Blanche Macdonald Centre News from Blanche Macdonald Centre SARA ARMSTRONG SCULPTS HER NICHE IN THE INTERNATIONAL FASHION DESIGN SCENE Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

The rain has only just been soaked back up into the sky and a crisp beam of winter sunlight rays down on the shop front of Vancouver’s Greenhorn Cafe. Blanche Macdonald Fashion Design graduate and owner of self-titled label Sara Armstrong ambles up, folded in to the dark cocoon of her coat, and we pause together to marvel at the timeful turn. As we upright a couple of chairs outside, brushing off a few straggling drops, the magnificent line and craftsmanship of her jacket are addressed.

“I finished it just now actually. I had been feeling a cape, but I think I might stick with this,” shrugs Sara humbly, her shoulders framed in angled raglan seams, sloping and structured all at once.

“My style is a really strange combination of fashion and sculpture,” she muses slowly, thinking fully – everything with a dream-paced purposefulness. “Though I actually feel that the combination should be more common. It’s transforming anything from a two-dimensional to three-dimensional form, and I reference this a lot in my architectural seams. My background in sculpture has been helpful also in being a bit more fearless in materials.”

Sara refers to her BFA in Intermedia & Sculpture from her hometown University of Regina, where her foray into the world of art-as-career first began. Though she ultimately decided that sculpture was not the medium for her, it built the foundation from which her dynamically arching lines and intriguingly formulated silhouettes – which have garnered her international acclaim – have been wrought.  

“When I was doing my degree, I was focusing mainly in public sculpture. I thought, ‘Well, what do you do – work on one project for five years? How do you stay inspired in that?’ Fashion design is my own kind of public sculpture I suppose. Everyone can take a piece, and what I want people to do is to make their own stories and life around them. I don’t think of them as these trendy one season pieces. I want the people who own them to incorporate them into their lives.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

In her third season with her eponymous label, Sara’s impeccable craftsmanship and heritage-minded design stalked down the Vancouver Fashion Week runway to grand success. Reaching a new culmination of hype in the fashion community, eager requests for pre-orders and editorial pulls rained down on her like confetti after the show. Not to mention that it was picked up by, and featured on a global scale by Vogue and Glamour UK, as well as Elle Italia.

“[Vancouver Fashion Week Founder] Jamal and his team are amazing. He’s such a good mentor; he really builds you up, and it’s a great network of people. I’ve done Saskatchewan Fashion Week, and it’s so city identified. What I love about Vancouver Fashion Week is that it’s international. There are people from all over the place which is really cool.”

Inspired by ‘Peruvian nights,’ Sara’s Spring/Summer 2015 collection saw romantic, gender inclusive looks with compelling proportion and a structured ease that fused urban design with the effortlessness of dusk backcountry strolls.

“Silhouette, shape and form always come first when I’m thinking of a theme. Then I think of what it sounds like or what kind of scene would this be in. From there it runs into runway, music, video. All of those things paired together makes a collection. I can’t say that I’d be interested in showing a collection if I didn’t have all of those things because that’s what brings it to life. It’s completely holistic.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

Bringing a vision to mind, to harmonious matter each season is no easy feat and Sara insists that it couldn’t be done alone.

“Your team is everything really. A good leader, a good brand has great people behind it. Delegation is huge because as someone who’s designing and working full time, and trying to build a type of brand, you can’t do it all on your own.

“You need people with the right skills who are just as passionate. This is especially true now, the further I go with my collections, photo shoots and videos. Even my music last season was completely made from scratch by my friend, Branton Olfert. It’s the only way to really take your thing to the next level  you need next level people.”

When it came to choosing her people, Sara knew where to turn, taking on two PR mavens, Tara Osipoff and Albian Kwok, straight out of the Blanche Macdonald Fashion Merchandising classrooms. She knew that she could be confident in their knowledge and skills, coming from the Top Fashion school that first launched her own journey.

