Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cassia Parrage Doing it her way

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Some mothers worry about the sacrifices they must make for their children, others just make them.

Cassia Parrage fits into the second group. At 32, Parrage uprooted herself, her family and her business and moved from her Claxton Bay home to reside in Toronto, Canada. She explains that her primary reason for moving was to provide a better future for her five-year-old daughter Alana-Marie.

Parrage is the owner of Creatavision, a company that specialises in web design, graphic design and brand development. Her company has been relatively successful, and over the years, she provided services for a large number of local clients including PCS Nitrogen, ROYTEC, UTT, Caribbean Belle, The Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce, various Government agencies, Triniquotes.com and Trinidad Cement Ltd among others.

Until she gave birth, Parrage truly believed that she belonged to that group of women living their dream. After all, art was all she dreamed of during her childhood.

"Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by colour and its relationship with everything," Parrage recalled, as she sought to retrace her steps to that moment when she knew for certain that she would pursue a career in art. "Colour has always been a defining element in my life. Many of my memories are associated with colour. I remember the pale yellow of my first party dress, the intense red of a lipstick my mom wore, the sheer pink of the first rose I received, the crisp white of my wedding dress... Seeing those colours made me want to reproduce them on paper, a wall, fabric, napkins, and thus began my affair with art."

Parrage's love for art was unknowingly fostered by her deceased grandfather who, though not an artist, tried to impart his own love for art to his grandchildren through one of his favourite pastimes - colouring.

"We would spend hours working at the pages," she laughed. "My enjoyable time with him provided some of the building blocks I needed to forge a career in design. He taught me patience, a love for colour and a respect for the materials I worked with."

Parrage said her passion for art continued to grow through her years of primary and secondary education, as her teachers worked with her to develop her skills.

After graduating from secondary school, she went on to pursue a Bachelor's degree in Fine Arts at York University, Canada.

While at university, Parrage was exposed to graphic design and in her second year, she switched to pursue a Bachelors of Design degree. She also met her future husband, Sheldon Parrage, who is a Canadian citizen. In 2002, she graduated with a Bachelors of Graphic Design degree. The couple got married in the same year and returned to Trinidad and Tobago, so that Parrage could pursue her career and be close to her family.

"I wanted to establish myself as a designer and open my own studio," she recalled with a wry chuckle. "However, as is the case with many fresh graduates, the rose-coloured glasses were still on, and I had these big dreams and no idea of how to make it happen. I had little work experience and even less business connections. I received a harsh dose of reality when it became clear that if I wanted to succeed, I would have to take it one slow step at a time."

So she set about painstakingly laying the foundation to build her dream.

"There were many closed doors," she acknowledged. "I either looked too young, or was too inexperienced. I had no clients to refer me, only my portfolio, and after many months of self marketing with little results, I decided to take up a full-time job offer as a web designer, and slowly establish myself through private jobs as a freelancer."

For Parrage, coming to terms that she had to make incremental progress at the beginning if she wanted to succeed, was the first step to truly developing as a businesswoman. Without losing sight of her goal, she accepted a job with a small company and immersed herself in all aspects of the design process, from concept to creation. Her work ethic was so strong; she won the admiration of her manager who supported her efforts to develop as an entrepreneur.

Still, the road to success was full of hurdles. Parrage faced challenges maintaining her professionalism in the face of prospective clients who could not see beyond the attractiveness of her youth.

"Sometimes people think they can take advantage of you, they don't take you seriously," she said. "Sometimes clients forget themselves and flirt. They saw a young woman and it appeared as though they were instantly thinking of ways to put one over me."

She laughed confidently, jesting that her pint size was no indication of her professional and personal integrity and determination.

"I try to nip all that behaviour in the bud from the onset," she said. "I dress conservatively, and I treat clients with the level of respect I expect to receive. Once a client sees that they cannot faze you, you'll be surprised how quickly professionalism takes over."

As business developed, and Parrage became more established as an independent designer, committing to both jobs became increasingly difficult.

"After I finished work in Port of Spain, I headed home, had dinner and started my freelance jobs," she recalled. "At first it was manageable, because private jobs were sporadic, but once things started to pick up, I had to micro-manage every minute of my day in order to complete everything to my personal standards."

Then Parrage and her husband decided to have children.

Alana-Marie was born and everything changed. Parrage's goals to develop as a designer or graphic artist faded into second place as she adjusted to her new role as a mother. She began to make the sacrifices that she felt was necessary for her daughter's security.

"Motherhood changed my whole perspective of things," she said simply. "After being at home with her for three months, I decided to take the route of a working at home mother."

Parrage's company, Creatavision was born.

Taking on a smug tone, Parrage said before laughing heartily, "You might say that I am a one-woman studio."

Starting with a small client base, her business grew by client referrals and as her daughter grew, she continued to make sacrifices for her well-being.

"I stopped working on the weekend. I set specific days in the week for returning calls, attending meetings, doing accounts and so on," she said. "Once I had a workable schedule it was just a matter of everyone getting used to it. I was working fewer hours, so I spaced out my jobs so I would have enough time to focus and complete them. I also established ground rules with my daughter. Before she started school, she expected me to be with her once I was home. I had to establish some ground rules that took her a while to get used to, but now she's okay, and she understands that even though mummy is at home, she has to work before she can play."

In 2009, the family made the decision to relocate to Canada. Among their reasons for starting afresh, Parrage cited Alana-Marie's well-being.

As for the impact on her business?

Parrage insists that she can work from anywhere in the world once she has a laptop.

"With today's technology, we can connect in seconds," she said. "It doesn't matter where I am. I generally use the Internet to communicate; through SKYPE I can do phone and video meetings, I use email for correspondence, and instead of using CDs and hard copy, I do everything electronically. My clients have no problem with me being in a different country."

Parrage says she has adjusted well to her new home.

"Toronto, has such a diverse population, and I find that most are open to embracing and experiencing other cultures," she said warmly. "You can pretty much find someone from every part of the globe in Toronto."

And while race has not raised its ugly head to confront the determined businesswoman, Parrage said she is prepared for anything that comes her way.

"If I were faced with racism, or cultural prejudice, I really would not let it get me down and I refuse to feel victimised," she said. "I would face it head on. In my mind I am a Trinbagonian, not a Trinidadian of Indian descent or whatever nonsense the latest propaganda machines are making the current norm."

Commenting on the racist tone that sometimes ripples through Trinbagonian society, she said, "When did we stop identifying ourselves by our country, do we really feel so insecure as a people? In Canada do you think someone introduces themselves as an Indian Canadian, or Caucasian Canadian, African Canadian?"

On other social conditions at home, Parrage said she was saddened but Trinbagonians had only themselves to blame.

"Everyone tries to blame the other, the government, the area you grew up in, I say you should blame yourself as I blame myself," she said. "Until we stop being complacent about what is taking place, and we start voicing our displeasure at the way things happen in Trinidad and Tobago, nothing will change, nothing will get better because we refuse to stand up for ourselves and for each other, for the quality of life we all deserve. Only you can make a positive difference. People have this mindset, and I am sure as they are reading this they are saying, 'Steups...Well she leave and gone...she doh have a say anymore'; but that does not mean I don't care. I lived in Trinidad for most of my life, my heart is still there... and as long as I can make a positive difference I am going to try, whether I am in Trinidad or Canada.