Money & Career

Turn your passions into careers

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

Turn your passions into careers

Wouldn't it be great if the thing that gets you most excited in life, say, a favourite hobby or a special talent, could also earn you your income?

In fact, it can, and there are women who are making it happen. Here's how three women parlayed their passions into profits.

Their insight and advice might give you a little inspiration to go after your own goals.

Marla Fortier, 33, owner of Sugar Baby Aprons. She lives in Fort St. John, B.C., with her husband, Stacy, and their two children, Haley and Hudson, ages 15 and 8.

Her passion-turned-profit:

"I Love Lucy" can take credit for a lot: making redheads sexy, showcasing the comedic chops of women like Lucille Ball and inspiring a northern B.C. homemaker to start her own business.

"Lucy had the best aprons," Marla says. "I liked the concept of the apron, but I didn't want anything traditional; I wanted something stylish because I love dressing up and having people over for dinner parties."

Financially backed by her husband, who works in the oil industry, Marla sewed a prototype 1950s poodle skirt--style apron two years ago.

After consulting a Vancouver-based pattern maker and manufacturer, she ordered 60 aprons and launched her website -- and her whole new career. "In high school, I always wanted to be a dress designer. But I never thought I'd really get into it. It ended up being even more exciting than I thought it would be."

Support system:
"My mom and sister help with the orders. My 15-year-old daughter takes pictures for my newsletter and has used it as a school project. My husband and I do most of the travelling. I homeschool my kids, so I can take them with me."

Success story:
Ironically, after a Sugar Baby apron appeared in a national newspaper story criticizing aprons as antifeminist, Marla saw an increase in orders.

Even so, some women have accused her of "trying to bring back the 1960s," she says. "But I think you can be a mom and work, and be a great presence in the house. I think of the aprons as a celebration of that."

Who would've guessed? "I was in my kitchen when this woman called from Tokyo. She found me on the Internet. She represents an importer who sells 900 aprons a month and wants ours to be a good portion of that."

Words of wisdom:
• "Your next success could be right around the corner, so don't despair if you feel like you're not getting anywhere."

• "Read everything, ask questions and listen to the experts. Seek out business people who can be positive mentors for you."

• Have an online presence. "I use a lot of social media. I use Twitter like crazy. I drive traffic back to my Facebook page. They're essential to getting a bit of web buzz."

Page 1 of 3 -- Discover how a dancer became a fashion designer on page 2
Stacey Bafi-Yeboa, 33, designer of Kania, a luxe line of streetwear. She lives in Ottawa with her husband, Nana.

Her passion-turned-profit:
"I was the ultimate girlie-girl growing up," says Stacey, chuckling. "I dressed up Barbie and did her hair and makeup. I always wanted to be involved in some girlie activity."

Frocks and frills hit the back burner after high school when she pursued her other passion: dancing. At 19, Stacey was performing in lavish cruise ship productions; at 20, she starred in Saturday Night Fever on Broadway.

But after friends began asking her to make them the funky but comfortable clothes she designed for her own auditions, her future was sewn up.

"I would make clothes that would flatter my assets and camouflage my flaws. Suddenly, I was making stuff for friends, then for a yoga studio," she recalls. Determined to parlay that into a full-time postdance career, she sourced custom-dyed cotton and bamboo cloth, and located a Toronto-based manufacturer.

Five years ago, she launched Kania, which is Ashanti for "light." "My success has come from being a risk taker," says Stacey. "If I didn't take risks, I wouldn't be as far along as I am."

Support system:
"It started with me and my parents. My dad would cut the fabric; my mom would help sew. We had a little sweatshop going in my bedroom," she giggles.

But backed by her husband, a biologist with the federal government, nothing seemed impossible. "He has great confidence in me to make the right decisions. To everything that goes wrong, he says, ‘You know you can do this.'"

Success story:
Stacey's trademark item, the Snuggie -- a lush wraparound sweater with deep sleeves and a cowl hood -- has been spotted on the Pussy Cat Dolls as well as Britney Spears.

Stacey's clothes can be found in 20 stores across Canada, in her flagship boutique in Ottawa and at national trade shows. Yet success has its price: Another company recently knocked off one of her designs.

Who would've guessed?
Although Stacey has no formal training in pattern making -- she drapes cloth on her body and cuts it into shape before passing it on to a pattern maker -- her designs are surprisingly easy to wear.

"It's amazing that it translates for so many women and that they feel the same way about my clothes as I do."

Words of wisdom:
• Stay connected to industry groups. Stacey joined The Fashion Incubator, a nonprofit organization in Toronto that offers a research library and advice to designers. "They give you two hours of consultation time a year."

• Know your potential customers. "It's easy to get caught up in what's on trend," she says. "Make what you want to wear and what will sell to your demographic."

• "Feel the fire and the passion about what you're doing. You can't do it for money or because someone said you should."

Page 2 of 3 -- Read about a former makeup artist who risked it all for her dream job on page 3

Erin Bolger, 36, author of the award-winning cookbook The Happy Baker: A Dater's Guide to Emotional Baking (Happy Baker Publishing, 2009) and star of The Happy Baker web series on

Her passion-turned-profit:
A single girl with a big heart and an even bigger oven, Erin often shared baked treats and not-so-sweet stories of love lost with colleagues at Toronto's Citytv, where she was a makeup artist.

"Baking has always been therapy for me. If I was stressed out, they would say, ‘Wow, did you have a bad morning? This banana bread is still warm!'"

After a long-term relationship ended six years ago, Erin spent a month pouring her sassy humour, family recipes and tales of heartache into a cookbook, then borrowed $50,000 to self-publish it.

Featuring recipes such as My Mom Didn't Like You Anyway, Cupcake and It's Not Me, It's You, Sea-Salted Caramels, it won the title of Best Canadian Dessert Cookbook from the Gourmand Cookbook Awards in 2009.

She has sold the American rights to Harlequin Enterprises and is now writing another cookbook.

Support system:
Her mother and aunt taught her to bake and still lend a hand at events. "My mom even drove across Canada with me for three weeks on a promotional tour."

Success story:
Book sales and TV appearances on ET Canada and Steven and Chris aside, Erin's best moment was The New York Times naming The Happy Baker one of the best cookbooks of 2010.

"I went into work mode and put out a press release right away. The next day, it settled in my head and I thought, Wow! That's a big deal!"

Yet, she still has moments of self-doubt. "I'm 36 and I changed my career when I didn't need to. I never had any debt, but I had to take out a huge loan. But nothing in my life felt more right than doing this."

Who would've guessed?
"People are baking who don't normally bake because of the book. It's such a nice compliment. They bake with their kids and they're making memories."

Words of wisdom:
• "Have a strong support network. You need people you can bounce ideas off."

• Don't let fear hold you back. "You don't get good things happening unless you put yourself out there."

• Be proactive. "I Google everyone for their email addresses. I personally drop off press kits and cookies. When you're determined and passionate, others have to notice and respond."

This story was originally titled "The Joy of Work" in the May 2012 issue.

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Money & Career

Turn your passions into careers