Exchanging Words with Cree Ryan

Nicholas Friesen Blog

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A year ago, Nicole Ryan had an idea. She was going to blend her love of greenery with her newfound passion for macrame to create unique hangable art. She would design prototype plant holders and, through trial and error, create a line of four unique designs. In January of this year, she would launch her online store, creeryan.com. With no marketing budget, she would use Instagram to get her creations out into the world. Ryan says she had no idea her @creeryan Instagram account would gain over 20 thousand followers within eight months.

“Instagram has been an incredible tool for me, and it has been intentional from the beginning,” she says while seated in her gorgeous, naturally lit studio space. “When I launched, I knew my customer was on Instagram. I know that I was going to be able to channel and convey what Cree Ryan was all about through that medium, and it got bigger a lot faster than I anticipated. With that is a lot of pressure in a way, but I just try to keep looking at it as an incredible opportunity.”

Her Exchange District space (located on the fourth floor of 290 McDermot), which she shares with such fellow Instagram-worthy creatives as ceramic superstars Mud + Stone and fashion label Made by Josephine, is a classic open concept loft with plenty of sunlight – the perfect place to foster bright ideas.

“This studio space was really what drew me in, especially to the Exchange,” Ryan says. “I didn’t know that buildings like this even existed until I met Lynne (Mulvihill) and Jenn (McCurry) of Mud + Stone. They were some of the first people that I connected and collaborated with when I started my business. Just seeing what an inspirational space it is, and the fact that there are other makers and creatives here that compliment the product that I make just made sense. It was a no brainer.”

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That creative environment is also a breeding ground for collaboration, and Ryan says she’s already been inundated with requests to work on things with many incredible creators.

“The inspiration and motivation is never lacking here, someone’s always got it together to help you out,” she says. “I think being surrounded by other creatives has been one of the biggest benefits for my business that keeps me driven.”

She’s quick to note that her very first collaboration, one with Mud + Stone, resulted in her finding a home in her studio.

“I actually wanted to rent this space in order to host workshops, until I just asked to move in and then I didn’t have to ask permission,” she says with a laugh. “Being around people and having conversations about small businesses just leads to new ideas. I’m now in a place where I do get asked to collaborate, but because I’m just a one person show it’s not always a possibility. I’m thankful for every opportunity that’s been thrown my way, and I’m definitely putting myself out there in order to make stuff happen, and to collaborate with people I consider mentors and inspirations.”

Finding the right materials is just as important as finding the right collaborators. Cree Ryan uses natural cotton rope manufactured in Canada, and occasionally sources manila rope from the Philippines (acquired through a Canadian distributor). She also notes that while she didn’t grow up in a green household, her adventures with greenery and plant life have helped her connect with her roots as an adult.

“In my quest to discover and trace back some of my roots as an Indigenous person, greenery and that connectedness to nature and the world around us was definitely one of the first steps that I took to start to feel like an Indigenous woman again,” Ryan says. “Greenery definitely paved the way, and the importance of working with natural elements and fibres followed after that. It kind of just kept going from there.”

While she developed four distinct hanging pieces early on (named Fox, Woodpecker, Bear and Buffalo), she has resisted the urge to tweak or reinvent them now that they are out in the world.

“Starting a project is probably the most difficult part for me, I know a lot of people enjoy that creative process of trial and error but I actually find it quite difficult,” she says, letting out a relieved laugh. “I’ve been tempted to alter (the four styles) and I guess complicate (them), but I haven’t really found the need to and I’m very relieved in that, because that process is so challenging for me.”

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While working on her fall line (which includes wall hangings, baskets, and more) she has been going through the trial and error process again, but is happy to say that the end is in sight. It’s that beautiful simplicity that connects each piece, in addition to representing her online and in her studio space. The Cree Ryan brand is incredibly consistent, simplistic, and beautiful.

“I think anyone who says they don’t over think what they’re doing or how they’re trying to communicate it is totally lying,” she says. “Establishing these guidelines of who I wanted to be as a brand was one of the things that I spent the most time on before I even launched eight months ago. Having established those guidelines have helped me stay true to that. If you scroll back eight months in my Instagram feed things have changed slightly – I feel like I’ve gotten a little better at taking photos – but I feel like that same vibe and feeling I’ve been trying to convey from the beginning about what Cree Ryan can do for you in your space has remained consistent throughout.”

Visit creeryan.com for more information.