Abnormally Original

“We’re all about individuality! And, I feel like, when you own who you’re as a person it’s a strength that nobody can take away from you and upcycling is part of that. It’s your own spin on something that was already created, but now it’s yours officially. I love that!”
~Renée, The Original Smiths

Normally, she.lace doesn’t make statements that could be insulting, so we apologize in advance: if you’re “normal”, you’re boring. Please don’t take offense…after all, we know if you read these blogs and support the movement you have an affinity for defying norms 😉. To be fair, we have to credit that statement to some inspiring young women that we’ll be introducing (we know you’re going to love what these wordSMITHS have to say). Let’s clarify something though, our issue with the use of the term “normal” has to do with it being used as a label/identifier. she.lace doesn’t like traditional or typical standards that qualify as the conventional and customary definitions of normal. That sentence was a little wordy huh?! Well, we used FOUR synonyms for the word normal so we figured it would be easy to understand….no wait, we mean decipher…no pause, we’re suggesting to comprehend. Here’s the point, as far we’re concerned there’s not much normal…about being normal. For instance, she.lace attempts to communicate an uplifting message through our blogs. We think it’s fair to say that our regular routine of trying to encourage you to be the best version of yourself is commonplace in our messaging, and we hope it leads to natural improvements. In case you didn’t notice…that last sentence also had FOUR synonyms for normal. Don’t mind us, we’re just showing you how we are typically abnormally original.

Creativity breeds originality, originality contravenes normality. Shall we express this in layman’s terms? There’s nothing wrong with allowing your creativity to be original, even if that means you’re not considered normal. As a matter of fact, “Abnormally Original” is intended to be redundant. For example, she.lace would like to believe (shameless brag) using women’s love for sneakers as a conduit for women’s empowerment is original. Of course, an initiative of this “nature” is unnatural, unconventional, non-traditional, uncommon…it’s ABNORMAL. To us, being abnormally original is a source of pride, and it’s exciting beyond explanation. Now, this is not to suggest that being abnormal, by default, makes one original. Only the reverse is the case: being original makes one abnormal, because being original demands creativity. In this case, the “one” being philosophically referenced is actually two. Two OG’s in the world of being abnormally original: The Original Smiths.

Sooo, anyone looking for personally designed vintage upcycled clothing which are personally curated all with a theme that speaks to the individual? How about hand-crafted accessories? Oh, not in the market for material items…no worries. How about youth empowerment workshops that spread the power of design as a method of instilling confidence and self-worth? Or, events with guest speakers who champion feminism and showcase how women are fierce and inspirational? Of course you’re interested (excuse our abnormal confidence), so we suggest you get familiar with The OG Smiths: Renée and Anélia.

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(Renée left, Anélia right)

The Original Smiths don’t do boring. As they say: “The truth about us is that we strive to be like no other. Normal is boring.” Let’s get into their abnormal interview!

First thing, what does the OG Smiths stand for and how did you come up with the name?

Renée: The Original Smiths! Original, as in unique and can’t be imitated. And, Smiths as in creator in a specific art.

So what art would that be?

Renée: I’m a poet!

Anélia: To me it’s clothing, I like fashion because I’m a fashion designer so using art to go into fashion. And making that particular clothing piece into a work of art that’s yours and yours alone.

So, we’ve established a few things. We have a fusion essentially: we have poetry and we have fashion all falling under the umbrella of art. And you ladies have brought it together in a very funtastic way. So, explain to us what The OG Smiths do in practice…

Anélia: We do upcycle clothing. So, basically we take vintage and retro pieces and we create them anew. Sometimes we do it ourselves, and sometimes we collaborate with local artists. So we have artists in the city [Toronto] that contribute in doing different collections with us, and sometimes we go international as well. On the side, we teach youth, young women and disenfranchised folks how to do their own upcycling.

Renée, why upcycling? Why is that such a key component to what you two do?

Renée: Because we’re all about individuality! And, I feel like, when you own who you’re as a person it’s a strength that nobody can take away from you and upcycling is part of that. It’s your own spin on something that was already created, but now it’s yours officially. I love that! Especially, when you’re using good quality pieces that you know are going to last along time…that’s really important to us.

This is the point of the interview when she.lace affirmed that being an attentive listener is the best way to “design” a good interview. If you don’t agree after listening, we have a one-word response for your disagreement: bollocks!

Who’s Anélia?

