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Canadian Creatives

Canadian Creatives | Designer, Author, Illustrator Adam J. Kurtz

The Now team spent a weekend in NYC and had the pleasure of meeting up with designer/illustrator/author/Canadian-Brooklynite Adam J. Kurtz. We were ejected from our original meeting place cafe for filming, so we relocated into the streets of Williamsburg and had a great chat about design, copy cats, and getting sh*t done.

You can watch the video version here or read the full text version of the interview here on our blog.


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Canadian Creatives | Wei Dong Yuan: Fashion, Function and Funding

Episode 7 of Canadian Creatives features Wei Dong Yuan, Co-Founder of AEON Attire, who went from dancing on the street to owning a business.

Starting out as a trio of professional break-dancers, they used their talents to fund their fashion dreams nickels and dimes at a time.

Debuted in 2012, the trio founded AEON Attire, a unisex fashion accessories design firm focused on innovation and functionality.


Today their business has spread to 30 retail stores worldwide, with coverage in the Huffington Post, Mashable, the Globe & Mail, and more.

AEON wrapped up 2013 with their first Kickstarter campaign, raising over $52,000 – over 20 TIMES their original goal.

AEON Watch

Full Interview

Tell us about your background.

W: It started somewhere really random. We were all break dancers in the dance community, in Toronto. Me, my brother and Patrick, we started out dancing, but then we used our dance to do more professional career-oriented things, like professional performing, but then we wanted to take it to the next level. So, we thought ‘Why don’t we use our dancing to fuel on of your other passions, with is fashion?’. We had the idea to one day go to Yonge & Dundas square, get some busking licenses, and raise money for an idea that we had, nickels and dimes at a time, and that how Aeon Attire started up.

What exactly is Aeon Attire today, and what does the name stand for?

W: The word aeon is a word in latin, and it describes essentially a billion years, which is basically timeless, thats what we wanted our clothing and accessories to be mean, and thats where aeon comes from, and then we wanted to include a word or two indicating it was meant for clothing, and we saw companies that are like American Apparel and like Urban Outfitters, so we were like ‘What about Aeon Attire?’, so that is how the name came to be. For where we are now, we now describe ourselves as a fashion design firm, like we create accessories that are not only fashionable, but also uniquely functional.

Why is creativity and innovation so important to you?

W: In terms of innovation and creation, in terms of us we’re pretty lucky to be exposed to dance, and fashion. Both of which are very self-expressive and it’s about innovating, taking something of your own and flipping it. It’s what we want to preserve, also as a company, we can really proud ourselves to do really unique stuff that bigger companies might not be comfortable doing because they are so big and they want to take safer steps. I think it’s also really good just to develop as people. If you’re not innovating and creating something different, then how are you growing with your life?

What was that process like when launching that kickstarter campaign?

W: We actually had experience to crowdfunding prior to our campaign on Kickstarter. We originally used Indiegogo when Kickstarter wasn’t available to Canadians and the process is pretty extensive. You had to create an idea, you had to create a video, you had to contact people to let them know about it, launch the campaign, and then try to gather that kind of interest, and fulfill your campaign and raise the money and get the stuff out to the people.

If you had to give a couple of tips based on your experience, what would they be?

W: I think one of the most important things is the product, like if it isn’t going to provide more value than what people are paying for, it might not do that well. That is the first thing, and after that would be contacting everybody, whether it’s your friends, family, bloggers, all that is an essential part of the entire process because if nobody knows about it, who will be supporting it? After you have your product idea, it’s important to get the information and the campaign out to the people, getting different people involved

So how does it feel like to have exceeded your goal dramatically on Kickstarter?

W: It’s a great feeling that we are 2100% funded. It was a lot of work, I think that it was paid off. Also, it’s something nice to have under your belt. In terms of what we have to do now, we’re working on shipping over 600 packages over the world, to get people their products, we’re trying to get it in before Christmas, so we are really busy with that.

Tell us about the full circle project. How did it start, and where is it at today?

