Think startups are just for tech? This E Co-op startup will change your mind.

Emma HalenkoI founded Off the ej as a project that would inspire my career in the design world. After three years of studying architecture, I was stuck in what I would call a "mid-student life crisis." I was so close to finishing, yet too far away to continue on this persistent emotional roller coaster ride. I love the study of architecture, but felt I was losing sight of myself in the bounding box of buildings I was being directed to design.

I decided to try an Enterprise Co-op (E Co-op) term, and my project quickly grew into something vastly more interactive that drove my love of design in another direction and began to inspire others as well.

Launching my jewelry company through E Co-op

Off the ej is a jewelry design company whose motive is to reinvent items and materials that are worn and exhausted. As a part of the spring E Co-op class, I was presented with so many opportunities to further advance my business — such as wonderful mentorship, like-minded peers, and winning the Norman Esch Enterprise Co-op Award at the beginning of the term, which helped immensely in getting the business rolling. I really couldn’t have imagined the E Co-op experience to be quite as fulfilling and stimulating as it turned out to be.

Working with the edges (ej's) of used materials gave me a new insight into the way we view the world. The western society especially is on a constant hunt for the latest and greatest thing, and I wanted to challenge this notion. Most of the time we do not see the beauty and potential of the things we have right in front of us; rather than manipulating an old article of clothing into one that suits our fashion tastes, we toss it out and look for something new. It was this mentality that really fuelled my appetite to defy, inspire, and reinvent the world of fashion and the way we think about it by manipulating and exploring the materials we have right before our eyes.

Emma Halenko selling Off the ej jewelry at the Harborfront Centre in Toronto

Emma sold Off the ej jewelry at the Harborfront Centre in Toronto.

The impact of design

The articles that people choose to wear have always fascinated me. There’s an old saying that goes something like, "You can tell a lot about someone from the shoes on their feet." I believe this holds true for fashion in general. Colour, textures and shapes help give form and style to the body and make you feel certain ways when you wear them. Likewise, they give others an impression of you and make them feel a certain way when they look at you.

Fashion has a great impact on the way humans interact with one another, whom you choose to associate with and how you choose to approach people. The presence of a human body can add so much depth in a space, and what they choose to wear gives a level of depth that can only be achieved via these colours, textures, and shapes.

I have always been fascinated with exploring materials and working with my hands. I find that the best designs are ones that are not pre-conceived. I started to find that whenever I sat down with a pencil and paper and "forced designed" the outcome wasn't as organic and genuine as when I got right into the mess of things from the beginning and worked with the materials as I designed. Some designers, and especially architects, would likely disagree with this method of designing. However, I believe that it is design in its purest form. 

About Emma

Emma Halenko is in her 3B term of Architectural Studies. The focus of both Emma's field and her spare time is art and design, which has become her passion. She is an avid reader, aspiring marathon runner, and has an unrelenting desire for adventure.

Emma founded Off the ej out of determination to redefine the culture of the fashion industry by reinventing retired and exhausted items and materials and creating wearable jewelry.

CBC Radio featured Emma and Off the ej on September 1st in an episode of “What a Waste”, a program that explores how science is creating practical solutions to complex waste problems. 

Browse the Off the ej shop and follow Off the ej on Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest.

OFF THE ej

Off the ej Genoa necklaceOff the ej Eyre necklace

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