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Distillery jewelry designer Lara Bazant has a keen eye for beauty & a fair mind for business.

When Lara Bazant set up a sales table at the American Embassy in Pakistan with her beaded creations on offer, she had no idea that years later she would be making her living as a jewelry designer in her own Toronto studio. But looking back, she can see that Bazant Unique Adornments, as well as her approach to business, is an expression of everything she saw and experienced when, at 14, she moved with her family to Pakistan. Prior to that, she'd enjoyed a fairly standard Canadian childhood in the suburbs of Edmonton. Her father worked for Alberta's alcohol and drug abuse commission until he was recruited by the UN to work on similar projects in Pakistan. After about a six month adjustment to the shock of the change, Lara began to open up to everything around her and that included the expert craftspeople in the markets; their intricately embroidered hats, the detailed silver work, and of course the carpets. Stunning designs and craftsmanship, all achieved with so few tools. Already an avid bead worker, she began collecting local materials and crafting in earnest.  All along, she excelled in academics and when it came time to choose a university, she had plenty of choice.

"Maybe my parents thought I'd be a successful business person, but creativity always had a pull, and so I decided to go to NYU to study art."

Graduating with a Fine Arts degree from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, Lara then went to work for Disney, nabbing an opportunity to work on wardrobe for Broadway's original Lion King production.  In 1998, she moved to Toronto to study at the International Academy of Design.

"I think I would have ended up in Toronto regardless, because when I was a little girl I had a National Ballet poster in my room and dreamed of going to Toronto to try out. Although I took a different route, I feel it was meant to be."

From there, Lara jumped head-long into the corporate world, working her way up until she landed a production job at the National Post during the time they were getting set to launch their short-lived daily magazine, Dose. She'd been selling some of her jewelry designs to work colleagues, but when the lay-off happened in 2006, after only a year in production, she took it as a sign that the time was ripe to turn her hobby into a full fledge business. She enrolled in a silversmithing course, where she learned not only the craft, but also about the harmful chemicals used for shining and polishing. She became determined to leave those aside and get back to basics, just like the artisans in the Pakistan markets. She uses a rotary tumbler and hammer to shape, finish and shine her silver. Although this slows down production, on the plus side, no piece is ever repeated, making each entirely exclusive.

Lara also attended seminars at the Toronto Business Development Centre, where she completed her business plan, which included plenty of craft shows, a good deal of networking, and within five years, a shop. Today she has reached that goal with a studio/showroom in Toronto's Distillery District. She's become known not just for being at the leading edge of ethical business practices but also for her versatility of design. Her necklaces can convert to be worn at least 4 ways, at various lengths and as bracelets. Her charm necklaces feature colourful beads from all over the world, with detachable pendants, something rarely done.

Her coconut shell rings have been included in Hollywood gift bags, and her designs have been featured in various fashion magazines. Though these are exciting milestones, Lara measures her success not only by fulfilling her customers' desires, but also by how that enables her to help the craftspeople she is helping support in disadvantaged countries.

"I believe my business is the culmination of my education, my experiences in Pakistan and my need in my gut to do something more, to make a bigger difference. The further I went along, the higher up I got in my corporate job the more I started to feel something was missing. So, it became important to root the business in my core values and create meaning in my work. I had years worth of beads I had collected overseas. My parents had moved to Thailand by then and when we went north to the Hill Tribes where my Dad worked to set up rehab programs, I saw major suffering, economies reliant on drug trafficking. They are also known for these awesome silver beads and so it became one of the first fair trade programs I supported."

Another program Lara supports is just outside Nairobi, Kenya, where women make flat ceramic Kazuri beads. "These women might be feeding a family of twenty. This gives them a livelihood," she says.

Lara recently began giving "corporate team building workshops" in her studio, inviting in groups who want to achieve a bit of balance and community through creative expression. "I had a creative outlet while I was in the corporate world and now I feel I can offer that to others," she says.

Volunteer work is also on Lara's list of things to do to fuel her sense of purpose. In 2009 she took a trip to Uganda with Kirabo Canada, a non-profit that gets people involved in international development, where she taught female students how to sew re-usable sanitary pads. Since Lara has since learned that 140 other young women are now making the pads she taught an initial six students to make.

"Things changed for me mentality when I volunteered in Uganda," says Lara. "After that I thought I'd love to just live overseas, creating sustainable projects all the time, but my Mom reminded me that I would need to make money to do that. She was right, so I stepped it up a notch with my business." The trip also inspired The Uganda Collection, with a necklace named for each young woman she taught.

Now, Lara Bazant's fervent desire is to move from supporting fair trade programs to setting one up. For this she is looking at Equador, and plans to take a trip there early next year. Her parents, whose frequent travels have become a great resource for her business, have already explored it and advised her to take a look. "I think it would mean making a bigger difference, more of an impact," she says.   "If I can make a profitable business that helps people, then maybe I can go from setting up one program to setting up many."

So do customers choose Bazant Unique Adornments for the products, or for its owner's approach to business?  "I want people to have a beautiful design," says Lara. "What goes beyond the jewelry is the story behind it. For me that story is necessary; for my customers it's a bonus."

Carla Lucchetta is a Toronto-based writer, TV producer and essayist for TVO The Agenda with Steve Paikin. She keeps a blog at www.herkind.com.

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