From calculus to couture: engineering student starts fashion business

Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi has found a way to link her engineering education to her passion for fashion.

To many, earning a degree in industrial engineering may not be the obvious way to become a fashion designer.

However, this is not the case for Mahtab Cherom Kheirabadi. The 26 year-old Iranian-Canadian is in her last semester of engineering at Dalhousie University, and has just launched an online fashion startup Peonies & Snow.

While an engineering degree may seem like it would provide very little background to creating a fashion business, Cherom Kheirabadi has found the two to be linked.

“When I started liking fashion I was obsessed with shapes and angles and edges and that started when I was doing calculus. So all my clothing is very related to that because I put a lot of engineering and mathematical things that I learned into designing them,” she said.

Featuring her own handmade designs, Peonies & Snow has been Cherom Kheirabadi’s own creation, from sketching the first designs two years ago through to this month’s launch.

These initial sketches have now become reality: form-fitting, pastel-hued businesses dresses, silky pink robes and skirts with intricate bow detailing are now all for sale on the Peonies & Snow website.

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The link between industrial engineering and design has proved to be a convenient one for Cherom Kheirabadi, yet there are many challenges that come with juggling a degree and a new business.

“To be honest, at first it was really, really stressful because you get demotivated in both things. You can get demotivated in school because you feel like you’re not concentrating on school and concentrating instead on the thing you love. The best way that I learned to organize them is to just set deadlines and caps, ‘If I complete these three I’ll work on my fashion for two hours,’” she said.

Cherom Kheirabadi’s love of fashion and design is not a new trend in her family. While she was encouraged to pursue her degree in engineering, she also comes from a long line of tailors.

“My mom’s a tailor, her mom was a tailor, all my aunts and her aunts were tailors so it goes way back and runs in the family, everyone’s a tailor but none of them had a business because it was just harder back in the day as a woman.”

Cherom Kheirabadi’s mother taught her the skills involved in creating clothes by hand, but also ensured that her daughter would know how to do each step herself, instead of simply showing her what to do.

After two years of developing her sewing skills and honing the specifics of the art, Cherom Kheirabadi now creates each item of clothing to her own measurements and then adapts the models to fit the proportions of each client.

With graduation looming Cherom Kheirabadi plans to devote herself to developing Peonies & Snow full-time.

“I know my parents definitely want me to do engineering, but personally I think I am putting everything that I learned in engineering into this, I want to really concentrate on it because I think it would be more successful if I give 100 per cent,” she said.

5 days for the homeless: Commerce students face cold nights to raise awareness

Six Dalhousie University commerce students have spent the last five nights sleeping outside on a tarp-covered layer of cardboard. The group is raising money to spread awareness of homelessness.

Six Dalhousie University commerce students have spent the last five nights sleeping outside on a tarp-covered layer of cardboard. The group is raising money as part of a national initiative to spread awareness of homelessness, called 5 Days for the Homeless.

Twenty-four schools across Canada are participating in the event, but Dalhousie is the only participant east of Montreal.

This is Dalhousie’s second year participating in the event. Last year students raised just under $4,000, and this year their goal is to raise $12,500, said Hima Merdan, a fourth-year commerce student and one of the six participants sleeping outside at Dalhousie.

“But it’s more than just the dollar value. It’s about spreading awareness of [homelessness] and the fact that this could happen to anyone,” said Merdan.

All proceeds from this event are going to Phoenix Youth, a Halifax not-for-profit that provides housing and job counselling for struggling youth between the ages of 11 and 24.

“The first night was terrible, it was uncomfortable, it was cold,” said fourth-year commerce student Maddie Toohey, who is participating in the fundraiser for the first time. She said sleeping was easier the second night due to sheer exhaustion.

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The participants must follow several rules:

  • They may only eat and drink things that are donated to them.
  • They may not shower and can only use campus washrooms when they are open during the day.
  • They are allowed one pillow and one sleeping bag.
  • They are not allowed to use their cellphones or social media unless it is in promotion of the fundraiser or an emergency.
  • They must also attend all of their classes.

