storytelling: a talk with Pon Angara of Barkada Circle


"We remember best through stories." -- Pon Angara


The arts providing tools for nonprofit businesses to grow?!  As I read about branding and listen to all the balu about social media, I find the need for experience-based marketing to be  ever more relevant. I recently caught up with Pon Angara, creative director and principal of Barkada Creative to discuss his launch of Barkada Circle.  Barkada Circle provides educational arts-based programs that help participants discover and harness the transformative power of the visual arts, music, theatre and more to spark creativity in telling their organization's stories, stories that fully engage people.


What made you launch Barkada Cicle?
After years of years of working with nonprofits on branding, visual communication and marketing, it became apparent that a critical piece of the message was missing.  This lack of message prevents a nonprofit from taking it to next level.  I kept thinking, “Your story isn’t compelling. Why should I care?  Why should I want to be conncted to this organization?" To effectively help my clients, I realized that I had to help them tell their story.

Isn't a story the same as a mission statement?
No, a mission statement is just a statement of purpose.  One statement of why a business exists. That's it.  A story goes deeper.  It involves the emotions, relating the struggles and successes of a nonprofit, its people and its consituency. It can take many more forms than a statement.  It may be told in different mediums - word, image, sound, etc.  The key thing is the emotional part.  We remember stories because we remember the emotions running through them. 

Give me an example.  
The mission of Barkada Circle is to give nonprofits a creative forum in order to develop different ways to craft their own stories using techniques in the arts that is usable on their website, in their brochures, etc.   

One story of Barkada Circle is in why I launched it. Immersing myself in the activities of a nonprofit organization, I had the opportunity to experience the same struggles they were having in trying to get a compelling message across. Some nonprofits were more successful than others, but the challenges were there nonetheless.

I'm reading a lot these days about the use of storytelling in branding.  How is Barkada Circle different?
The Barkada Circle approach differs from the others in that the focus is on a multi-sensory experience using the arts, whether the visual arts, theater, music, writing or cooking.   The best way to really embody a story is for the storyteller to engage as many of his/her senses as possible in creating the story, so that telling it engages multiple senses for the listener. This approach was inspired by the book The Experience Economy:  Work Is Theater & Every Business a Stage by James H. Gilmore and B. Joseph Pine.  

Barkada Circle, Fall 2011 Workshop
Why have your targeted nonprofits for your program?
In my book, they are the ones that deal the most with complex emotions, concepts, ideas, and challenges.  They deal heavily with humans, not just products for humans.  It’s all about the people.  Nonprofits generally have direct impact on issues that affect the quality of life in our communities. It has become my personal choice to share in this mission.

If teaching artists are interested in working with you, what’s the best way to contact you and what will they need in terms of experience?
They have to be skilled in their craft, but also have a personal mission for educating others about it. They need a minimum of 5 years of teaching experience with adults, sharing and demonstrating their passion.  I am willing to talk to new artists after June to see what they have to offer. It's best if they read through the website and then leave of comment expressing their interest on the Our Artists page. 


I'm honored to have been working with Pon on this venture since its inception.  My workshop for Barkada Circle, The Power of Symbols, looks at the way symbols have inspired change throughout history.  It's an amazing experience to work with directors from small and large nonprofits, helping them to better understand and harness the storytelling potential of their organization's visual symbols.   

knitting guru

(c) Tracy Lord model  (c) Tracy Lord hat 
"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together."  --  William Shakespeare

This morning my knitting machine jammed.  The swearing didn't stop for a full 5 minutes (my daughter says she timed me, cheeky git).  After some serious fiddling it finally cleared.  The needles are fine.  Nothing is bent.  But dang if I don't wish for the days when I slept on the couch of my very own knitting guru.  

Tracey Lord and I met eons ago (dare I say 18!) while working for Patricia Roberts in London.  We were recent graduates from different textile programs and in love with anything yarny and otherwise textile.  We both moved on from those days, developed our own lines and sold them at various shops and markets.  

