the sale floor. Filmed and produced by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

‘It’s no longer where everything is just thrown together all willy-nilly’

Since reopening after the provincial COVID-19 lockdowns, the Orleans Mission Thrift Store has been trying to engage with its new younger clientele.

Kenzia Loucks, 17, is a part-time staff and avid thrifter at the Orleans store but began as a volunteer the last two summers. Loucks started an Instagram account for the store to target younger shoppers on social media. She said she wanted to “show more of a fun side to the store.”

The Orleans store’s Instagram account currently has 105 followers, 60 per cent of which are females between the ages of 18 and 39.

Loucks has created an Instagram wall to display items she thinks will attract an audience online. “I’ll do clothes ensembles. Recently I’ve gotten into recreating celebrity photos, which has been fun,” Loucks said.

In Carp, Vaillancourt is also trying to change people’s perspectives on second-hand clothing through the way she curates her shop.

To walk up the stairs into Bee You Creative Styles is to walk into a thrift lover’s dream. Each room is carefully arranged to reflect the diversity of Vaillancourt’s shoppers. It aims to offer a little something for everyone, mixing vintage and designer finds with locally made items, books on sustainable fashion and those bang for your buck items.

“I think in this setting where it’s all second-hand, and from all different eras and styles, it’s an opportunity to get people excited about buying second-hand, and it’s no longer where everything is just thrown together all willy-nilly at the thrift store,” Vaillancourt said.

Garfield Knight Jr. is excited about how many younger people are coming to the store as both shoppers and resellers and believes the new trendiness of thrifting is benefitting the local community overall.

“Our mission here is to make money to better the world, and if I make $5 and a young person walks in here, who knows more about it and makes $25, my hope is they take that $25 and they buy other thrifting stuff,” he said. “So just continuously keeps more and more stuff out of the landfill.”

The focus of Vaillancourt’s business is full circle. Clothing she does not manage to sell, she donates to Savvy Seconds, a charity owned by Vera Jones in Kilburn, Ont. Savvy Seconds gives away clothing to those in need, including people escaping situations domestic violence, suffering from economic stresses or from disasters like tornadoes or fires.

photo of Kamal Ismail
Kamal Ismail, 21, began thrift shopping as a child with his mom. Now Ismail is still thrifting and frequently donates to Value Village.
Photo by Joy SpearChief-Morris.

Shopping at thrift stores out of necessity as a child with his mother is what first made Kamal Ismail, 21, a thrift shopper.

“We didn’t have a lot of money so, we would do a lot of shopping at places like Value Village,” said Ismail, who is originally from Oshawa, Ont. but lives and attends university in Toronto. “I found a lot of good things, like pretty expensive things, that were cheap.”

Ismail, who got his girlfriend into thrift shopping, was not surprised by the new trendiness of thrifting but has noticed that the activity has become a luxury for some younger shoppers. He wants these shoppers to be respectful of thrift stores and also encourages donating and keeping thrifting full circle.

“You never know what will catch someone’s eye.”

a woman tags clothes on a rack
a room filled with beautiful thrifted clothes, a sign labeled "vintage coats" hangs on the front rack
a man standing beside a green sign by Mission Thrift Store that reads "Join Our Mission!"
a rack of womens' clothes at mission thrift store
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CAJ report shows lack of diversity in Canada’s newsrooms

CAJ report shows lack of diversity in Canada’s newsrooms

Nana aba Duncan, associate professor at Carleton University and founder of Media Girlfriends, says there needs to be a more welcoming environment for young journalists of colour in newsrooms. Photo curtesy of Nana aba Duncan.

New data from the Canadian Association of Journalists validates what journalists of colour have been saying in recent years – that Canada’s newsrooms are overwhelmingly white.

The association released the first-ever Canadian Newsroom Diversity Survey on Thursday, providing data on 3,873 journalists across 209 newsrooms across Canada.

The report showed that about 75 per cent of the surveyed journalists identify as white, while about 19 per cent identify as a visible minority. Six per cent identify as Indigenous.

