Cindy Kuster Orban has grown her business enough that she is applying to present it at CBC’s Dragons’ Den; but whether she makes it or not, her business has helped her heal and contribute to an important cause.
Orban always loved jewelry and started making small pieces for friends in her spare time. When her mother passed away in 2012 from an early onset form of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, Orban decided to transform her hobby into a real business, which would have her jewelry eventually showcased in weddings of friends who have connections to the disease, Henry’s Café and some salons.
Orban is a registered nurse who teaches at the U of R. When her mother passed away, she continued teaching students about counselling and therapeutic communication, and with the help of her students, as well as weekly yoga classes, Orban was finally able to come to terms with her mother’s passing and started thinking that she wanted to give back for the cause.
“I (knew I was) going to make jewelry for the Alzheimer’s Society and make research money. I knew I’d turned a corner (and) it was just time. I knew I was starting to heal,” said Orban.
According to Statistics Canada, in 2010 there were 35.6 million people were living with dementia around the world, and that number is expected to double in 20 years.
Joanne Bracken, CEO of the Saskatchewan Alzheimer’s Society, puts those numbers into perspective.
“Presently in Saskatchewan, there (are) over 19,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease or related dementia. It’s growing significantly so we know that by 2020 there will be over 20,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease in Saskatchewan because of an aging population,” said Bracken.
Orban began thinking about her new jewelry business, Alicious Designs, while maintaining her full-time job teaching nursing students.
“My worlds have collided because I love teaching nursing…but it’s hard to do both,” said Orban.
Nonetheless, she decided to dedicate her time to both of her passions and started spreading the word that she was making jewelry to raise awareness and that she would donate ten per cent from her sales for Alzheimer’s research.
Orban began making forget-me-not necklaces that resemble the symbol for Alzheimer’s disease. The symbol is stamped into a bronze wax seal that hangs from a long silver chain, then given to the workers at the Alzheimer’s Society, to let them know that she was starting her own business.
From there, everything seemed to fall into place for Orban. She got a booth at the Cathedral Arts Festival in 2014 and made $1,000 in sales.
“That was three years ago and I thought to myself, ‘Well maybe there’s something to this,’” Orban laughed.
Her next step was creating a website and Facebook page, partly because it was a requirement to apply to Saskatchewan Fashion Week in 2015, and also because she wanted to showcase her creations. She got her nursing colleagues to model her jewelry and had professional pictures done.
“I put in my application, showed my pieces…and I didn’t tell anyone (at home) that I applied. And then, when I was accepted, I was over the moon,” said Orban.
She was an emerging designer among some of the more known designers at the fashion show, like Dean Renwick and Hillberg & Berk, and she was ecstatic when she saw her jewelry was showcased alongside their designs. She was involved in choosing her models and deciding what they would wear with her jewelry as they walked down the runway. She was also interviewed on Global TV’s morning news show, which helped her raise public awareness.
“It was just a blast and so different than my real world,” said Orban. “It was the time of my life and being on that stage and (sharing) my story that I started Alicious Designs in honour of my mom and to create Alzheimer’s awareness and research, that was my proudest moment.”
At SFW, Orban made $4,000 in profit and donated $400 to the Saskatchewan Alzheimer’s Society.
“To just walk in and know that you were starting to bring in money was awesome. It made me feel so good about what I was doing and I think my mom would be very happy that her legacy is helping move research along,” said Orban.
Over the years, Orban has been able to grow her business based on word of mouth and connections she has made, including a designer she met at SFW in 2015 who contacted Orban to collaborate with her clothing designs for the fashion show this year in May.
“These are the opportunities that come (to me) that I never imagined would come my way. Just having an open mind and open heart (helps) because you never know what’s around the corner. People have been so generous and I just feel very blessed,” said Orban.
Although she created an online store where her jewelry could be purchased, she decided to keep her website dedicated to her mother’s story. Currently, she has people contact her if they want to purchase a piece of her jewelry and they visit and have some wine while they shop in her home.
“I have more pop-up shops in the summer and spring time and I do that privately now just in my home and I call it a garden party and I’m happy with that too and there’s less pressure,” said Orban.
Orban hopes to open a boutique in the future to create a space to support those affected by the disease while selling her unique designs.