Tracey's speciality is on the knitting machine.  She had a fantastic line of hats for adults that you could spot being worn all over London.  Later she focused on a charming, yet contemporary children's line.  I don't think there is anything she can't make on the machine.  I took those days past for granted and never did learn to machine knit from her, much to my present regret.  Anyway, Tracy recently opened a shop on Etsy, funny enough, because she had seen mine.  I encourage you to visit her shop and say hello. Meanwhile, enjoy the following interview I recently had with her.

When did you first learn to knit?
When I was about 6 years old,  I was taught by my primary school teacher when it was too wet to play outside.

What led you to pursue a career in knitwear design?
I took constructed textiles as my degree major and found I preferred knitted to woven as means of construction. I didn't want to go into industry as I did not feel any affinity with the larger double bed machines, I liked fiddling about on the flatbed ones and handknitting - so I decided to set up on my own quite soon after leaving college. I like the fact that knitwear design involves designing both the fabric as well as the garment/item - so you have complete control.

Describe your creative process.
I usually have a theme in mind, and usually that stems from a colour story I have discovered at the time, or it might be influenced by fashion.  For instance, there was a "geisha" year and a "1950s screen idol" year, so I designed my fabrics and garments along those themes.  I like to ring the changes, though and when possible I will work in new themes twice yearly. If I am being purely influenced by colour, I will start from a series of photos I might have taken of something zingy or powerful that I like, and analyse them for colour content, breaking them down into a "stripe", so that I can work out the balance of exactly why I am drawn  to those colours. From here I will apply the colour theme to say, some simple stripe trousers and see where it takes me from there.  I draw all my ideas out using only black pen, I find this simple diagram style helps me work out shapes. I will make several prototypes and jam them on anyone who is available to model, until I think I have got the shape right.

Why do you prefer the machine knitting process? 
I wouldn't say that I do - I like handknitting equally as much, but here in the UK it suffered a terrible recession in the 1990s and I found machine knitting more viable to run a business. Ideally, I would love to be able to combine the two at will, but time does not often allow me that luxury.

Other than Etsy, where else have you sold your knitwear?
I began with some private commissions when I left college, from my first collection. Then after working for another designer for a little while (where I met you, Lindsay!) , I set up my own business selling knit accessories in Camden Market. One of the first people to ever stop by my stall on my first day was Kaffe Fassett! I was too mortfified to dare to talk to him and I hid under my stall.  He said nice things, though! I had this business for about six years, exporting to the US, France and Spain regularly as well as selling to some UK based boutiques and craft shops.  After a break to go traveling, I started a shop in Portobello Road with two other designers, designing and selling our hand made kids knitwear and clothes.  I exported to Ireland, Japan, the US, Spain and Chile as well as selling to other UK shops. 

You mention in your Etsy bio the circuitous route from knitwear designer, to teacher and back to knitwear designer?  Describe this path.  Do these fields overlap for you and if so, how?
The unpredictability of self-employment was a little stressful at times so I trained as a teacher so that I would have a back-up skill. I was also feeling that although I loved what I was doing, it was a but self-indulgent and I wanted to do something to help someone else's life.  I chose to work with people with learning difficulties after visiting one class and being completely drawn in by their enthusiasm. I now teach a mix of arts and literacy/numeracy based skills, which is very rewarding but quite tiring.  After two years of full-time teaching I have been slowly returning to the designing as I really missed it, and I'm aiming to achieve a 50/50 balance between the teaching and the knitting in the next 12 months. I'm working on more of a concrete overlap right now - but the art classes I teach to my students with learning difficulties are quite textiles and colour led: we do a lot of mosaics, screen printing and weaving. Knitting is a little difficult for most of them so far, but I'm considering introducing rug weaving this fall. 

Do you have any sage words of advice for emerging designers?
Stick to your own style, never undervalue the time you need to spend sourcing ideas, research the competition, try to have structure to your working hours, so that you work efficiently and last but not least, remember to take a holiday!

Last but not least, who are your favorite designers?
I love the Rowan school as they sponsored me way back when I was at college and they were still tiny - I  think they still have their finger on the pulse and produce  really wearable designs. Otherwise - Marc Jacobs'  50's phase, some Alberta Ferretti, Preen, Pucci (old school), early John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood for her tailoring chutzpah.