“When I moved to Vancouver from Regina I had maybe $200 saved which was not practical,” laughs Sara. “My Aunt, who is practical told me, ‘You need to look into schools.’ I had some friends who had been to Blanche Macdonald and so I enrolled. It’s been one of the better experiences that I’ve had in Vancouver for sure. It’s a community, which is something you need when you move to a new place.

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

“It was a year, but I feel like I’m still in the program because I still talk to [Fashion Career Director] Mel Watts, and so many of my friends that I met in school are still friends. Sewing classes were always fun  Lisa’s a riot! I’m such a history buff and so the fashion history that we learned in Peggy Morrison’s Fashion Awareness class is still something that I think about a lot when I’m designing – when I want to pair a sleeve, thinking about how they might have done it in the 1940’s or some Gothic era. There’s so much that I learned over the year and I literally use it every day; even when I’m doing press releases, or writing out the description of what a piece is.”

Though Sara’s design focus may lie with a home-grown aesthetic, the extravagant and fast-paced arena of social media and web marketing is not one that she shies away from. Cultivating an online presence with her seasonal collection videos, regular updates on her Instagram page, and a soon-to-be-launched web shop are all things that Sara has on her mind in the now, and looking ahead.  

“I know that my audience might not be 100 percent Vancouver. Maybe the people that I’m trying to reach are nomads; maybe they’re people who could live anywhere and wear anything they want. I think that it’s important that my target is able to access that wherever they are, whether they’re in Beijing or Stockholm. It’s a good way to start because that’s ultimately what I want to do, is wholesale internationally. So I love branding, and I love my Instagram – I’m out of control on that!”

All the same, at the end of the day it’s the intimate and immersive practice of hands-on-fabric that has Sara enamored with her career.

“I feel like I have an ‘aha-moment’ every day – I just have to do it. It’s an inclination to design and create.”

It’s an inclination, but it’s not all ease and affinity; Sara knows that in the cutthroat world of Fashion, talent is only as good as how far you push it.

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

“Every season we learn something new, and every season we have higher expectations for the next season. There’s always an ebb and flow and there’s always a chance to learn. Design can’t be everything if you want to have a business – it has to be well-rounded, and it has to be promoted. That’s real life. Moving forward, outside of the actual design, something I could be better at is selling.”

Sara is being modest. With international acclaim and a strong local support so early in the game, Sara’s line is set to flourish in the years to come – and we’re eager to watch. Reflecting on her success so far, she has apt words of acumen for the next generation of emerging Fashion Design talent.

“Own your craft. Own your future. Make your own curriculum. Go to your classes, do well in your classes but also look outside in your community; what workshops can you take, what can you do to be the best version of yourself? That’s what I did when I went to school – I really dove in and that year was committed to learning what I wanted to learn.

“That’s the biggest thing; you can go to the best school but if you don’t have a vision of what you want to make, of who you are then it doesn’t really matter. So own it.”

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

Top Fashion School Graduate Sara Armstrong

Sara Armstrong, indiegogo campaign

Tue, 24 Feb 2015 00:00:00 PST

The critics have spoken. When Condo/Western Living magazine ran its “Where to get a real haircut in Vancouver” feature, Ka!Boom was listed as the best salon in the Coal Harbour neighbourhood, with a specific shout out to a certain Blanche Macdonald Pro Hair graduate.

“‘Ashley works miracles’ was what they wrote!” she smiles. “I got so many new clients from that story. The weird thing is, I don’t know how it happened and I never found out who wrote it. I had my suspicions that it was a client but she denied it. So it’s still a mystery!”

It’s no mystery why that secret admirer is singing Ashley’s praises. It’s the same reason why her chair at Ka!Boom is continually filled with clients looking for the latest style and why pro hair line Moroccanoil has recruited her to educate other stylists across Vancouver; Ashley loves what she does. Growing up in Kamloops, BC, a life as a top hair stylist in the big city was always her ultimate goal.

