With the winter doldrums creeping in to layer on top of the continuing COVID-19 crisis, you might find yourself in a slump when it comes to feeling inspired, upbeat and optimistic right now. But Toronto-based jewellery entrepreneur Annalay Ajooway-Tingling offers a sunnier outlook for our current mood – not just through her brand’s travel-influenced designs, but also by way of the reflections on her own journey previous to and throughout the pandemic.
Ajooway-Tingling’s first experience in the fashion industry came in her early twenties: while in university, she was involved in the modelling and acting sphere. “I found out quickly that I was considered ‘too curvy’ at the time to be taken seriously as a print model,” she recalls. “So I found myself in television, and that went really well. I had a nice run of high-profile commercials and I really enjoyed it.”
But eventually Ajooway-Tingling – who describes herself as “someone always seeking knowledge and experiences” while searching for answers to life’s big questions (“What’s my purpose? Why are we here? What’s the best way to live our lives?”) – says she wasn’t finding satisfaction with where she was in life. “I wasn’t getting those answers working in that industry, or at school,” she says.
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Aspiring to pursue a life with meaning, Ajooway-Tingling began traveling with the man who ultimately became the father of her children. During their decade of globe-trotting, Ajooway-Tingling ended up in India. “I focused my attention on meditation and spirituality and world culture and different viewpoints on life and unity,” she says.
Ajooway-Tingling had read about a remote monastery in the Himalayas and decided to venture there herself, and after serendipitously meeting the brother of one of the residing monks the day after her arrival she found herself spending several months at the monastery when they asked her to teach them English. It was a powerful and transformative time.
One of the key things she learned while there was about her preconceived notions regarding their lives. “Something I hadn’t thought about was how naturally joyous they were,” she says about her ideas of monastic living, before delving into it herself. “No matter what happened, they made sure they were laughing throughout the day.”
After a while, Ajooway-Tingling began to miss her home, and she returned to Canada with creative juices flowing. The vibrant, diversely-decorative cultures she’d found herself immersed in while traveling – not to mention the ability to unify two people simply by complimenting someone on what they’re wearing – motivated her to launch her eponymous jewellery label in 2013.
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The brand’s selection arouses all manner of vibes, from wanderlust (thanks to the use of materials like Cowrie shells) to cosmic. Recently, Canadian actress Tara Spencer-Nairn posted about purchasing a few pieces from Annalay including a Zodiac-themed pendant – not only something very intimate, but a look that speaks to the current surge of interest in astrology.
Being attuned to what we’re all feeling is a strength of Ajooway-Tingling’s, who says that during the summer months of the pandemic, she found herself walking Toronto’s shoreline in order to capture transportive images that would ignite a bit of self-soothing and sense of local discovery within the Annalay community.
“When the pandemic started to unravel, I thought to myself, you have two paths you could walk right now,” she says about being confronted with a business decision; not only was she completing her own school work because she was continuing her education, but she had the task of being a single parent to children who were now always home. “I thought, do I stop this or pause it, or do I amplify it?”
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, Ajooway-Tingling chose to amplify as she sensed her own tenacity and curiosity could be a touchstone for others who were suffering any manner of lockdown feelings. And she highlights the uplifting quality of self-expression through dressing as another realm of positivity, noting that she’s always thrilled to receive messages from customers who say they can’t wait to wear their piece around the house to brighten their day.
“Before, I think there was this sense of, where can I wear this,” she says about how she feels the general perception of style has shifted over the year. “I think the pandemic has changed people’s mindset in terms of thinking, I love something but I need an occasion to wear it, as opposed to I love it [and] I deserve to wear it for myself.” She adds with a laugh that her kids will often ask where she’s headed all dressed up, to which she could respond with, “I have to go to the post office” or sometimes, just the kitchen.
The gusto with which Ajooway-Tingling approaches everyday life is palpable, and her thoughts moving into 2021 are just as enthusiastic despite the myriad personal and professional hardships that everyone is facing. “I’m feeling good because the pandemic was scary but we’ve seen how resilient we are,” she notes, saying that she’s personally “taking everything I’ve learned and applying it very consciously.” This includes “not being intimidated by technology” – something we rely on more heavily than ever before. And this idea is followed by a piece of advice she offers to us all. “[It’s about] empowerment and not intimidation,” she says. “Find where you feel comfortable, and move with that.”
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