“Almost half of all newsrooms exclusively employ white journalists,” said Zane Schwartz, who is a member of the association’s board of directors and survey lead.

“This gives us a snapshot for the first time in Canadian history of the race and gender of the people who are telling Canadian stories and reporting on what’s going on in local communities all across Canada.”

According to the report, representation of visible minorities is currently the highest among part-timers and interns. White journalists make up roughly 76 per cent of full-time staff and 53 per cent of interns.

For Raisa Patel, a national politics reporter for the Toronto Star, these statistics are not surprising.

“We’ve been discussing that racialized women and Indigenous women occupy a very different part of this industry than their white colleagues, and we’ve been speaking for many years about how representation in this industry is lacking,” Patel said.

Almost 80 per cent of the newsrooms surveyed reported having no journalists of colour in their top three leadership positions.

Nana aba Duncan, an associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Journalism and Communication and founder of the podcast production company Media Girlfriends, said there needs to be more of an emphasis on promoting the journalists of colour who are already in newsrooms to higher-level positions.

“Often when there is talk of increasing diversity at companies, people begin with filling lower-level positions,” Duncan said. “This is important, but our news organizations must recognize the leadership that already exists within their ranks and promote them as soon as they can.”

Patel said she believes the report will help others understand the issues at hand and help newsrooms take steps toward focusing on their hiring practices to recruit more journalists of colour.

“It all comes back to hiring at the end of the day, and who are the people that we are seeking out?” she said. “How are we seeking them out? Are we making sure that they feel comfortable and welcome in this industry?”

Duncan sees a welcoming environment as essential to retaining young journalists of colour in newsrooms.

“We must see that they are members of communities that need to be reflected in our news, and that what they have to offer is an expertise some of us will never have,” Duncan said.

According to Schwartz, the next step for the association involves collecting more data from more newsrooms. The professional organization plans to conduct the survey annually. 

As for the future, Patel cautions newsroom managers from stopping the work of improving newsroom environments for journalists of colour.

“I would just really, really encourage anyone in a position of leadership in this industry to move away from that sense of complacency,” Patel said. “There is still so much work to do.”

From passion to side hustle: How women entrepreneurs are building their dream careers on the side

From passion to side hustle: How women entrepreneurs are building their dream careers on the side

Farahnaz Hasan Ali, 25, a full-time development officer at the Alberta Cancer Foundation, is the co-founder of PreggoBox – a pregnancy subscription box service that caters to expecting mothers. Photo provided by Farahnaz Hasan Ali.

When Farahnaz Hasan Ali, 25, found out her sister was pregnant with her first child miles away in a different city, she and her family decided to send the mom-to-be a pregnancy care package with tea, belly butter and ginger cookies for her morning sickness.

Four years later, Hasan Ali’s subscription pregnancy box service, PreggoBox, is serving customers across Canada and sending expecting mothers gift packages full of locally sourced goods.

“When you find out your friend’s pregnant, the first thing that you probably want to do is buy a really cute onesie for the baby and give it to her and celebrate but I think often we forget about moms,” Hasan Ali said. “Sometimes moms feel left out when they’re pregnant.”

She says she’s passionate about making moms happy and comfortable during a transformative time in their lives.

Using their downtime during the pandemic, Hasan Ali and her brother, Faraz, did some market research to develop rebranding plans and revamp the business they first launched in 2017. Within four months, the duo relaunched PreggoBox’s website, began offering subscriptions and introduced its new branding. Now, they’re reaching a larger client base across the country.

“We saw there was a gap in the market and thought of a solution,” Hasan Ali said.

But Hasan Ali’s day job is working full time as a development officer at the Alberta Cancer Foundation in Edmonton. She is one of many young women across Canada who has made their side hustle more than just an additional source of revenue.

It’s a space for them to build their dream careers without sacrificing their main source of income.