“I was braiding my Barbie dolls’ hair and experimenting on my younger sister from the time I was five. The first haircuts I gave happened in Grade 5 at a sleepover party. I announced, ‘I can cut hair,’ and went at all my friends with a pair of scissors. We all ended up going to hairdressers afterwards, but some of those hairdressers said, ‘You know, she didn’t do that bad a job!’”

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Ashley was sharing opinions about her and her friends’ appearance before she’d even started high school. The essence of a hair stylist was already within her. 

“When I was about 12 I was watching a lot of MTV and Much Music. I became inspired by the fashion I was seeing. I could tell when people had outdated styles. It bothered me. ‘You have to get your Mom to stop feathering your bangs! You can’t walk around like this!’”

Ashley graduated and put her plan into action. She moved to Vancouver and enrolled in her first choice Hair School.  

“I wanted live in the city and make people happy. The way to do that was to go to the best school. That was Blanche Macdonald.”

As soon as Ashley reached the School Salon, she started making people happy. Once she’d overcome her own nerves.

“Seeing my first client was terrifying!” she laughs. “But our instructors were by my side the entire time and I could ask if I was nervous about anything. You can panic when you first start cutting on real people because you don’t want to mess it up. But at the same time it’s so exciting. You get to change people’s looks. I was able to experiment and make big changes in the Blanche Macdonald Salon. Clients tended to be young people and when I’d make a suggestion for a big change they’d often say, ‘Sure! Be creative!’

“Blanche Macdonald educates you on so many different things. We were taught how to interact with people too. The etiquette training we did made us feel more confident to approach people in a professional manner.”

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Ashley graduated from Hair School and went straight to her first job at the Hennessey Salon in Oakridge Mall. After a year she moved to Whip, a concept salon in Yaletown. It was there Ashley made the connections that allowed her to put what she’d learned on the Hair for Film and TV modules into action. 

“I was working with a hair stylist who had worked on The Vicki Gabereau Show and was close friends with one of the Makeup Artists at CTV, Rebecca Simmons. Rebecca needed stylists for the morning show during the Vancouver Olympics. I had an interview at CTV, which was challenging as they gave me a newscaster to blow dry as fast as I could. I remember thinking, ‘You’ve got this – don’t mess it up!’ They liked me and gave me a contract for the whole Games. 

“I worked 1am to 9am every morning during the Olympics. We were on air from 3am, because we were broadcasting across the entire country. I was a big MTV fan and used to watch The Hills, so it was exciting for me to meet and style the talent that I once looked up to. I built a rapport with them, which was cool. There were random celebrities and medallists coming and going the entire time, which was really exciting. But I also missed being constantly busy like I would be in the salon.”

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Ashley had decided on exactly what she wanted from her hair career. She just needed the right salon to make it happen. 

“Because we were committed to one line of products at Whip I felt limited with what I could use with my clients. I wanted to express my creativity and wear what I wanted to wear. That’s the best part of being a stylist. You get to be who you are, and people come to see you because of that.”

The salon she was searching for was Ka!Boom. She’s been a star member of the team ever since.

“It felt like home from the start. We’re a bunch of friends who work together. We try to keep up on cutting edge fashion. And we like to experiment. I love to make someone’s day or give them a change that they never knew they had in them. I understand that certain things work or won’t work for people. Or at least, something else would suit them better. People put a lot of trust in me. It’s a big thing for someone to give me the reins to let me transform them. That’s an awesome privilege.” 

Top Hair School Graduate Ashley Budden

Clients instantly appreciated Ashley’s commitment to excellence. So did the industry.

“I’ve become an Educator for Moroccanoil! They approached me. My boss, Amy Stollmeyer, is one of the Moroccanoil educators for North America. We had a class at Ka!Boom and Amy was showing us old Hollywood glam looks and I was super enthusiastic because I do a lot of weddings. So she and our modern rep put my name forward to be an educator in Vancouver. Now I’m going to salons around the city teaching product knowledge and styling a couple of times a month. It’s fun to teach people and see them learn new things.”

At the root of Ashley’s successes are a desire to help people feel good about themselves and a passion for creativity. That tattoo you see on her arm is there for a reason. 