Anelia

Anélia: I’m weird, I’m chill…I just do whatever (laughs). I do whatever I want to do, and I do whatever is on my mind. I don’t care what barriers are in front of me I just smash through them as much as possible. So, whether I’m doing something for my career or personal life if I want something I’m going to get it through any means necessary.

We loved Anélia’s response, but after putting Sherlock Holmes to shame and discovering our British bredrent’s roots 🇬🇧…you know we needed a little more from Anélia, sak pase?

Well ,well she.lace might just get into the business of private investigating.

“Hello. Hallo. Bonjour. Waddup?”

We read the greeting ⬆️ on The Original Smiths’ site, and noticed the accent aigus used in their names. We made a guess there was some Caribbean-French (Haitian) heritage involved..and we were right!

Now that we’ve established who The OG Smiths are we get to discuss the genesis of the business endeavour: the friendship. Just like she.lace, a particular university in Toronto played a vital role in this connection.

Speaking of doing things…You both mentioned the workshops you put on. It seems like a very crucial element to the platform so explain what they are.

Anélia: Of course, we start of with an “icebreaker activity” to get everyone out of the shyness of interacting with strangers and get them comfortable. Then we run through the ideas of what they want to do with their piece–we get a bunch of jackets and upcycled vintage pieces for the group–and then we let them do whatever inspires them. We have materials and equipment ranging from different paints, fabrics, sewing machines so they can let their creativity loose. It’s amazing to see what people do when they have those things in front of them. It’s funny because when we do these workshops one of the common things that comes up is people saying “I don’t have time to do this” or “This isn’t something that I would do”…and the next thing you know, when they leave they have an original piece that they created and they’re so proud. You can see the glee in their eyes that says “I actually made this, and nobody else has this.” That [feeling] is so important and essential in the workshops. It’s all about making people comfortable in their own skin, and the pieces they make are like their safety blankets.

Sidenote: If you want to get a sample of what the youth and women’s empowerment workshops might sound like, take a listen to the Gentle Earth Business Network Podcast these two go-getters were recently featured on. Combine friendship, fashion, arts and the desire to make a difference and you have the formula for The OG Smiths. You’ll have to listen to get more valuable advice!

The OG Smiths have a mantra, explain it to us.

Renée: Be afraid to blend in, scream if you standout! We recently updated the About Us section of the website so I’m not sure if it’s still there. But it’s important to me, and I know it’s important to Anélia as well, that we are our true selves even if that means you’re seen as weird, or a misfit or an alien–that’s something I say in a lot of the workshops that we run, that I’m part alien. I feel like it allows [people], especially the youth, to feel more connected. When I was younger I didn’t blend in despite my best efforts to, I tried to blend in really hard. And even now I try to blend in, sometimes, but it just doesn’t work out so when I’m being my true self it really shines through.

renee

Sooo she.lace wasn’t about to call Renée a liar, that would be outlandish, BUT we did have to probe a little further into this claim of trying to “blend in” and be inconspicuous. Her beautiful blue hair can be seen from one end of Graffiti Alley to the other haha. We needed an explanation, take a listen.

The Original Smiths providing original pride. With pride comes empowerment, so what’s empowerment to you two?

Anélia: It’s being able to be yourself at any stage of your life. It’s being able to continuously learn about yourself and feeling completely comfortable in your essence. It’s just being you the best way you can.

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What is women’s empowerment?

Renée: It starts with self! When you really start to believe in yourself than you can help others around you. I’ve been running workshops for about ten years now for women who have been abused and for youth as well. It starts with me as a facilitator having the belief that I can help my community. You have to ask yourself “How can I help someone else?” It could be sharing a story about how I overcame something, or suggesting resources that helped me. It’s knowing that if that person gets into a better space, than they can help someone else. That’s the empowerment, being able to inspire someone and being able to motivate someone else when you have the strength to do that. It gets really difficult at times to be yourself in society…with all these different forms of oppression. To be in a space where you can use oppression as a way of teaching someone else how they can be the best person they can be no matter what the world is telling them, is empowerment to me.

How did you come across she.lace and why did you reach out to do a collaboration?