Not just a hobby

The latest trends show many gen-Zers and millennials are taking on extra work on the side running their very own small businesses.

From Etsy stores selling handmade jewelry to the weekend-night wedding DJ or the Instagram secondhand vintage Versace bag seller, many women are hustling on the side or know someone who is.

A July survey by Abacus Data showed that during the pandemic, one in three Canadians pursued opportunities to make an additional income outside their primary employment.

Of the 1,500 Canadian adults surveyed, 51 per cent of the 18-to-29-year-old demographic and 46 per cent of students pursued a side hustle. 

According to Tony Bailetti, an associate professor of entrepreneurship at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, there has been an increasing demographic of 25-to-30-year-old women entrepreneurs.

Bailetti explained that 30 or 40 years ago, traditional gender roles like the expectation of marriage may have relegated women’s entrepreneurial ambitions to just a fun pastime.

“I don’t see what I used to see before,” Bailetti said. “I think that a lot of females viewed [entrepreneurship] as a hobby.”  

Today, Bailetti said he sees a shift in how women approach entrepreneurship.

“They want to make it on their own terms,” Bailetti said. “They want to make their mark in the world.”

Canada’s entrepreneurial landscape is shifting. Young women are taking charge and building their own businesses, finding new opportunities in what was once a male-dominated space.

In his experience as the director of Carleton’s Technology Innovation Management master’s program, Bailetti has seen increased entrepreneurial activity from female students that come from outside Canada.

Making moves in a male-dominated world

Tanya Hayer, 28, is a developer for Imaginism Studios who emigrated from India and now lives in Ajax, Ont. Hayer began her side hustle five years ago when her husband gifted her a camera to pursue her lifelong passion for photography.

“I do enjoy my job and I like programming, but the thing is in programming you’re basically sitting in front of the computer from nine to five,” Hayer said. “You have no interactions with anybody.”

She explained unlike her full-time job, she gets to be social and creative running her photography side business, but that work is not without its challenges.

Tanya Hayer, 28, a full-time developer, snaps a photograph. She pursues her passion for photography in her side business as a wedding and portrait photographer. Photo taken by Harpreet Singh.

“Being a female, it’s very challenging to work in the wedding industry. It’s very male-dominated,” Hayer said. “Sometimes you don’t get that respect as a [woman]. People think that they can talk however they want to you.”

Despite the challenges, Hayer is happy to work as a photographer on the side and has learned to navigate the business as a one-woman photography team.

Even though Hayer’s photography business is booming, she said she does not aspire to make her side hustle her full-time job, adding she enjoys the different aspects of both.

“They both keep me balanced,” Hayer said.

Starting small and making it big

Farahnaz Zawari, 31, an Afghan Canadian living in Calgary, Alta., on the other hand, wants to make her side hustle, Stella Décor – an event planning and decoration business – her full-time career.

She said Stella Décor is the creative outlet she has always yearned for. Zawari works as a dental hygienist full-time.

“It’s a nice job, but I am more of a creative person,” Zawari said.

Zawari’s side business started with a bad experience with decorators at her own engagement party.

“I was not happy with how they were not delivering on the vision I had for the engagement,” Zawari said. “The colour combination was not right and the customer service was not good at all. And that’s when I said ‘You know what? I can do this stuff on my own.’”

With a close friend getting married, Zawari brought a couple of her friends and fiancé on board to help decorate.

Their first event was a success, Zawari saw an outpouring of support and new clients through her network who wanted her decorating skills. Since then, Zawari has decorated 14 events through Stella Décor.

Farahnaz Zawari, 31, is a dental hygienist by day and event planner and decorator by night. She spends her free time coordinating events such as wedding and engagements and hopes to one day turn her side hustle into a full-time job. Photo provided by Farahnaz Zawari.

According to Bailetti, a major reason for women’s increased participation in entrepreneurship is that women are networking and creating connections, a key for entrepreneurial success.