“My tattoo reminds me to be innovative and never fall behind. I’m always educating myself and learning new skills. I’m never going to become a cookie cutter stylist. This job is about expressing your creativity. People think being a hair stylist is easy. It’s really not. Don’t give up and always follow your dream!”

Ashley Budden's Top 5 Hair Products

Thu, 19 Feb 2015 00:00:00 PST

Lori Woodhouse was at Hair School in Victoria when a visiting Makeup Artist arrived to talk about opportunities in the TV and Film industry. That was all it took to convince young Lori that makeup would be her career; a career that took her onto the sets of Supernatural, Masters of Horror, Psych and The Addams Family, before she moved to London, England to take on high profile management roles with MAC, Bobbi Brown and Tom Ford Beauty. Makeup has taken Lori around the world, but she still remembers the thrill when she first heard the potential of a career in makeup.

“The Makeup Artist talking to us had worked on The Scarlet Letter with Demi Moore,” recalls Lori. “It sounded super-exciting. I turned to my friend and said, ‘I’m going to be a Makeup Artist and work in film.’ She said, ‘Me too!’”

Lori was working as a hair stylist in Victoria when the lure of Makeup proved too strong to resist. The move to Vancouver, and Canada’s top Makeup School, was inevitable.

“In the 1990s everybody who wanted to work in TV and film also wanted to work at MAC. Most of the artists who worked at MAC went to Blanche Macdonald, so that was the school I knew I had to go to. It had a great reputation even back then.

“Learning at Blanche Macdonald was really powerful. My TV and Film instructor had put the bruises on MacGyver. Now she was teaching us bruises! It was inspiring and amazing.”

Top Makeup School Graduate Lori Woodhouse

Lori graduated with two career aims. She wanted to work in the movies. And she wanted to work for MAC.

“MAC was opening up a counter at The Bay in Victoria and I was fortunate enough to get one of those jobs. Working in retail prepares you so well for going freelance or working in TV and film. There’s nothing better than making someone feel really amazing about themselves. And retail gives you the opportunity to practice your skills. The more Makeup you do, the better you get.”

When the chance to enter the world of Film and TV arrived, Lori was ready.

“People kept telling me that I needed to meet this Makeup Artist called Debbie Lelievre. She’d gone to Blanche Macdonald too. She phoned me one day out the blue and the first thing I said was, ‘People are always saying that I need to meet you!’ She was working on a film and needed a swing assistant that could do hair and makeup. I loved every minute of it! And I was asked to work on more shows after that.

“When you’re working in retail you can’t take off infinite hours. I loved working at MAC but the opportunity was knocking. My boss was so great. He said they’d always be a place for me there and that I should go follow my dreams.”

Entering the TV and Film business, Lori understood that it paid to chase the work she wanted. A promise from her Makeup School instructor Michelle Pedersen wasn’t going to be forgotten.

“Michelle said to the entire class, ‘If you ever want work, call me. If I don’t answer, keep calling.’ I kept calling and eventually had the opportunity to work with Michelle and Devyn Griffith doing day calls on the Addams Family. It was super cool doing Wednesday Addams’ makeup and powdering Uncle Fester, who was sweating up a storm in the heaviest coat imaginable.

“I worked on MVP: Most Valuable Primate about a hockey-playing chimpanzee. I did a show called The Magician’s House where there were real badgers and foxes on set. I didn’t care what I was working on. I just wanted the hours to be able to join the union.”

Top Makeup School Graduate Lori Woodhouse

Lori built her hours to the point where she became a full IATSE member. Once word leaked out that she could do both makeup and hair, the work offers started pouring in.

“Anne Caroll, who's been head of countless hair departments, called me for a show called Best Actress. That was my first TV hair job. Even today, if someone asks me to do something I'll say yes, then go figure it out. As a makeup or hair professional you need to remember you can do those jobs better than you think. A non-professional doesn't have your skill and talent. Go for it and figure it out. As long as you can execute it, it'll be fine.I remember doing a bald cap in ten minutes for this cop movie that looked ridiculous. We were laughing at it. But for a quick shot of a stunt double it was fine.”