Renée: It was sent to me by a friend who encouraged me to check it out, and I had put it off for a while. Then I said to myself “Let me not put this off.” Like she [Anélia] is a focused student, I dropped out (laughs). So, I said let me take a look and as soon as I did I was like “Yup, one for the win…this is it, we need to be apart of it.” And, here we are…we liked the vibe from the beginning. We like the fact that we’re people of colour–black people doing stuff, I love that we’re WOMEN doing stuff too. We’re all about women’s empowerment and being businesswomen, and making movements in communities if we can do that…and we’re doing that.

In the vein of defying social mores and being anything that resembles “normal”…what’s next for the OG Smiths?

Anélia: Everything, the world is next! We’re not trying to limit ourselves. We want to open a store in the next few years, and get our online store “popping”. We want to collaborate with artists not only in Toronto, but all across Canada, the U.S., Europe. We’re trying to reach out internationally because the sky isn’t the limit, we’re trying to get to outer space. We’re trying to run workshops in different parts of the world to meet people. And learning from others by taking what we have and what they have, and combining it together.

Renée: Continuing the alien theme, we’re just trying to take over the universe! There’s really no limit, the only limits are the ones your mind sets. I’m in the process of unlearning some of the habits and things that are toxic for me, and telling myself the truth that I can achieve absolutely anything. The mission that we’re trying to push forward is that you can achieve anything you want to, you just have to put yourself out there. Take the one step, and someone else will help you with the five others to follow.

AR - styles

“The Original Smiths is a retro and vintage online clothing store that showcases artists creativity through style. We spotlight exclusive pieces that shout ‘I am different; I am present; I am here!’ and those pieces reflect each and every artists we bring onto the journey.” 

With a description like this, she.lace had to get a rundown of the process these ladies undergo when their work begins.

If you’re anything like us, you’re about to go to The Original Smiths site to get your personalized vintage piece designed and crafted. Wait until you see what she.lace has in the works, 🔥🔥🔥.

This is one Toronto-based creative project that has global reach, and the ability to have such a positive influence in the world. Anélia and Renée are doing so much more than designing one of a kind dope vintage clothing…they’re curating a collection of powerful messaging. It’s what she.lace likes to dub as “conscientious consumption”: fashion design with art and heart. We knew we had to tap into our creativity to come up with a fashionable location for these two. We weren’t too concerned though…thinking creatively is right up our “alley”.

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There’s an area in downtown Toronto known as the “Fashion District”. Most Torontonians are, most likely, familiar with this part of the city…BUT they may not know this is the “official” name. Well, all you’d have to do is take a look at the street signs at the intersection of Richmond & Spadina and you’ll notice the title in quotations. Once you’re done street sign gazing and you direct your sight downwards… You’ll see this:

AR- thimble
If that doesn’t stitch fashion into your mind, all you’ll have to do is walk one block north to Queen Street and walk west. The commercial storefronts are filled with an array of beads, garments (of all textures), textiles, threads, buttons. Basically, a fashion designer’s paradise. Sooo, this must be the reason we selected this location for the photoshoot right?! Yes… and No. Let’s consider the relevance of those elements as part of “the design”. So what was the “full outfit” that caught our attention? At the top of the paragraph we suggested taking a walk along Queen Street West to take in the sights and sounds of the Fashion District. Well, there’s one downside to taking that advice…you’ll be bypassing one of the most art infused alleyways in Toronto.

Doorway

Graffiti Alley! When it comes to visual arts, what is more abnormally original than Street art? Creating art by transforming public locations into non-traditional art venues full of creative (sometimes unsanctioned) work is what Street art is all about. Well, consider Graffiti Alley the most unconventional art gallery in the city. We’re talking about a stretch of two city blocks, nearly 1 km, with walls covered in murals, paintings, tags, portraits, anime, abstract drawings…all sorts of beautiful spray paint creations. There isn’t a solitary spot on the walls of this alley that goes to waste.

Sidenote: All of those familiar with Canadian television personality Rick Mercer may have come across this famous alley without even knowing it. The comedian (“tongue and cheek” political pundit) is the creative genius behind the CBC’s Rick Mercer Report, and uses Graffiti Alley as the location for the segment on his show called “Rants”. Mercer’s use of the colourful backdrop has become so widely known that many also refer to it as “Mercer Lane”. We have a challenge for you: take a look at a few of the over 270 “Rants” Mercer has filmed in the alley…then notice how many times he’s passed by the same spot, and there was a different work of art. The ever-changing beauty of Graffiti Alley. AND, if you want a VERY informative virtual tour of the famed alley, that covers nearly every piece of art, we strongly suggest you check out the Graffiti Alley Instatour put together by Heritage Toronto. This visual representation is as educational as it is technologically savvy…it uses Instagram photo tiles to create a continuous “image” of the alley, and includes background on the artists, style of graffiti and overall history of the lane.

