Three creative Squamish businesswomen share new artists' space | Squamish Chief

Three creative Squamish businesswomen share new artists' space

Mandala Studios, in former MahaDevi warehouse, now home to children's clothing line, dance studio, and design hub

The two little smiling girls running out the door after their dance class likely don't understand or care that they are part of a new collective located in the former headquarters of MahaDevi Design. They just know this is where they go to dance.

When MahaDevi, an organic bamboo clothing company, started the process of shutting down in the spring, its co-owner Julie Emmerson decided to maintain the space and transform it into a new creative collective called Mandala Studios.

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(MahaDevi is currently selling off the remains of its stock at, until the end of the month.)

A once open-space, Mandala Studios is now loosely divided into areas for each business to operate.

"A mandala is often used for art and for spiritual focus, which is kind of what we are doing here," said Emmerson.

Currently, Jessica Udell of LittleMod Clothing, Jessica Kelly of Act Alive Academy — whose class the little ones were leaving — and Emmerson's new company Dakini Arts & Apparel all operate out of the bright and airy warehouse space in the Squamish Business Park.

Emmerson's company currently offers graphic design and photography services.

She will also be launching a new clothing company that she said will expand on her designs that MahaDevi offered.

The collective is still an evolving work in progress, the women say.

The plan is to have Emmerson's new clothing line featured in a boutique area at the front of the space, which is located at 38918 Progress Way.

"There's lots to watch for and lots of service to the community," said Emmerson, adding she too will be teaching yoga and dance classes eventually.

Giving back to those in need in the community will be a theme of Mandala Studios, Emmerson said.

Kelly has already started along these lines by offering several scholarships to dancers who couldn't otherwise afford to take her classes.

"I don't turn anybody away for the lack of funds," she said.

The three women find good-hearted humour in the fact they launched businesses in the space right as the World Health Organization declared the pandemic.

"So crazy," said Udell, with a shake of her head and a sideways smile.

Udell, who has a background in environmental science, makes organic and sustainable clothing that is available online and on display at the location's showroom.

She's been in business since 2015 but previously operated out of her home studio.

Her line includes masks for kids made out of organic materials.

Kelly, who ran her classes out of Brennan Park Recreation Centre for a decade, couldn't run classes in her new space until late in the summer due to pandemic restrictions.

And things are still different than they would normally be for her classes; as with everything else these days, COVID-19 protections are in place. That has meant creatively adapting on many fronts.

"It is definitely a challenge — like when you are choreographing numbers and nobody can be near each other, it is a different skill set, for sure. But it is kind of cool. We're doing some interesting things."

Kelly said that while previously students would have sung, now they lip-sync.

"It has been really cool because I have gotten to choose songs that the kids would not normally have been able to sing," she said.

The women say they have been overwhelmed with the support they have received from their loved ones, each other, and the community, which has followed along and supported the space's transformation and the trio's businesses.

Sitting together and finishing each other's sentences, it is clear the three are close-knit.

"Of all the things that could have happened in this space, I feel really blessed to have these two women with me," said a teary Emmerson, whose mom recently died, meaning she had to leave town — and the studio — for a time to be with her extended family.

"It is nice to have people who we can be on the same team with," chimed in Kelly. "We feel like we are able to be friends and business associates at the same time and support each other. I think our mission is to help each other to rise up and to help each other to succeed."

The women's partners all chipped in, too, to help with things like putting up drywall and lending support when needed.

"We've really pulled together as a team," Emmerson said.

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