“I’ve had days when I didn’t sleep all day and night or two days for an event,” Zawari shared. “It’s worth it because, in the end, the bride and groom are happy. That’s the main focus because they have a dream of how their day should be and I like the satisfaction from them.”

Zawari said her side business has seen a dip because of the pandemic and having fewer events to decorate, but she’s eager to build Stella Décor up to one day becoming her main source of income.

“If it becomes a full-time job I can see myself being an event planner, coordinator and designer,” she said.

In Edmonton, meantime, Hasan Ali is happy her side hustle is helping moms and shared that she’s looking to expand her business to also cover the needs of fathers and babies. However, PreggoBox will remain a side business for her.

“I find myself wanting to work way more on PreggoBox because it’s so much fun, but at the same time, I love my day job,” she said.

For these women, the age-old phrase rings true: Do what you love and never work a day in your life

Read more stories from young women entrepreneurs across Canada

Rabia Dhanani, 23 | Edmonton

Rabia Dhanani’s company, Siempre Eco, began as a summer passion project after she graduated in 2020 during the pandemic.

“Instead of going for jobs, I sort of lost everything and found myself at home with my parents,” Dhanani said, sharing a common struggle as many new graduates during the pandemic. “It started as a summer project to keep my mind off unemployment, to be honest. And that’s how I began making beeswax wraps.”

Dhanani began selling her eco-friendly beeswax wraps to her family and friends and saw a snowball effect of people interested in buying her products.

“It took about four weeks of experimenting and then I finally got the recipe right,” Dhanani shared. “They were good enough and cheap enough for me to realize that big companies simply mark up a lot of the products that are eco-friendly and that I can actually do something about this problem.”

Photo provided by Rabia Dhanani. Taken by Jamie Cornish.

Najma Hashi, 24 | Toronto

Najma Hashi’s side hustle is selling her ebook, Why Does Representation Matter in the Media? on Amazon Kindle and other merch. Through her book, Hashi gets to share her passion for fair BIPOC representation.

“Being a Black Muslim female, it’s important to let the world know that BIPOC voices and their experiences matter – especially in a world that tends to shut that down or dehumanize us based on our race, culture, religion, ethnicity and so forth.”

Photo of Najma Hashi taken by Jessica Trinchini.

Alex Neufeldt, 25 | Ottawa

Alex Neufeldt was working with the Government of Canada but recently quit to go back to school for fashion design. On the side, she runs her own dress rental business called Closet in the Sky.

“I have a studio in the Chateau Laurier where people can come to try on dresses, rent one they love for a few days, and then return it for me to dry clean – all for a fraction of the retail price,” Neufeldt said.

“I launched Closet in the Sky because I believe that people should be able to enjoy dressing up for a formal event without having to pay hundreds of dollars for a dress they’ll only wear once.”

Photo provided by Alex Neufeldt.

Nina Plummer, 25 | Edmonton

“I have always been a dogless dog-lover,” Nina Plummer said.

Plummer began her dog-walking side hustle on an app called Rover after returning to her hometown, Edmonton, in January 2020 after finishing an unpaid internship.

“I began to gather a steady group of dog owners from that platform. Those pet owners would tell their pet-owning friends about me, who would tell their friends, and so on. I began to develop quite the network and I eventually no longer needed the app to get business,” Plummer said.

Plummer explained that she needed income while studying full time.

“Contrary to most widely accepted notions, employment opportunities for youth were limited even before the pandemic,” Plummer said.

Plummer used her side hustle as a flexible way to earn money and help her mental health. “It became incredibly convenient to balance this side hustle with my studies and later with other work-from-home contract positions that I held. I eventually worked my way towards seeing a minimum of four different dogs every day which had really helped me get through the more difficult parts of the pandemic in both financial and emotional ways.”  

Photo provided by Nina Plummer.

Iman Tejpar, 19 | Calgary

Iman Tejpar is a student at Carleton University completing her undergraduate degree in Architectural Conservation & Sustainability Engineering. In her free time, Tejpar enjoys creating both traditional and digital art and sharing her work on social media.