Toohey said it’s worth it, though. “What we’re doing isn’t that big a deal, compared to what people have to deal with every day. It’s great for us that we have an end in the future. We can see Friday and we can be like, ‘OK, only a little bit further,’ but the people that we’re doing this for can’t.”

Melanie Sturk, acting director of development at Phoenix Youth, said the Halifax-based organization helps more than 1,000 youths a year and it would be impossible to do that without third-party fundraisers like 5 Days for the Homeless.

“Not only are they raising money, but they’re also helping to raise awareness of Phoenix and homelessness,” said Sturk.

Video games showcased on a major scale by Symphony Nova Scotia

For the first time in Halifax, Symphony Nova Scotia performed Video Games Live, a concert featuring songs from popular video games, at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium.

The conductor raises her baton, signalling to the musicians seated in front of her to ready their instruments. With a flick of the conductor’s wrist, the symphony and choir begin to play an upbeat and lively song from the popular video game Tetris. With bright lights illuminating the stage, images of colourful geometric shapes are projected onto three screens behind the orchestra to amplify the performance.

On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday people flocked to the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium at the Dalhousie Arts Centre to witness Video Games Live.

Performed by Symphony Nova Scotia, Video Games Live showcases segments of songs from popular video games such as Kingdom Hearts, Tetris, Sonic the Hedgehog, Final Fantasy and Metal Gear Solid.

Colourful lighting, special effects and interactive elements, such as a Guitar Hero competition, are also incorporated into the shows.

Alongside vocalist, Jillian Aversa, and conductor, Eimear Noone, Symphony Nova Scotia performs “Tetris Opera” from Video Games Live. (Video by Jessica Hirtle)

“I kind of like to describe it as having all the power and emotion of an orchestra combined with the energy of a rock concert,” said Tommy Tallarico, co-creator, executive producer and host of Video Games Live.

Sold out for almost every show, Heidi MacPhee, director of communications and marketing at Symphony Nova Scotia, said Video Games Live has received rave reviews from spectators.

“It’s been amazing. People love it. They are just so happy,” said MacPhee.

MacPhee said that Symphony Nova Scotia has wanted to collaborate with Video Games Live for years. This is the first time Video Games Live has performed in Nova Scotia.

“We get requests for it all the time,” said MacPhee. “They’ve performed all over the world and it’s just really exciting to have this calibre of show here in Halifax.”

Tallarico and Jack Wall created Video Games Live more than 13 years ago. Touring since 2005, the concert series has performed around the globe in over 35 countries, including China, Brazil, Mexico, France and Portugal.

A video game composer, Tallarico has contributed to approximately 300 video games in his career. He said he created Video Games Live to demonstrate the artistry of video games, while promoting the arts among young people.

Not only can video game lovers appreciate the show, but Tallarico said non-gamers equally benefit from watching Video Games Live.

“When parents come and bring their kids or grandparents bring their grandkids, they are the ones that are most blown away,” said Tallarico. “They are like, ‘I never knew video games were this incredible. I never knew the music was so powerful and emotional.’”

Roméo Dallaire pleads for support to end child soldiers at Halifax event

Roméo Dallaire discusses his “ultimate mission” to end the use of child soldiers as weapons of war, at Citadel High on Tuesday evening.

About 400 students, teachers, community members and local figures turned out to see Roméo Dallaire speak at Citadel High’s Spatz Theatre on Tuesday. Dallaire’s talk focused on what he calls his “ultimate mission” to end the use of child soldiers as weapons of war.

Dallaire, a retired lieutenant-general, founded the Roméo Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative, an advocacy group based in Halifax at Dalhousie University. The Dallaire Initiative works to promote increased understanding of child soldiering.

“The numbers are not decreasing, but increasing. And so there is a way of reducing it, by preventing them from being recruited and by training the security forces to consider them as a threat and to know better how to handle them,” said Dallaire.

Dallaire’s experience working with the United Nations during the Rwandan Genocide prompted him to develop the Dallaire Initiative. It has been a year and a half since Dallaire left his job as a Senator to pursue humanitarian work.