W: Last winter, we started working on a campaign, called the Full Circle project. We have created these circle scarves, and for every one that we sell, we donate a brand new one to homeless youth in Toronto through organizations like United Way. The inspiration for the idea was really when we were dancing on the street, we were more exposed to the situation of people living on the street. We realized that these people were in this kind of situation and as it got colder, they would be in a very dire situation, so we wanted to do something about this, and we decided to create the campaign, and we are aiming to donate over 200 scarves in about two weeks time, for the campaign.

How do you keep your innovation fresh?

W: I think that our involvement in the dancing, hip hop, urban environment is always creating fuel to make creative ideas. We are also always trying to forecast how technology is being integrated with thing like fashion. One of the biggest ways we inspire is to look at things that are common items in fashion, and we kind of think to ourselves if we can make this different, updated, things that we want, that’s really where it comes from. In terms of the gloves, we wanted leather gloves in the winter, and we looked for a way to improve them, in the same way we take a lot of things and look at the processes of things that are current, and interesting.

What is next for AEON Attire?

W: We are coming up with a couple of different ideas. We are coming out with a line of watches, something to start the new year off. We are also thinking about involving a new technical aspect to these watches, so that’s on our radar, that’s about it. Of course, we are also pushing our other different accessories.

Can you tell us one obstacle and/or challenged you have faced starting this business?

W: One of the biggest challenges is creating an idea that is proprietary, different, and marketable. We sat in Patrick’s basement for weeks just trying to come up of random ideas, thinking of ways to provide to the people, and that took a long time. It was only when we went back to our roots, we went to see what we could do to help the people or the kind of person we are the most familiar with, dancers. It was only then we had the idea to help them. That was one of our biggest hurdles, and after you have an idea, how are you going to fund it, bring it to life, get into market? That requires a lot of money, well not too much money, but it requires money. Whether it’s from investors, loans, whether you have to work minimum to make that, that was our second biggest challenge we had, and we were lucky to have a different kind of funding our company and we are very grateful for the opportunities that we had.

What is the best way to keep in contact with you guys?

W: If you want, you can contact us, talk to us, ask us questions. We love that kind of stuff, we love giving back to entrepreneurs. You can reach us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, just @AeonAttire, or if you would like to go on our website,, or you can just email us at

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Canadian Creatives | Zahra Ebrahim: Using Design to Create Community

This episode of Canadian Creatives features Zahra Ebrahim, the Founder and Principal of archiTEXT.

Zahra brings together design, social change and community. Raised in Vancouver and educated in Montreal, she is currently based in Toronto.

Her design think tank and creative agency, archiTEXT inc., has worked with national non-profits and social enterprises, focusing on education community design and innovation consulting. Zahra works to bring together groups to tackle the intersections of architecture and design with social change.

Zahra Talks

She also directs the Community. Design. Initiative., a project engaging some of Canada’s most marginalized youth in architecture and design in Toronto’s priority neighbourhoods.

Zahra and her work has been featured in events like Toronto Design Offsite Festival and Nuit Blanche, in national media, and has shared her insight in her very own TEDx Talk.

Zahra Interview

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Canadian Creatives | Jay Wall: Designing with Passion and Purpose

This episode of Canadian Creatives features Jay Wall, the Creative Director of STUDIO JAYWALL.

Jay Wall spans the networks of design, contemporary art, social entrepreneurship, street art, social justice, civic engagement, youth leadership and cycling. He is the founder of STUDIO JAYWALL, specializing in creative direction and design for social, cultural, environmental, and political initiatives – from print design to interactive design to public art.

Jay Wall on Camera

Jay grew up in the rugged woods of northern Ontario, learning to be adventurous and imaginative. At the age of 7, Jay began drawing maps of imaginary countries and conceiving logos for their fictional sports teams. From there, he never turned back. This love for visual creativity led him to pursue Design at York University and Sheridan College, and in 2006 he founded STUDIO JAYWALL. Since then, Jay and his growing team have partnered with clients such as York University, Spacing magazine, Jane’s Walk, Live Green Toronto, Our Horizon, Trinity Square Video, and the Toronto Design Offsite Festival. His work has been featured in Adbusters magazine. Jay also acts in a consulting role as Chief of Design to start-up Wondereur – which has earned a Webby Award and a Canadian Online Publishing Award.