“I started a side hustle last summer doing commission pieces and later in the year tried digital art,” Tejpar said. “From there I made stickers and sold them and through that, I got a lot of exposure.”

Photo provided by Iman Tejpar.

Aqsa Joseph, 25 | Brampton

Aqsa Joseph is a full-time nurse and five months into her eyebrow threading side hustle. She said her passion for threading eyebrows began at a young age practicing on herself after learning from YouTube videos.

“I’ve been doing eyebrows since elementary school,” Joseph said, adding she never took it seriously until her brother encouraged her to think about making it into a side business.

“So, I decided to try it because it’s so fun for me and ever since then it’s been going so good,” Joseph said. “I’m surprised by how good it’s going.”

Joseph says she’s usually fully booked with a mainly nurse clientele she’s acquired through her day job. She hopes to expand her side hustle in the future to offer microblading.

Photo provided by Aqsa Joseph.

Cassandra Liao, 24 | Calgary

Cassandra Liao is currently working toward her microblading certificate to build her side hustle.

“It’s something I can work on for years and learn different skills and use different equipment,” Liao said. “I want to eventually do other permanent makeup like eyeliner, lip blush, and to cover up scarring, and do nipples and areolas for women that had breast cancer, along with tattoo removal.”

Photo provided by Cassandra Liao.

Zahra Bag Jan , 24 | Calgary

Zahra Bag Jan is a full-time licensed practical nurse who works in an acute geriatric unit. As her side hustle, she co-owns and runs Hera Medi Spa with her sister in Calgary. They offer medical aesthetic services such as laser hair removal, Botox and filler, IV therapy and more. 

 “Hera Medi Spa allows me to practice my career and pursue my passion.”

Photo provided by Zahra Bag Jan.

To learn more about young entrepreneurs and starting small businesses during the pandemic, check out Jaimie Nackan’s article, Starting small: How young entrepreneurs are realizing their business dreams during the pandemic

Glebe businesses, eager shoppers welcome Lansdowne Christmas Market

Glebe businesses, eager shoppers welcome Lansdowne Christmas Market

Jennifer Adam smiles behind her mask while standing in front of the various kitchen and home products inside J.D. Adam.

Glebe businesses and local shoppers welcomed the return of the Lansdowne Christmas Market Friday.

The Christmas Market first took place in 2019 but was cancelled last year due to COVID-19.

Store owners near Lansdowne looked forward to the extra traffic the market could bring.

When asked whether there was tension between local Glebe businesses and the market, Jennifer Adam, the founder of J.D. Adam Kitchen Co. on the corner of Bank Street and Third Avenue, said there was none.

 “Anything that brings people down to the neighbourhood is fantastic,” Adam, 59, said. “We like to have extra customers running up and down by the extra stores in the area.”

Adam said her business is established and has been in the Glebe for more than 30 years, but the presence of the Lansdowne Christmas Market “might be harder for newer businesses.”

Adam also said the merchandise her store sells is different from the products at the Christmas Market.

“I think it just adds to the great variety of products that we have around here,” she said, “but if someone was selling something that was the same as what we’re doing, then I would obviously have some reservations.”

Bassam Saeed, 38, is the co-owner of local sock supplier Uptown Sox and was a vendor at the market in its first year in 2019.

“As vendors, we had a blast here,” Saeed said. “At nighttime, they do a lot of events here, and a lot of families come out. So, you have that Christmas feeling right through the holiday.”

Bassam Saeed, co-owner of Uptown Sox, prepares for the opening of the second Lansdowne Christmas Market event.

Vendors are expected to open their doors for shoppers in the Casino Lac-Leamy Plaza starting at 5 p.m. Friday. Saeed said he was not worried about competing with Black Friday sales.

“It started on Black Friday in 2019 as well, and a lot of people still showed up,” Saeed said.

He added that because the Christmas Market begins later in the day, people will spend their evenings at the event.