The more time Lori spent on set, the more she loved it.

“Of course it’s exciting! If you don’t find it magical there’s no point in doing it! The only time I was truly star struck was when I found myself in an elevator with Morgan Freeman, Kevin Spacey and Justin Timberlake for a movie called Edison. Yes, I did touch Justin’s hair a few times. It is lovely hair.

“From the early days on Best Actress, eventually the hard work led to an amazing opportunity. Jeannie Chow offered me an assisting position on Supernatural! It was the hardest show I've ever worked on. It’s mainly shot at night, so it’s dark and raining all the time. I joined in Season Two, did that season and was also doing day calls on Masters of Horror, which led to me getting Season Two of Psych. I met my husband in California, and we moved to the UK for what was supposed to be six months. They asked me back for Psych Season Three, but by then we’d decided to stay in England.”

Moving continents went hand-in-hand with a change of career direction.

“I thought about all the work I’d put into building my TV and film career and I knew I’d have to do that all over again at 35. Saying you’ve touched Justin Timberlake’s head doesn’t actually open doors. You have to start on the shop floor.”

Lori went back to where her makeup journey began, applying for a job at MAC in the prestigious Harvey Nichols in Knightsbridge. Naturally, her limitless enthusiasm made a positive impression.

“I interviewed so well that they asked me if I wanted a management role. If you’re articulate, confident and truly love it, that should come across in an interview. Management positions aren’t just about putting Makeup on people. You have to know about driving a business too. Education and sales go together naturally.”

Top Makeup School Graduate Lori Woodhouse

After a year Lori moved from Harvey Nichols to the MAC store at Westfield, Britain’s biggest Shopping Centre, overseeing its growth from nine to 20 employees. It was the first in a series of great moves.

“An education position for the South of the UK at Bobbi Brown came up. I worked with them for four years, training staff across the UK. Education in retail isn’t just about putting Makeup on. It’s practical coaching about how to relate to clients and convert that into sales. I had to lead by example, and that meant doing Makeup every day. I would facilitate training at the office, and work one-on-one with the artists and their clients in store, pitching in when it was needed. There’s no agenda when you’re educating. It’s more about asking effective questions and getting people to set goals for themselves.”

The most recent step on Lori’s journey is also the most exciting. Tom Ford is already a global force in fashion. Now Lori has a major role in spreading the gospel of Tom Ford across Britain’s Beauty Industry.

“Tom Ford Beauty made me their Education Manager, which means I’m head of the department and look after the whole of the UK. It’s similar to my role with Bobbi Brown, but this time I get to structure exactly how to bring the line to the market.”

Lori’s makeup and hair mastery has already taken her around the planet (via Justin Timberlake’s head) into a high profile position with one of the world’s top luxury brands. This meteoric journey hasn’t changed her in the slightest. She’s still as enthusiastic as she was when she made her snap decision to become a Makeup Artist.

“The Tom Ford Beauty makeup line was only launched in 2011, even though the brand began with Black Orchid fragrance in 2006. I love that it’s so glamorous! The Makeup is sculpted. It’s high colour. It’s texture. It makes people feel amazing. The service we offer is above and beyond.

“Now I get to meet people from all around the world and work at London Fashion Week. I’m so lucky. I have the best job in the world. I love to teach. I love the people I work with. I love London. I love my life!”

Learn more about Canada's #1 Makeup School

Fri, 13 Feb 2015 00:00:00 PST

“There are three important messages I carry with me on a daily basis. One: if something isn’t working, look to yourself first. Are you effectively communicating or managing your team? Two: sales solve everything. And three: don’t get caught up working in the business. Create time everyday to work on the business.” 