For more about Jay, visit his website

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Canadian Creatives | Ilana Ben-Ari of Twenty One Toys: Design Meets Empathy

This episode of Canadian Creatives features Ilana Ben-Ari, the Founder and Lead Designer at Twenty One Toys.

What is your background?

I was born in Israel, raised in Winnipeg. I studied in Ottawa and I know work in Toronto, Ontario. I studied industrial design at Carleton University in Ottawa. I studied bachelor’s there and then I worked as a industrial designer for a number of years before starting my own design company.

How did you end up in the toy business?

I studied industrial design which isn’t exactly toys, but my thesis in school was to navigate for the visually impaired, which is now known as the empathy toy. That project went really well, the toy won a number of awards and now I am considered a toy designer, although I have worked as a furniture designer as well as a lighting designer.

How has Canadian design influenced you?

My first design internship was in Winnipeg with a company called Plastic Buddha, and they made crazy, out there designs. That was my first experience with a design studio that was only on emotional design, so everything was a bit cheeky and had a social commentary to it. In terms of design in Canada, after graduating, I worked in lighting design, and then I struggled to find meaning again, because design has so much to offer in the social realm, so I ended up going overseas and working in the UK, and then in Finland, and came back to Canada. I found this incredible community of designers as well as social entrepreneurs in Toronto. My gateway into that community was the centre of social innovation of Toronto, and it’s just this vibrate community of people from non-profit charities to for-profit social businesses. There is a amazing design company, where they know that design isn’t just a product, it’s about the way of thinking, the way of looking at the world.

Ilana Ben-Ari on Canadian Creatives

Tell us about Twenty One Toys, and your products.

Twenty One Toys is a small Toronto startup. We design and manufacture toys that challenge the skills that we are teaching in the schools and skills we are looking for now in work forces. The toys are looking at the 21st century skills like creativity, collaboration and innovation, but we boil them down to specific skills. Our first toy is an empathy toy, and we are also working on a failure toy, toys that are looking at the softer skills that are involved in our education and learning.

The Empathy Toy

What is your biggest struggle as a social entrepreneur?

We just wrapped up a Kickstarter campaign. We were asking for $45,000 so we could put in our first order for a thousand toy sets. We finished the campaign with almost $53,000, which was great. Obviously, we were hoping for this insane amount of pledges, but I think what we were trying to do is really strange. Kickstarter tends to be for high-tech products, it’s not normally for expensive, high quality products. We were trying to sell something that was both higher, in terms of retail, price wise, and we also have a niche market, which is parents and educators, and it wasn’t a high-tech product. We had a lot of challenges ahead of us. We did get some collestation beforehand. Most people we talked to said that’s crazy, don’t do it, it’s going to be too hard, even finding that community, explaining Kickstarter to that community is going to be a challenge, and they were right, except for the part we had went ahead with it, and I’m really happy that it succeeded.

I think it succeeded because of the combination of things. Obviously, we worked tirelessly. Our team at that time is incredibly dedicated, we put in very long hours. Normally, we told told to prepare four months in advance, we had two weeks.To come up with th messaging, we can up with a storyboard, worked with a videograpgher to make the video, ad then just the copy, the messaging, getting out to press. I know it’s an incredibly huge project, it was all we worked on for that month. I think that contributed to the success of it , and also it was the first time we asked our communities for anything.

For more about Ilana and her startup, visit

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Canadian Creatives | Duncan McCall of BrainStation: Educating the Next Generation of Creators

This episode of Canadian Creatives features Duncan McCall, founder of BrainStation.

From founding a programming bootcamp in Toronto to launching a series of courses in various aspects of development, Duncan is providing education for the next generation of creators.

He learned the power of alternative education models and the positive impact great, innovative education can have. BrainStation is the next iteration in education.

