Graphic Design grad goes to ’Boot Camp

_99A2441_smSarah Brazauskas always knew she didn’t want a one-size-fits-all career. As it turns out, the 27-year-old graduate of Red River College’s Graphic Design program walked into a dream job that could have been custom-tailored just for her.

As the first full-time Storyboot School coordinator for Aboriginal footwear phenomenon Manitobah Mukluks, Brazauskas pours herself into her work heart and sole, bringing together Aboriginal artists and students in the community and at the company’s Point Douglas headquarters.

“We’re teaching the art of mukluk- and moccasin-making to Aboriginal youth in an effort to keep the tradition alive within the community and spark the next generation of crafters and artists,” she says.

The job ticks all the boxes on the fulfillment front: Creatively satisfying, it has positive social implications and it resonates on a personal level too, connecting Brazauskas with her Aboriginal roots.

The school grew out of the Storyboot Project founded by Manitobah Mukluks CEO Sean McCormick. Storyboots are moccasins, mukluks and other craftworks created by Aboriginal artists who receive 100% of the proceeds from sales. Starting in 2013, classes were organized under an informal management framework, and Brazauskas took on the role of coordinator last April.

Six months later, she was featured in Maclean’s magazine’s Cool Jobs series. The experience was humbling — Brazauskas doesn’t like to be in the spotlight — but it was exciting as well. Her mom Jocelyn bought several copies of the magazine and it was posted in the Rennie Hotel, making her a minor celebrity in her small hometown on the outskirts of Whiteshell Provincial Park.

It could have been a completely different story, but Brazauskas had a run of good luck — the kind that comes when preparation meets opportunity.

After graduating from Whitemouth School, she studied fine arts for one year at the University of Manitoba, but found it wasn’t a good fit.

“When I decided I was ready to go back to school, I knew I wanted to work in a creative field and I had heard a lot of really great things about the Graphic Design program at RRC,” she says.

“I heard the course was challenging and competitive, but that just made me really excited so I decided to try it out. It was a great experience. I think it did prepare me for the job I have now because it was a super fast-paced program — there were definitely some stressful moments, but when I look back at it I just think, ‘Wow, it really prepared me for all the things I’m doing now as a coordinator.’”

During her time at RRC, Brazauskas won a Downtown Winnipeg Biz/Chinese Cultural and Community Centre design competition, creating the lion-dance design for the Chinatown district banners that are still flying today. During two practicums at the Manitoba Museum, where she was mentored by graphic- and exhibit-designer Stephanie Whitehouse, she worked on a number of projects, including designing the museum’s holiday card and creating an ancient Egypt activity book for the exhibit Wrapped: The Mummy of Pesed.

“I was given total creative freedom,” she says. “I’d walk through the museum on my lunch and draw inspiration from things I saw there. That was the best practicum I could have gone on.”

After graduating in 2013, Brazauskas decided to boost her freelance income with a temporary customer service job at Manitobah Mukluks over the Christmas season. She was invited to stay on as assistant manager, and over time, her talent, skills and work ethic earned her opportunities to take on infographic, photo-editing and web advertising projects, until McCormick asked her to try on Storyboot classes.

The job has created one “slight problem,” thanks to an employee discount she receives on mukluks and moccasins. She’s not allowed to bring any more boots into the home she shares with her boyfriend Brad, their elder-lady cat Oz and mixed-breed puppy Harvey.

“That was actually another one of the selling points for me when I started,” she admits.

“I learned about the Storyboot Project and I thought, ‘Wow that’s so amazing. I really want to work with this company and they do so much good work in the community and it’s important to them to make this social impact,’” she says. “I really felt that I could align myself with that and then they were like, ‘Oh, and you get a really good deal on mukluks,’ and I was like, ‘Yes! I want this job.’”

She’s in good company. Since British supermodel Kate Moss was photographed in 2006 wearing Manitobah Mukluks, demand has skyrocketed among celebrities and fashionistas.

After taking classes to Hollow Water First Nation last fall, Brazauskas hopes to extend the program to more First Nations, and to bring more artists into the Storyboot fold.

“A lot of our Storyboot artists are from fly-in communities, from different reserves across Canada and also in the U.S., and they really don’t have another means to promote and sell their work, so we are able to actually sell those pieces for them at art-level prices and get them what they’re really worth,” she says.

“It’s really, really great to be a part of — every night when I go to bed I just feel so great about the work that I’m doing.”

— Profile by Pat St. Germain (Creative Communications, 1989)