Blanche Macdonald Fashion Merchandising graduate Jillian Sheridan knows a thing or two about communicating important messages. Just over two years ago she founded Social Media Company Gold Lemon Creative, building a client list including Vancouver boutique BluBird and Fidelity Denim in Los Angeles. Now she’s refocusing her limitless energy on a second project, opening spin centre Eastwood Cycle Sanctuary in Vancouver’s fashionable Gastown neighbourhood with her husband, Craig Sheridan.

Gold Lemon headquarters in the heart of Gastown is the ideal combination of contemporary design and Vancouver heritage. Jillian has certainly made it her own: high vaulted ceilings and exposed brick are juxtaposed with an abundance of candles, filling the space with warm, golden light. 

Top Fashion Merchandising Graduate Jillian Sheridan

Style comes naturally to Jillian. Growing up in Cranbrook in the BC interior, she was drawn to fashion long before she moved to Vancouver to attend Blanche Macdonald.

“Fashion was always something my mom was really passionate about and so I inherited that that from her. Seeing new issues of Vogue was like opening up this whole other world for me. It was this glamorous and beautiful industry, one that I was really drawn to. And it became this challenge, an attainable goal, for me to move to Vancouver to pursue fashion.”

Jillian’s decision to move to Vancouver was part of a thoughtful and well-researched process; setting goals and carving out her own future. 

“I did a few phone interviews with other school but always found that Blanche Macdonald had the most amazing Directors. They were so supportive and welcoming they made the decision very easy for me.”

At Blanche Macdonald Jillian took advantage of every opportunity outside of the classroom, making contacts and volunteering wherever and whenever the chance arose. She still sees those experiences as the foundation of her career.

“I did a ton of volunteering at Fashion School which was fundamental to my success after I’d finished the program. It was a bit scary, stepping out of your comfort zone, especially being new to the industry, but after you do that first one, you realize they’re really fun and you get to meet such great people, all the while making inimitable connections. I couldn’t imagine doing the program and not doing all that volunteering. Those connections the Career Directors helped me to create are huge.”

Top Fashion Merchandising Graduate Jillian Sheridan

“I think the incredible thing about the Blanche Macdonald program is that they really support creative individuals and entrepreneurial-minded people. It’s not a cookie cutter program. There are so many different classes that you have an introduction into a broad scope of the industry. I’ve used something from each of my classes for every one of the jobs that I’ve done. You leave Blanche Macdonald with this plethora of knowledge and this huge variety of things to pull from, both creatively and regarding the business. Blanche Macdonald really facilitates getting you out and doing things. You just have to decide that you want to start a career from the program, and put in the effort accordingly.” 

After graduating, Jillian continued to say yes to every opportunity, doing a myriad of industry jobs in Vancouver. She worked as a freelance Stylist, spent time at the Dakota Group, a prominent Wholesaling team, and also managed a boutique in Yaletown. However, her love of social media and inspiring visuals kept drawing her to one particular aspect of the business. 

“Throughout each job I did in the Fashion Industry, I always ended up contributing extensively to social media for the companies I worked for.”

Jillian’s friends soon became aware that she had knack for on-line sociability and communication. As the requests came in asking if she could social media platforms for their companies, she gladly obliged.

“I had five or six accounts!” she smiles. “That’s when I realized it was time to get a small business license.”

Top Fashion Merchandising Graduate Jillian Sheridan

As the head of her own successful company, Jillian knows that it takes hard work and passion. She exudes both qualities from the moment you meet her. Built from the ground, Gold Lemon Creative is a refection of her dedication and her love for what she does.

“I worked from home for the first year and that was challenging in itself, not having the separation of work and home. But I finally found a space that I love! Finding the right team also brings its own challenges. I needed individuals that had the same vision as well as that level of trust, and that came in time as well.”

Jillian has found both in the shape of her colleagues Samantha and Stephanie. Reflecting Jillian’s kindness and intelligence, these three power ladies make up the Gold Lemon dream team!

Top Fashion Merchandising Graduate Jillian Sheridan

Jillian knows every day brings new challenges. That’s what makes her job fulfilling and gratifying on many levels.