Today Duncan has brought together the knowledge, resources and support to create a platform that will change the way we approach education in Canada and around the world. He hopes to empower others to create the technologies and companies that will shape our future.

Duncan McCall Canadian Creatives Smiles

For more about Duncan, visit his music blog and company website

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Canadian Creatives | Dorota Pankowska of Adventures in Creativity

This episode of Canadian Creatives features Dorota Pankowska, who has gone from photography student to an independent artist and aspiring product designer. Keeping her work fresh and fun, Dori explains why she doesn’t limit her self to one medium or style.

From concepts to projects, we talk about her adventures in creativity – how they have lead her to opportunities, and how she creates her own and takes on new challenges almost every day. From product street art to breakfast cereal to pop tab curtains to lego nails, Dori is full of unexpected ideas.

Dori Canadian Creatives

For more about Dori’s projects, visit and Follow @dorithegiant.

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Canadian Creatives | Neil Martin of Clayza: Cataloguing the World’s Creativity

On the first episode of Canadian Creatives, we interview Neil Martin, co-founder of Clayza and Project: Spaces, based in Toronto, Ontario.

A detailed interview with Neil is available below as a supplement to the video.

D: Can you give us a little bit of your background, where did you start, how did you end up in Toronto and how did you end up working for Clayza?

N: I grew up in Ottawa, and I was always into doing lots of creative things. I’ve studied music, arts, and acting as a kid. I ended up going to Queens University majoring in film studies, and I just kind of always love working with other creative people, and towards the end of university, I ended up founding an arts’ magazine, we were called Arts and Ideas magazine, that we ended up spreading across Canada, becoming Canada’s largest university magazine. So right after school I started working with creative people, publishing their work, I found that really interesting. That was a few years ago. About two years ago, I ended up moving to Toronto, to try to, still working on the magazine, I wanted to keep expanding to that, but running a print magazine is very expensive, so we ended up shutting that down. But I had this love for working with creative people, helping them promote what they were doing, so around that same time we opened up a coworking space, called Project: RHINO and we have been running that for the last two years or so, and from running that coworking space, we learned a lot about, not just creative people, but creative professionals. I have always been the type of people who strongly believes you should do what you love. But doing what you love and making a living doing what you love are two very different things, and I hate that, the idea of the starving artist, I would love to kill that. But that was how we got to Clayza, looking at how people in our space, like freelance designers, web developers, filmmakers, and that kind of stuff, and looking at the unique challenges the creative professionals face and we started to think about ways to solve those problems, and Clayza was the child of that.

D: What exactly is Clayza and what does it do?

N: Clayza is a professional website for people in creative industries. A quick easy way to think about it is think about Linkedin. and what is Linkedin in the white-collared corporate world. It’s a place where you can connect with your peers, and you get to say what work you have done, and your experience and essentially connect with work opportunity. One of the reasons why it’s so hard for creative professionals or largely creative freelancers make their living is because creative industries are very fragmented. The first thing we are trying to do with Clayza is that we call it cataloguing in creativity, so it really comes down to taking creative projects. We are starting by taking these projects, mapping out who worked on them, and what skills they brought to those projects. We are keeping it really simple now, and we are creating a very easy to use platform that allows you to upload your creative projects, credit the people you have worked with, and what skills they had brought to that project.

Neil Canadian Creatives 2

D: What is one of your favorite pieces in Clayza?

N: I get really excited when I see collaboration on Clayza that I don’t expect to see, or when you see types of people collaborating you don’t see everyday. For example, there was a project uploaded recently where a guy had done some really cool typographic images, where he took phrases and designed them to look super bad-ass, then his friend used a 3D printer to take those pictures and turn them into real life renderings of them. That project is on Clayza now, and what’s cool is that before Clayza, that project would have ended. Clayza is a place where that project can live forever. This project now lives on Clayza, they have been able to credit who did what on that project, and now that is part of their portfolio.

D: Why is showcasing creativity, quality, design, and art so Important to you?

