Helen Oro; Saskatoon;
Let’s say we’ve just met at a cocktail party. How would you describe, in a nutshell, what you do?
I am an accessory designer who takes traditional First Nations beadwork and creates contemporary statement pieces. I aim to empower and build confidence with each custom piece. I share my culture through my work; showing others our culture is beautiful and can be worn appropriately by everyone.
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
Before I had any idea that I was going to be a business owner, I took a continuing care assistance course at Saskatchewan Polytechnic in Prince Albert. Then came my esthetician course and this is actually where my love of entrepreneurship was born. I opened my first business after graduating. Then beading—which was a hobby at the time—became my passion, and I realized that this passion was something I could actually build a career from. I went to the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship in Saskatoon. Since then, my beadwork has turned into a legit business and has taken me around the world as I showcased in various fashion weeks. It’s allowed me to mentor young aspiring models and designers, which has been such a fulfilling feeling. I’ve been able give some cool opportunities I use to dream about to others.
What was your first paying gig out of school? (In your field, or not.)
I created my beadwork business while I was still completing my course at Praxis. So I was able to make a living off of it right away.
What was your BIG break? How did you land it?
I would definitely say that graduating from Praxis was my big break. I had a actual business plan, projections, plans and targets to work towards. Before, I had been literally throwing myself at every shiny opportunity that came my way.
Describe the moment in which you first realized, I think this is actually going to work out?
When I was reached by a local retailer, SaskShop, to sell my creations. She began growing and opening other locations and bringing my brand to these new locations as well
What would you say has been your biggest failure or shortcoming, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back?
Breaking my collarbone and not having a back-up plan. I literally thought and felt invincible for a bit, and then I was taken out by an injury that caused me to stop working completely. I had planned on having someone trained in completing orders, et cetera, but I had procrastinated thinking I was still capable of getting things done on my own. Boom! I was injured and I had to put orders on hold. I even missed out on opportunities to have my work sold in stores in other cities.
Once I was able to move without my sling on, I began beading again and started working on mending relationships with customers who were extremely patient. It was a slow process but I worked my butt to get back on track.
Name one piece of career advice you always give.
Learn how to handle being rejected. Not everyone is ready for you and what you offer and that’s okay. Sometimes certain opportunities weren’t meant for you for a reason. Always move forward even if it’s a baby step.
What’s the worst career advice you’ve ever gotten?
To not try new things that I wasn’t “qualified” for, and stick to what I know. You won’t grow as a person or a business person if you don’t learn or try new things. If we don’t fail horribly at something once in a while, how on earth will we learn and grow? Trying new things opens so many doors and creates amazing opportunities.
Did you deal with barriers in your field because you are a woman? If so, what were they?
I deal with barriers all the time being a woman, but being an Indigenous woman is even more difficult. We have so many stereotypes put on us (that we are thieves, welfare bums, scammers, addicts, or even street walkers). I always have to prove myself. And prove that I’m just as worthy as anyone else.
I firmly believe that empowering and supporting each other is the best way to overcome barriers for women in any industry.
Are you making a fair income for your work? Why or why not? Do you have a side hustle for extra cash? If so, what is it?
I create and bead full time so this is my main hustle. I’m still growing and learning but I live within my means and I’m very content with life. I plan on growing my business and the work I’m doing, but learning to price my creations to where they need to be has always been a struggle for me. Entering the retail field is making a big impact for the positive.
What’s the worst stereotype you’ve heard about millennials at work?
In relation to the type of work I do, in our First Nation culture there are some designs and patterns you just don’t use. There is always a fine line of disrespecting another tribe, clan or family. Some elders believe we should keep beadwork and certain designs and patterns within our traditional circle. Others believe that our generation is innovating a cultural practice and keeping it alive through the work we do. So I would say that some believe millennials overshare things we shouldn’t share; ruining something that has deep meaning.