“Working for a small company you have the privilege of autonomy. And I love that each day is unlike any other! The morning usually begins with coffee and brainstorming, followed by client meetings or client interactions. In addition, we are always focusing on trying to be social. There is a difference between being social online and being social. In order to create that organic conversation and constant flow of fresh content online, you have to be on the street!”

For Jillian and the girls of Gold Lemon Creative the motto is that as long as we are taking care of our clients and getting the work done, we create our day. It’s a philosophy that stems from her time at Blanche Macdonald.

“Blanche Macdonald has the type of program where you get out of it what you put into it. The instructors aren’t there to hold your hand, but they will be there to facilitate your success for the future.”

Eastwood Cycle Sanctuary is now keeping Jillian immensely busy. Of course, she’s managing its visually wondrous and inspiring Instagram account! It’s no coincidence that Eastwood has grown into one of the most popular athletic studios in the city. And because of its tremendous success, Jillian has decided to focus her energy solely on Eastwood Cycle Sanctuary, closing the doors of Gold Lemon Creative after three successful years in business.

Top Fashion Merchandising Graduate Jillian Sheridan

“Working with a wide variety of businesses in an array of industries was truly invaluable in our approach to making Eastwood Cycle Sanctuary a success. Getting a first hand look at how they operate gave me a fresh approach as to how I would want to run my new business, tools I would utilize, different strengths I would need in team members, and ideas I perhaps would never have thought of on my own. Working closely with some incredible business owners was a true inspiration. The mentorship some of my past clients lent me throughout building Gold Lemon and now in this next step is something money can’t buy.”

Jillian has created success through passion. Now that’s truly inspirational.

Wed, 04 Feb 2015 00:00:00 PST
Skincare Comes Home for Esthetics Graduate Leah LaVanway Top Esthetics School Graduate Leah LaVanway, Owner of Award Winning Medi Spa, Essence of L

At first glance Dolphin Street in White Rock, BC looks like any other residential street in Greater Vancouver’s greener suburbs. The only clue that something special is happening there is the Essence of L Medi Spa sign proudly standing in front of the home and workplace of award-winning esthetican and Blanche Macdonald graduate Leah LaVanway. It’s where she’s changing lives.

“Last year I won the Surrey Now Awards for the ‘Best Day Spa’ and ‘Best Laser Clinic’ for the Surrey/White Rock area and have been nominated for both categories again this year” smiles Leah. “That’s people in the community voting for me! Every client that comes here for the first time says that they didn’t expect a home-based spa to look like this. I wanted to create a tranquil sanctuary. The energy here is really calm and clients can connect with that.”

The atmosphere at Essence of L may be relaxing, but that doesn’t mean that Leah isn’t providing serious skincare treatments. Dermapen, Celluma LED Therapy, Cold Laser Therapy, Microdermabrasion, Clinical Peels and Clinical facials are all available for clients looking for long-term solutions to skin concerns. Leah understands how debilitating skin conditions can be. She speaks from personal experience.

“I had cystic acne for ten years,” she explains. “Struggling through that was challenging. I tried so many over the counter products. I used to go to a Russian esthetician in North Vancouver for my deep cleansing acne treatments and she’d perform manual extractions for over an hour. It was excruciating but gave me some form of physical relief.”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Leah LaVanway, Owner of Award Winning Medi Spa, Essence of L

Leah was working in Mexico when a poolside discovery with a new friend led to a life-changing decision.

“She was an esthetician, studying Holistic Nutrition and Reiki Therapy. I read her workbooks daily and found them fascinating. Information about food allergies, and mineral and vitamin deficiencies made so much sense to me. I knew what I wanted to do with my life. I came home and told my parents I wanted to be an esthetician. I wanted to help people through the process and to see the light on the other side. 

“I started researching esthetics schools and Blanche Macdonald was one of the first places that came up. It was love at first sight. Everyone I spoke to was open and honest. I came back to Canada in August and started the Esthetics Program in September.”

That program provided the education, and the inspiration, to turn Essence of L from a concept into a reality. 

