A Chat With Rare Olive

As preparation for Art on the Street ramps up we wanted to take a look back at the success of last year’s event. We recently had the pleasure of reaching out to Nicole Gagnon, the creative mind behind the sustainable wooden jewelry brand Rare Olive, who won Best Booth at Art on the Street 2022 as well as at the One of a Kind Show in Toronto. 

Photo Credits: Nicole Gagnon

Keep reading to hear what Nicole had to say about their Art on the Street experience last year winning Best Booth and their advice for emerging artists interested in applying for Art on the Street 2023.

Tell me about yourself and about Rare Olive, what is your “origin” story, how did Rare Olive come to be?

Hi my name is Nicole. I have a passion for art, an eye for aesthetics, and a love for design. I am a Canadian maker based out of Guelph, ON. I design and make wooden jewelry and accessories.  With an educational background in both ‘product’ and ‘graphic’ design, I have pulled from all that I have learned over the years to create what is now known as Rare Olive.

Rare Olive came about as a mission to create modern, sustainable, high quality products. I am always looking for ways to reduce waste within my making processes and providing a product I can feel proud of. I enjoy providing customers with unique items that are alternatives to mass-produced commercial products. 

For my creations, I hand select the woods from my local Canadian suppliers; always rummaging for the most interesting grains and colors. No stains required, just a nice clear water-based finish for protection. I like to keep the woods looking as natural as possible. I cut, shape, and sand all my own pieces using smaller woodworking hand tools. Many of my wares are designed and made to be reversible with a different type of wood on either side. I intentionally design wears that are versatile and can be worn many different ways for maximum use. I would describe my style as modern minimalist. I tend to produce a bold geometric look, perfect for the modern day trendsetter.

What was your experience with Art on the Street last year? What was most exciting about it for you?

Art on the Street is one of my favourite shows to participate in, and I look forward to it every year. It is exceptionally well organized and as a result, makes for a great experience for all. People look forward to this event every year, I know this because my customers tell me. We are a loyal bunch who keep showing up year after year; the artists, the volunteers, the families and friends. People keep coming back and new people keep discovering this gem of a show. Seeing familiar faces and reconnecting with locals is most exciting for me. Even when I’m at other local markets people will often tell me that they remember me from Art on the Street, and I just love that!  Last year, it was especially exciting to exhibit in person in our home city with our new branding for the first time at AOTS. 

Tell me about how it felt to win Best Booth! How did winning Best Booth impact you and Rare Olive as a whole?

It has always been my goal to strive for a cohesive look not only for the creative wares, but for my brand’s aesthetic, with graphics, photography, and booth design. I want everything to look like one unified brand. I want the booth to guide a harmonious experience to the shopper. It is my hope that the shopper feels a sense of awe that grows as they explore and discover more of the details. I want the booth to not only stand out from a distance but to intrigue from up close. With a balance of minimalist design, the plain plywood gives presidency to the wares and allows the shopper to envision what the piece could be for them in their lives.

Winning Best Booth gives me confidence; the confidence and feedback that I’m moving in the right direction with the quality of craft I want to put out into the world. Even though the intention is always there, it’s hard to ever really know if what you hope to achieve is coming across to others. The artist and maker job doesn’t come with annual feedback reports from a boss or coworkers. Winning Best Booth has acted as that for me. I’ve felt seen for my efforts and validated for my design capabilities and it is a great feeling.

Your website states that Rare Olive strives to “make meaningful connections through fashion…. and supporting local.” Describe the connection that Rare Olive has to the Guelph Arts Community and how Rare Olive contributes to it. How did it feel being a part of AOTS last year as an event that brings the arts community and local artists together?

I began this journey with a love for art and design but truly continued in it for the love of community and the amazing people I’ve met along the way. Whether it be the connections with fellow makers, the special bond and kinship we share in what we do, or the countless stories from customers and shoppers about the joy my works will bring to them or their loved ones. For me these connections are the most rewarding.

Guelph is where I live and supporting locally is very important to me. I love connecting with the people I shop from, whether it is at Art on the Street, or local shops and other markets.  It makes a difference to know who your money is directly supporting. I like to follow the journey of others and get to cheer them on in their endeavours. Maybe it comes from knowing the hardships and the determination a person needs in order to continue chasing after a creative dream, but either way it feels good to know you can positively affect and make a difference in the lives of those in the community.

What would you, as someone who has been successful in the past at art events such as AOTS, tell an emerging artist that might be just starting out and interested in participating in AOTS?

I would encourage emerging artists to give this show a go. It can sometimes feel daunting to think about participating in something like this, to put yourself and your work in front of so many people. But from my experience people come to AOTS with excitement and appreciation for the arts and they are ready to cheer you on. My first booth designs were nothing like the build I have today. I started with a simple table and cloth design with a couple of risers and that worked splendidly as well. If you are unsure about anything, there is a whole community of folks here to offer great tips and advice.

Art on the Street is co presented with Guelph Downtown Business Association and applications for established and emerging artists are currently open until March 5th at 11:59pm here.
Applications for Art on the Street’s first youth poster contest are also open until March 5th at 11:59pm. Check out the guidelines and access the application form here.

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