“It’s a good evening getaway, and instead of going out on a Friday night, people come here,” he said.

Shoppers at the market Friday also expressed excitement for its return.

 “I’ll be going to the Lansdowne Christmas Market with my husband and children tonight, and we’re really looking forward to it,” said Gemma Needham, a Christmas shopper in the Lansdowne area.

“I’ve heard that they light up a giant Christmas tree on the opening night … so that’ll be tons of fun.”

Starting small: How young entrepreneurs are realizing their business dreams during the pandemic

Starting small: How young entrepreneurs are realizing their business dreams during the pandemic

Meagan MacKenzie and Kitana Samson show off their food truck. Photo taken by Mandy MacKenzie.

In August 2020, after finishing high school, Meagan MacKenzie began working at a food truck to earn money. She found herself working alongside a friend from high school, Kitana Samson.

Fast-forward five months, and the pair were signing documents in January for their very own food truck.

MacKenzie and Samson are among some of the young entrepreneurs who seized the pandemic as an opportunity to turn their business dreams into reality.

But these endeavours are not without their challenges. Learning the financial side of business, finding a work-life balance, and the unique difficulties of working through a pandemic are among some of the hurdles these business owners have faced.

The Raging Twenties reached out to the owners of two small businesses to learn more about the challenges and opportunities that arose during their first year.

From best friends to business partners

MacKenzie and Samson, both 22, just wrapped up their first year of business along with a third partner, Owen O’Donnell.

“I’ve always wanted to own my own business,” MacKenzie said, “But when you express that as a kid, you’re kind of told: ‘Slow your horses there.’”

They run their business at a permanent location on St. Joseph Boulevard in Orléans. Their truck, T.F.T That Food Truck, offers gluten-free, keto, vegan, and vegetarian food options.

With minimal business knowledge and experience, the pair found themselves on a steep learning curve to get T.F.T That Food Truck off the ground. Their former employer, turned mentor, helped guide them at the start.

“He flat out just found a truck for us and showed us what you would look for in a food truck, and what inspections you need, and then the cost behind that,” Samson said.

MacKenzie recalled certain benefits of opening their business during the lockdown in April. With restrictions on indoor dining in place, their truck proved to be an accessible and safe option for people to come and pick up their orders outdoors.

They were also able to spread the word about their business early through various social media platforms. Sharing their business on the Orleans Ontario Foodie Facebook group with the group’s 11,000 members helped drum up excitement for the opening and even helped them gain some regular customers.

TikTok was another platform that came in handy, giving them an opportunity to show the human side of setting up a business.

“It’s been fun for us to be able to document the process and show people like, not just the food and advertise it, but show the process of starting a business especially in 2021 when it was a bit more challenging,” MacKenzie said.

“It shows the transparency, we’re real people, and you know it’s tough work,” Samson said. “And we wanted to show people that, because sugar-coating it sometimes isn’t the best way to go.”

The duo experienced long waits for permits, found themselves ordering pieces of equipment for the truck without seeing them in person, and had their opening pushed back a few weeks due to delays related to COVID-19 regulations. Despite the challenges, they have found the experience rewarding.

“I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I mean, there are days where I didn’t want to be cooking in that truck,” MacKenzie said in a Zoom interview in November. “But the fact that I could spend most of my days doing what I liked with my best friend was just so great.”

“Basically, it was a healthy work environment,” Samson added. “So many places you work are toxic, and they affect you in your personal life. The truck, during the summer season, it is our life every day. So, it’s just nice to have a place to go where you enjoy.”

In the future, they hope to expand their business to include catering services.

“We want to be able to eventually invest in a second truck that’s just for catering, like weddings, events, concerts, anything like that,” MacKenzie said. “It seems like something we’re very interested in doing. We’re gonna give it a try next year.”

From hobby to career

Lydia Hanna, 23, followed a different path when she started her crochet business, Crocheting Giraffe, in May 2021. For the most part, she runs her business solo, with some help from her husband to oversee the financial side.