“I loved it! Understanding more about the skin was super exciting for me. I was at the top of my class for all the practical work. It became my personal goal in the bodywrap and massage classes to deliver total relaxation to everyone I worked on. Many of the people I worked on ended up falling asleep in the middle of our classes.

“At the end of the program we did a project about opening up our own spa studio. I had so much fun. I had a leather-bound folder full of local suppliers, the equipment I would purchase and the finances it would require. That’s when I realized I could do this. I was starting to get my spa ready before I’d even graduated.” 

Essence of L opened for business in Leah’s late grandmother’s condo, delivering body wraps, pedicures, facials and waxing services to a growing client base. At the same time, a contact Leah had made at Esthetics School was poised to move her career in a more medical direction.

“While attending Blanche Macdonald, Lorinda from PuraVida gave my class a microdermabrasion and cold laser therapy demo. One of the girls in my class had a cluster of broken blood vessels on her cheek from being hit by a softball when she was younger. The machine cauterized the blood vessels while we watched. It was like a magic eraser. I was incredibly excited. So was my classmate!”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Leah LaVanway, Owner of Award Winning Medi Spa, Essence of L

Leah’s own laser therapy treatment produced similarly spectacular results on her skin. Inspired by her experience, Leah decided to commit herself to the business of solving skincare concerns. 

“I met Audrey Buck of Medi Spa Therapeutics, who was the importer of the equipment I wanted, and worked closely with her for two years, assisting with office work, training seminars, trade shows and sales. I was able to learn about the products and technology I wanted to incorporate into my own business. I bought the Cold Laser and Microdermabrasion equipment and more and more people started coming to see and refer me.

Leah took a break from expanding her business when her husband was involved in a serious car accident. Once he was healthy enough to return to work, Leah wasn’t going to waste another moment.

“I figured the best way to grow my clientele was to go somewhere that already had it, so I rented a room in a hair salon. I was there for a year until I outgrew the space. I knew I had to find somewhere that would be stable. I’d brought a few select clients into my home when my husband was recovering. They suggested bringing the spa here full time. They told me how they preferred the more private experience and felt comfortable with no makeup on. And it’s a great commute for me!

“As soon as I moved by business home I noticed that people were asking for more medical and proactive skincare treatments. My spa wasn’t about making people feel relaxed any more. It was about doing treatments where people could see visible results. Now I do medi-facials 95% of the time. I’m always incorporating new products and looking for better applications by trying it on my own skin first.”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Leah LaVanway, Owner of Award Winning Medi Spa, Essence of L

Leah’s business has grown exponentially over the last year and a half. People from Surrey and beyond are curious about Leah’s proactive approach to skin care.

“Sometimes clients turn up expecting miracles. I go through an extensive consultation for everyone. I’m a big believer in a holistic approach and treating the person as a whole. That’s why I always talk diet and lifestyle in my consultations. I created a relationship with a naturopath and give clients the option of seeing her to discover if they have undetected intolerances that may be causing some of their problems. Clients respect the process when I give them homework. 

“Being a skincare nerd I love learning about newer technologies and the newest products on the market. I’m looking for clinical results. As I’ve moved into the medical side, I’ve started examining medical research papers and asking about the science behind it. When you can explain the process behind the treatments clients understand and appreciate the education a lot more.”

The growing success of Essence of L proves that Leah’s clients adore the services and the customized treatment they receive at her spa. For the esthetician that once suffered from a serious skin condition, knowing she’s making a difference in people’s lives is its own reward.

“I love witnessing the improvements, and seeing clients feel the results!” she beams. “When you have acne or a skin condition, it’s like a little cloud that’s always there. It can be hard on your ego. When I can give people some relief, that’s exciting for me. When they tell me they’ve had comments on their skin, that their friends and family have noticed the improvement, that makes me ecstatic!”

Top Esthetics School Graduate Leah LaVanway

Learn more about Esthetics and Spa Program

Thu, 29 Jan 2015 00:00:00 PST