N: I’ve always loved creativity, I’ve never prided myself particularly talented in anyone of creative thing. I’ve played music, I’ve done some arts, I’ve done some acting, things like that in the past. I’m better at working with creative people than I am at being one. So the first business we had, which was the magazine, we were looking for ways to promote what creative people were doing, and offer them tools that make what they do easier, I find that to be what I’m best at. So, when is comes to Clayza, it’s really about how I would love to see a world where people are making a living by doing the creative things they love, and not worry about things like ‘How am I going to eat, or pay my rent?’. We are just getting started with Clayza, but that’s really what drives us, we want to build tools to make that easier.

D: What are some of the challenges, in general, starting up a tech startup?

N: For us, it’s interesting because even though Clayza is a technology startup, we’re really not a technology company, we’re using technology to try to solve these problems creatives are facing. One of the first challenges we faced were how to figure out an effective way to standardize the presentation of creative work. So, right now, when people showcase their work online, they might do it on a niche platform so there are platforms for designers, platforms for actors, for film makers. A big challenge for us is that we need to create a place where whether you are a photographer, or a model, or a hair and makeup artist, or a wardrobe stylist, is instead of being on your own niche platform, is that you can come together on the same platform, and that was our first set of technical and design challenges we had to overcome, which was just an interesting challenge for us.

Neil Canadian Creatives 1

D: Can you tell us about the name Clayza and how you got to it?

N: Coming up with the name Clayza was an interesting little journey for us. Naming your product is always a challenge and we wanted to come up with something that could speak to creativity as fundamental sense as possible. At the time I wasn’t even sure what that meant, but because we were trying to build something that was as versatile enough for musicians, designers, and filmmakers, I didn’t want a name that would only speak to one industry in particular, which was a challenge, and I started to dig through Mythology, and stumbled on the idea of clay, which is really interesting because as it turns out that in ancient cultures have these narratives that humans are made from clay, and every culture gives their own spin on that story, but the idea of us coming from clay seems to be ubiquitous to the world. We thought that was a cool fundamental idea to base a platform around. But now a days, the four-letter, correctly spelled, dot com,, is incredibly hard to come by. We actually reached out to the people who owned that domain but they wanted a million bucks, and we knew that it wouldn’t work. But, we really liked the idea so we started brainstorming, thinking maybe we could put our own spin to it, and we ended up coming up with Clayza.

D: What is next for Clayza?

N: Right now, our mission is to catalogue creativity, and that means showcasing creative projects, tracking who worked on that project, and what skills they brought to it. I think once we can effectively do that, we can create a space where creative people want to be, and it’s cool and it’s easy to use. I think the next phase after that is to start solving some of the more complex problems. I like to call it the ‘Business of being creative’, because someone who is a creative freelancer is also a small business owner, but they probably not passionate about business, they’re passionate about design, or filmmaking, or whatever creative thing is that they love. So I think that’s what the future holds for Clayza. We have some ideas of some tools that we could build, some simple tools to help you, whether it’s quoting jobs, or, one of the pains that we have heard is that creative freelancers spend a lot of their time chasing paychecks, and that sucks when some of the project you work on aren’t that big, so you’re spending this time, chasing a few hundred dollar paychecks, and that sucks for you, so we want to start eliminating things that suck, basically.

D: Where can we find Clayza online?

N:, @ClayzaHQ and

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Now Digital Network to Launch Original Online Video Series, Podcasts

This winter, Now Digital Network is launching its first Video Podcast series.

Canadian Creatives, a new original series, showcases Canadian thinkers and designers. Guests share their creative processes, innovative projects and unique experiences. The team aims to motivate and inspire you on your creative journey, while highlighting the diversity of careers, collaborations and communities available for creatives in Canada. The video series, which will be available on YouTube and as an audio Podcast, is recorded from the heart of Toronto, Ontario and is hosted by Daniel Francavilla, Creative Director of Now Creative Group.

Neil Now

Also this winter, Now Digital Network will be launching a pilot of the Relationship Zen podcast. Hosted by David Ip Yam and Lindsey Ostrosser, these videos are an extension of their healthy relationship blog,

To Sponsor one of these podcasts, pitch your ideas, or suggest a guest, please email

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