Please, please don’t take our words for it! Plan a trip to downtown Toronto and find yourself on Spadina Avenue in between Queen Street and Richmond Street (you could even book a “pay what you can” guided tour with Tour Guys). Walk west in the alleyway (Rush Lane) all the way to Portland Street and prepare to see plenty of DSLRs, a tight corridor buzzing with activity and the inspired looks of tourists and Torontonians alike. Thanks to art like this, Toronto is positioning itself as one of the best Street art cities in the world.

Speaking of inspired Torontonians. With outfits like the ones The OG Smiths were rocking, if they posted up on the walls and stood statue still some people would have mistaken them for artwork.

This is probably the most abnormally original runway you’ll come across in a while… But, it couldn’t be more fitting for these models. Pinstriped flare pants with a vintage cropped t-shirt…a custom made dyed denim jacket (with that fierce lion etched in) with a vibrant royal blue velvet maxi dress. We’re certain you couldn’t help but notice how effortlessly Renée’s dress coordinated with her hair. We’re not sure if that was strategically planned or if it happened “out of the blue”. And then… There’s the sneakers.

“Breaking news: A Toronto-based initiative ‘designed’ to showcase creativity through art and fashion is a magical breath of fresh air.” Do you like the headline? Well, if you’re confused about what we’re reporting we’re going to “clear the air” and help you “read” between the lines. Introducing the: Reebok Ventilator and the Daily Paper x Puma Court Platform:

snkrs
Ventilator (left) = breath of fresh air; clear the air
Daily Paper (right) = headline; read between the lines

“She [Anélia] is definitely the sneakerhead. For me, sneakers are something that come and go, it depends on my mood. I’m more of a Dr. Martens kind of fan, I have maybe nine pairs.”
~Renée

“Sneakers, I’ve always loved sneakers. I’ve never really liked heels and my mom always tried to make me get into the “girly” stuff and I just couldn’t do it, but I loved sneakers. I remember in the early 2000s going on sneaker blogs and reading about all the new releases, even though I was a child and had no money to get them. When I got my first job and the first time I got paid, I bought sneakers. I got a pair of high-top Nike’s that I still have, and that’s really how it started…Sneakers make me feel like a badass. They make me feel comfortable in my own skin. I get colourful sneakers because they’re the show piece of my outfits.”
~Anélia

One who’s a devoted sneaker enthusiast, the other who fancies a military style boot. Both empowered women walking the same path of empowering others with an abnormally original initiative.

staircase

smith
[noun]
A worker in metal
E.g. blacksmith, goldsmith – denoting a person skilled in making something with a specified material.

Well, The Original Smiths are skilled with a specified material that they use in all of the products they produce: creativity. Of course, we have to sprinkle in passion, poetry, fashion design…all garnished with a desire to empower women and inspire youth. For Anélia and Renée it’s not just about looking good, it’s about feeling good. These two remarkable women “look the part” that they’re actually actively living. Whether it’s through the design of clothing/accessories or workshops The OG Smiths have crafted out a space to allow others to collectively, celebrate their individuality. Just like Graffiti Alley, Anélia and Renée find a way to transform something vintage and unused into a work of art. They’re doing more than upcycling vintage clothing…they’re upcycling good vibes, positivity and love.
“Clothes have a story. Tell us how our pieces make you feel. Inspire us.”
How do their pieces make she.lace feel? They make us feel abnormally original.

The Original Smiths and she.lace have one very important thing in common, we’re inspired by those we inspire. So the next time you’re having difficulties summoning your will to be abnormally original we have the solution. Just take a moment to look at the About Us section of The Original Smiths’ site. There’s one line in particular we want you to pay attention to: “Creative. Unique. Persons artistically skilled. Cannot be imitated.”

Not only is this a succinct and accurate description of Anélia and Renée…it’s an abnormal way to motivate others to be original, by being yourself!

6 thoughts on “Abnormally Original

    1. Thanks for the love Missy MJ, and consider your blog followed 🙂
      P.s. Weekends at the Market Place is a lovely read…Kensington Market and St. Lawrence Market in one weekend, that’s a weekend full of great food haha

      Like

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