Keep Calm and Fold On: Gavin Canning shares handmade origami jewelry as FoldIT Creations

Gavin Canning has been all over the world. He is originally from Newfoundland, he studied in Quebec, he taught in Korea and he has toured West and East Africa, Central America and Asia. Not only is he an avid explorer, but he’s an entrepreneur and an artist.

Canning is the founder of FoldIt Creations, the “Keep Calm and Fold On” of jewelry companies. The brand creates and sells unique handmade origami jewelry and accessories carefully made with fine Japanese papers, gemstones and silver.

I fell in love with some of Canning’s designs at the Trinity Bellwoods Flea Market, a place where people who love local products and love to shop come together to support local artists and entrepreneurs in Toronto’s west end.

Despite his very busy schedule, Canning was kind enough to answer a few questions about his journey!

Read below for more:

1. When did you first realize you wanted to kickstart a career as an artist?

When I was a child. I’ve always been artistic, drawing and painting as early as I can remember. Growing up in rural Newfoundland, I made money in the summer selling scallop shells painted with traditional Newfoundland scenes to tourists. I continued painting and drawing well into high-school and then went on to earn a studio arts degree from Concordia University in Montreal with a focus on drawing, painting and art history.

2. How has your education and background helped you with your successes?

During my time at Concordia University, I took various electives like sculpture and 3D media and design courses. These courses allowed me to gain experience in various techniques working with clay, metal and wood. Many of the skills I gained experimenting with these mediums have been very useful.

3. What was your first job? How has, or hasn’t, your first job helped you in your own business, today?

I was in junior high selling the local newspaper in my hometown in Newfoundland. Every Wednesday, I went door-to-door after school on my paper route collecting money in exchange for newspapers. I guess that job taught me how to work in all conditions and how to talk to people. There were lot of times where people would just make you wait while they fetched the change, so they’d start conversations (and being in Newfoundland, people loved to talk). I really learned how to develop my interpersonal skills.

4. Was owning FoldIT Creations all in your plan? How did the brand come to be?

No. FoldIT Creations was born completely out of necessity and quite by accident. From August 2010 to August 2012, I worked full-time as and ESL teacher in Seoul, South Korea. Upon my return to Canada in November 2012, I was frantically looking for a job, anything to get me started in Toronto. It was the holiday season and all retailers had hired for that period. No one seemed to be looking to add to their teams!

In my spare time, I was making origami, which I started while travelling throughout Japan. I was posting pictures on Facebook and one of my aunties on the east coast asked me to make her some earrings. Like that, FoldIT Creations was born. I made a few pairs, put them on Etsy and they sold within the first week. That was it, almost by chance my business had kickstarted.

5. Where can we find your products?

Online in my Etsy shop, which opened in late November 2012, at or via The Noteworthys, an outlet that sells one-of-a-kind, handmade goos. You can also find my products in person at the Craft Ontario shop in Yorkville, Swift Vintage on Queen St. E. and the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie, north of Toronto.

6. How does selling your products on Etsy help you retain customers?

I see being on Etsy as an integral part of my business. While allowing me to reach a global audience, it also allows me to reach local customers, promote my Toronto shows with the Etsy Local feature and offer customers coupon codes. I generate coupon codes for customers who purchase and leave feedback on my shop as a way of drawing repeat customers. This has worked out really well! Etsy itself is a great platform and it’s a brand that people trust and love.

Turquoise origami rose studs. Photo by: FoldIT Creations.
Turquoise origami rose studs. Photo by: FoldIT Creations.

7. Are you a one-person army, or do you have people who help you create and sell your product?

I make 90 per cent of my jewelry myself, by hand. All the paper and fine silver jewelry is completely done by me! For my 3D printed jewelry line, I design and make it in paper first, then work with a Computer Aided Designer (CAD) to digitize. The pieces are then are printed in brass, silver and gold in Brooklyn. As for sales, I do most shows myself, but when I double book, I do have someone who helps me out!

8. Who first taught you about handmade origami jewelry?

To be honest, YouTube has been my greatest teacher! I have only ever taken one short silver smithing course to learn the basics, but I am more or less self-taught.

9. How do your website and your social media presence impact your brand?

Facebook and Instagram are my saviours. Instagram, especially, allows me to reach a far greater audience than would have been possible even a few years ago. I can post, in real-time, things I am working on and gauge customer interest in designs before I make them. Instagram is great because you can also show your wares to potential target audiences with a few simple hashtags.

I also do monthly international giveaways which give my followers something to look forward to and a way to engage with FoldIT Creations. Winners often come back later as customers, so its a win-win situation for everyone.

10. We met at the Trinity Bellwoods Flea Market. Why is it important for you to go to festivals and fairs like this to sell your stuff?

I think going to local markets is very important to expand brand awareness. It is also a great way for customers to meet the people behind the brand. When selling in person, people get to interact with your product and your person(s), which is very different than seeing a picture of your stuff online. It’s a tactile experience! I think people also just like to save on shipping and pay in Canadian dollars :).

11. What is a day in the life of Gavin Canning like? 

Well, I do have a part-time day job so four days week I’m away from the studio, working 7:00am to 3:00pm. After an hour nap (naps are very important to me), I usually go straight to the studio and start working. I would say I put in four to six hours on days that I work my day job and on my days off, I tend to spend the whole day working, either making things, photographing or listing things on Etsy!

Gold feather earrings. Photo by: FoldIT Creations.
Gold feather earrings. Photo by: FoldIT Creations.

12. What has been the most rewarding experience so far?

I can’t pinpoint one experience exactly, but what I find most rewarding and motivating is when people write me after receiving their orders to tell me what my jewelry means to them! The symbol of the origami crane means many things to many people, generally it symbolizes hope and perseverance. It mans so much me when people share these personal stories of how my jewelry has inspired them.

13. What has been the most challenging experience so far?

I think I’ve been very lucky thus far. I feel I haven’t faced too many difficult challenges with FoldIT Creations. I guess, if I had to choose something it would be financing the business when I first started. The first year or two, all my profit went back into the business, so I wasn’t making a whole lot to live on. Starting a business from scratch and no money was difficult at times. Growth was slow, so I had to be quite patient and focused.

14. What would you tell a developing artist to keep them motivated?

Believe in yourself. Believe in your product. Start small and grow slowly (unless you have a lot of money, of course). I’ve seen other friends of mine start really big from the get go and spend all their resources on manufacturing without first testing their products and when it didn’t sell right away, they were really disappointed (and broke)! Sadly, they gave up after just a few shows because the money didn’t come back quickly enough.

My last piece of advice would be to put yourself out there, apply to every show you can find and be prepared for rejection. I still don’t get into everything I apply for after three years of business.

Don’t let rejection stop you from doing what you love.

Hand-folded silver origami heart cufflinks. Photo by: FoldIT Creations.
Hand-folded silver origami heart cufflinks. Photo by: FoldIT Creations.

15. Where is your favourite place to find inspiration? Why?

I like going to The Paper Place on Queen St. W. near Trinity Bellwoods Park. I’m a paper nerd and they have the largest collection of Japanese papers in Toronto. I love the colours, the patterns and the artistry that goes into them.

Etsy is also another great place for inspiration. It’s an awesome way to see what what your competitors are doing, as well as source materials for your next project. Etsy literally has everything, which is why I love it.

Thank you, Canning, for taking the time to chat with us! Congrats on all your successes so far. We can’t wait to see you at the next festival.

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