Hanna runs her shop online but said most of her sales are done across several Ottawa markets where she tours as a vendor.

“I didn’t really decide to start a small business,” Hanna said. “It kind of just happened. I wanted to do something that I love, and I just decided to make the Instagram account. Just seeing how supportive everyone was, I just kept going with it, and then it turned into doing markets, and now it’s my small business.”

Social media marketing is a significant part of how she runs her business, but Hanna said it is also very demanding.

“It is really hard to reach people because each day it’s basically 24/7. Like I’m sharing people’s posts, I’m interacting with as many people as I can,” Hanna said.

Hanna devotes a large part of her time to growing Crocheting Giraffe’s online presence especially on Instagram where she shares behind the scenes updates to her following of 4,000 people. She also posts photos of her creations, with some recent highlights including hats, pumpkins, dog accessories and even the occasional crocheted Batman.

Lydia Hanna stands at her crochet stall ready for her day at Stittsville Market at the Barn. She is displaying her crocheted creations, including seasonal pumpkins and a candy corn themed garland. Photo taken by Erik Hanna.

Hanna said that time management and finding a work-life balance are some struggles she deals with as a small business owner. She found sticking to her own schedule and transitioning her hobby into a business a particular challenge.

 “At first, I thought it would be super fun, you know, like I’m gonna love it. And I do love it. But I did kind of struggle. It’s hard to balance your time too, have your time away,” Hanna said, adding that in the end it’s all about time management. 

Aside from selling her creations, she has also considered writing and selling her own crochet patterns, so customers would be able to make the crafts for themselves.

“I can have people from around the world messaging me for help with crochet stuff, which is really cool. … Maybe that’s something I’ll be able to do next year,” Hanna said.

Small business owners remain optimistic

Isaac Kinsella, a policy analyst at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, finds that small business owners are usually an optimistic bunch. The pandemic, however, might have changed that.

“[Due to] the current state of things, a lot of what’s been going on is the optimism has been dropping over time,” he said.  

The COVID-19 pandemic, the labour shortage across the country and the debt that small businesses may have accumulated are factors that Kinsella said may be adding to the drop in optimism.

According to Kinsella, small businesses are also more likely to feel the effects of certain fees or costs compared to larger businesses which are able to absorb the financial hit due to their size.

“For businesses that are already pushed to the brink a little bit, additional changes or additional taxes and things like that aren’t welcome at this time,” Kinsella said.

According to a CFIB survey from November 2021, 43 per cent of small businesses in Canada are fully staffed and only 36 per cent are making normal sales.

“When you’re only making a fraction of your potential normal sales at any given time, any extra [financial] burden on top of that is really going to be felt,” Kinsella said.

Government subsidies over the pandemic worked well to give some businesses the cushion they needed to stay afloat. However, programs such as the Canada Emergency Business Account have since been replaced with new ones like the Hardest-Hit Business Recovery Program, which offers rent and wage support for businesses with at least a 50 per cent loss of monthly revenue.

Twice a year, Statistics Canada releases Canadian Business Counts, with employees. This data shows the number of businesses, by number of employees, for December of each year. The 2021 data is based on the June report.

Kinsella also spoke to the importance of small businesses within Canada’s economy. According to Statistics Canada, small businesses employed 9.7 million individuals in Canada in 2020, which is around 64 per cent of the total labour force.

“And so, throughout the pandemic, I think what it’s done is we’ve had a little bit of an awakening to see how important that small businesses are, not only just to local communities, but also just the Canadian business economy as a whole,” Kinsella said.

Regardless of the challenges, small business owners remain hopeful and resilient. “It’s a lot of work, and it’s exhausting in every sense, mentally and physically,” Samson said. “But at the end of the day, I can look in the mirror and feel rewarded for what I’ve accomplished.”

To learn more about side hustles and women entrepreneurs, check out Rukhsar Ali’s article, From passion to side hustle: How women entrepreneurs are building their dream careers on the side.