Alissa Ramage (BSc’09) has always loved being creative. As a kid, she spent a lot of time with her grandma, who was always doing different crafts and sold jewelry at craft markets.
“I did every kind of craft as a kid — Jazzy Jewelry kits, I would knit, draw, paint, do latch and hook rugs, everything,” Ramage said. “I was surrounded by that stuff my whole life and I really loved it, but I never imagined I could make a living from it.”
Today, Ramage has turned that passion into a thriving career. As the owner and designer of Saskatoon-based Oneiro Designs, she creates stunning jewelry that has a distinct look to it using high quality crystals and gold chains. Each of her collections are influenced by personal experience, and she creates them with the goal of inspiring the wearer to be true to themselves through an expression of creativity, strength and self-worth.
Ramage launched her business in 2013, but says leading up to it she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career.
“I have always struggled with the balance between my left side and right side of my brain. Growing up, I was told to do something that makes you financially stable and I didn't think being creative would allow me to do that. So I took the science road and pursued a microbiology degree in university because I was interested in infectious diseases and health.”
After obtaining a Bachelor of Science in microbiology and immunology, Ramage spent six months travelling through South East Asia and was inspired by all the art she saw there.
“There were so many artisans there doing carvings, weaving and really cool jewelry. I started to think, ‘I could do that too,’” she said.
Coming home, Ramage began working at former downtown Saskatoon clothing store Luna and Hill, where she managed the shop. It was during this time that she started to question what she wanted to do, and began pursuing jewelry on the side.
“At Luna and Hill they had an art gallery upstairs and I had my first art show there. They also let me sell my jewelry there too, which was amazing because I was self-taught but got to be surrounded by all these other beautiful brands, which really elevated my work,” she said.
When she was building up her business, Ramage would work all day at the clothing store, and then come home and work on her jewelry until midnight. She says that her strong work ethic and drive are two things she credits to her time in university.
“A lot of people would say that because I am not working in a field related to my education that I did not ‘use my degree.’ But going to the University of Saskatchewan taught me dedication and determination. I found my degree so challenging, but I saw that degree through and finished something I am proud of. I wouldn't have the work ethic and determination in business that I have today if I did not go to university,” Ramage said.
During university, Ramage says she spent a lot of time using resources for career development to help her decide her path.
“It’s hard when you’re in your 20’s, because there’s so many avenues you can go through. How are you supposed to know what you’re going to do? Halfway through my degree I remember feeling lost and so I started career counselling. In the beginning I knew I was lying to my career counsellor. She would ask me questions and I would answer based on what I thought society wanted me to say. Then the counselor recommended that I try doing things I liked when I was a kid, and doing crafts was one of those things,” she said, noting, “That resource was really good for me.”
Ramage says the biggest takeaways from USask career counselling were the importance of getting outside your comfort zone and trying new things, which is the only way to experience growth. Those lessons have proved useful. In February 2019, she made a big jump with her business and took it full-time, which she says has resulted in huge growth.
“Taking the leap to go full-time with Oneiro was the biggest milestone [in] my career so far. It was definitely a scary decision, but has proved to be both successful and satisfying. I've now been full-time for 16 months and have seen exponential growth because I can dedicate all of my time to one thing,” she said.
For Ramage, going full-time with Oneiro has allowed her to really dive into her work and the meaning behind her pieces.
“In the past few years I've learned to really use my jewelry as a form of therapy. Designing collections that are directly related to events happening in my life has allowed me to connect with other people that may be going through similar situations. The latest collection was all about change, as I was making a huge transition in my life.”
Another highlight for Ramage is the annual Black Market Market, which she started in 2014 as a way to support the local arts community.
“Back then there were only a few markets for makers, and one of my girlfriends who is an amazing illustrator had applied to a market and didn’t get in. We decided that we would just make our own market and see how it went,” she said. “The first year we had 15 vendors and basically no budget.”
The market has grown yearly and attracts people and artisans from all over the city. Each year they also give a large donation to the Saskatoon Food Bank from the market proceeds.
Being involved in the arts community and being an entrepreneur are two things Ramage truly enjoys, which she says have come from following her heart. For graduates who are uncertain about the future or not sure how to make their passion a career, Ramage offers some advice.
“You never know what doors will open for you down the road if you just talk to people and keep following your heart. People always say ‘I’m not ready, I’m not ready,’ but if you just do it, you never know what will come of it.”