How three creators put on a showcase for local talent in the unlikeliest of places. Header photo by Illuma Creative.
Ottawa has a reputation for being boring.
On the surface, it appears as a sleepy, government town. But bubbling underneath is a vibrant arts and culture community, with creatives from all walks of life emerging on the scene to breathe life into the city that fun allegedly forgot.
Among those creatives is Mia, a digital creator and podcast host who saw an opportunity to bring together a talented group of artists – chief among them Fiona from Anaya Arts and Sheila from Savana Boulevard - for a showcase of fashion, art, and community. “I know many young black entrepreneurs, and with Fiona and Sheila I wanted them to step out of their comfort zone and do something to show off their talents and brands,” Mia told us. “I wanted to break stereotypes that black women don’t support each other or work together".
Photography by Magali Fillion
Sheila, the designer extraordinaire behind the Savana Blvd. brand, admits that being a small business owner in Ottawa has its challenges. “It is expensive to run a business in Ottawa,” she says. “And having a brand owned by a minority, I have had to learn to navigate the thin line of ensuring my brand appeals to a diverse range of people to avoid being labelled.”
For Fiona, the artist and creator of Anaya Arts - a unique, minimalist arts company that captures afro-centric beauty, hair, and culture – using her work to inspire and encourage others is a cornerstone of everything she does. “Being both a creative and an entrepreneurial woman in Ottawa is challenging because it’s expensive and time-consuming. Events where I am able to showcase my art are not always visible, so I have to go the extra mile and really dig for them.”
Mia echoes those sentiments, too. “Being black creative women in Ottawa can be hard. That’s why creating community is so important,” she explains. “To be heard and seen is important, and I wanted to make it known to other black creative women that the community here in Ottawa is there to support them. This showcase was a perfect example of that.”
Photography by Magali Fillion
The showcase was held at Rebel.com’s office in the heart of Ottawa’s bustling Byward Market/Downtown Rideau neighbourhood. Since moving in and renovating the space at the corner of Dalhousie and Rideau in 2018, Rebel.com has made it their mission to open their doors to community groups and non-profits that might not otherwise have the means to put on events in the city. “I discovered Rebel while delivering art for a different event that was being held in their space by the ‘Finding Your Tribe’ community-building initiative,” Fiona told us. “And it just so happened that I met my old university friend from Montreal, Justine, at the door.” Justine Sousa, Rebel’s Event Facilitator, has been instrumental in creating a safe, welcoming space for diverse groups from all around the city. “I am so thankful for Rebel for allowing us to use their space,” Sheila said. “The support we got from Justine from day one right up until the last minute before showtime was instrumental in the success of the event.”
Artwork by Anaya Arts
Along with the event featuring a showcase of Fiona's Anaya Arts and Sheila’s Savana Boulevard – transforming Rebel’s tech office into a catwalk – artists from all disciplines also were given their time in the spotlight, including singers, photographers and makeup artists. This community approach is built right in to the ethos of Sheila’s brand. “I started Savana Boulevard as a means to my financial freedom, but as it grew I saw the potential a brand has to touch lives and go beyond just dressing people,” she explained.
“I made it a point to hire women out of university who show potential in business, partner with local tailors, seamstresses, photographers, and upcoming /aspiring minority models. I decided to switch up my business model to make sure that the heart of my business is creating opportunity and exposure for creative minds in Uganda.” Sheila’s ultimate goal is to ensure her brand is successful enough to fund her dream of opening a community resource center in Uganda.
Photography by Gracious Creative Agency
Fiona loved that the showcase was a blend of art and fashion, giving her Anaya Arts apparel, accessories, and art pieces the opportunity to not only be seen, but to be celebrated by the community gathered in the space. “Community building is important because I am my worst enemy and tend to hold myself back,” Fiona admits. “It took me over a decade to embrace my talent, so I hope my journey and art encourage others to tap into their own hidden and forgotten talents.
And with the support system behind her, including a now-thriving community right here in Ottawa, that dream can certainly become a reality. “When you have a community behind you, being supportive and rooting for you, you aim higher and go further,” Fiona says. “This event was the perfect example. Everyone involved came together so willingly and effortlessly.” And as Mia told us, “When you have a solid support system, there is no high ceiling that you can’t reach.”
Photography by Magali Fillion
See photos by Illuma Creative on their site.
A Night of Fashion Credits
Savana Boulevard: Fashion designer, Sheila
Mia: Digital Creator/ creator and host of the podcast “Mia’s Opinion” @mias_opinion
Anaya Arts: unique, minimalist art that captures afro-centric beauty, hair & culture because representation matters. Currently offering wall art, apparel & greeting cards. @anaya.arts
Creative Assistant: Bernie, owner of Gracious Creative Agency @graciouscreativeagency
Singer: Tapiwa @color_by_tapz
Band: R&B, neo-soul & jazz @savingcindi
Photographers: Sarah (of Illuma Creative), Magali, and Tim Skinner: @illumacreative, @magalifillionn, @tim_canadian_sculptor
Makeup Artist: Nat from @beatbynat
Models: Grace @gracediamani, Riviera @rivaasideee, Hollie @holliekennedyy, Clemence @clemi_mug, Elijah @elijah__watson, Alyana @alyanalakhani, Kiara @ikiaramitchell, Zara @callmequeen_z, Paul @pckpm_, Diderot @diderotofficial343