Dallaire spoke for over half an hour regarding the use of child soldiers as weapons of war, and how Canadians can help. There are two main principles Dallaire encourages: “The first is be aware of how these conflicts are using children. Secondly, donate. We absolutely need resources to be able to train these forces over there,” he said.

Making progress in Sierra Leone

Josh Boyter is the communications officer for the Dallaire Initiative. He stressed how vital it is that Canadians be aware of the role of child soldiers. “Children are one of the most sophisticated, low-tech tools that many armed groups have to fight their wars. And until we can effectively combat that, they’re going to continue using children as weapons of war.”

The Dallaire Initiative, which began at Dalhousie in 2010, is making progress in Sierra Leone, where more than 10,000 children were used during the civil war from 1991-2002. “(Sierra Leone) is now one of the main peacekeeping countries in Africa. Now it is a thought leader on this issue,” said Boyter.

Boyter said that it is not more troops that are needed, but better trained troops in dealing with the complex issue of child soldiers. The issue of child soldiers is incredibly complex, using both boys and girls of 7, 8 or 9 years old. These children are used in many ways, including acting as spies, carrying weapons, and forced sexual servitude. “Girls, due to certain cultural nuances and things like that, may see a lot more reluctance for them to come back into society,” said Boyter.

An issue close to home

Dallaire said that Canadians are aware of the issue, but don’t know how serious it is. “Not realizing that it’s far more sophisticated, they use (child soldiers) in all the positions, from support to sex slaves, that there are large numbers of girls, and that by using kids is to sustain conflict for a long time. That innocence on our part is going to bite us, because we now see this happening in Canada too,” Dallaire said.

The Dallaire Digital Ambassadors Project is focusing on social media to draw attention to child soldiers. “It’s critically important to recognize that the individual you see on the screen is not somebody else’s problem, it’s not someone else’s issue, but rather that we’re all connected as a global citizenry,” Boyter said.

Proceeds from Tuesday’s event will go towards the Dallaire Child Soldiers Initiative at Dalhousie and to Sending Orphans of AIDS Relief (SOAR) Halifax. These proceeds will aid the initiative’s main project in Sierra Leone, which is currently on hold until November due to the Ebola crisis.

Dallaire took time after his speech to answer several questions from Citadel High and Horton High school students. Afterwards, Dallaire sat to greet a long line of attendees and sign copies of his two books.

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In other news: March 9 – 12

Top news this week from other news sources.

‘Thrown under the bus for a bike lane’: proposed two-wheel route in Halifax raises concern (Metro)

The City of Halifax and Dalhousie University are planning to install a protected bike lane on campus. Avid cyclists think this is what the city needs, while others claim it isn’t worth losing the three accessible parking spots that will have to be removed if the lane is made. The project would cost $200,000, and the city would lose $70,000 annually from 24 parking meters that would be removed. It was suggested that this type of bike lane would be more useful on a street such as Robie Street.

Dalhousie plans to hike tuition, cut faculty budgets (Chronicle Herald)

Dalhousie plans to increase tuition by three per cent and cut faculty budgets over the next year. Nova Scotia tuition is already around eight per cent higher than the national average. The faculty budget cuts will only affect departments with decreasing enrolment. This includes arts, social sciences, law, dentistry and sustainability. Departments with increasing enrolment will receive more funding. This includes science, computer science, engineering and medicine.

Former Dalhousie University startup rejects $500,000 Dragons’ Den offer for its booze bottles (Metro)

Daniel Bartek, Cam McDonald and Bobby Besant pitched their company, Sage Mixology, on CBC’s Dragons’ Den. The episode aired on Wednesday. They were offered $500,000 in exchange for 40 per cent ownership of the company and a distillery licence. They turned down the offer, because they say they want to focus on making their product better before continuing in their enterprise.

Kalin Mitchell says prepare for at least 20 cm of snow on Sunday (CBC)

Kalin Mitchell, a meteorologist for CBC, says to expect heavy snowfall late Saturday night. The storm is a result of a low pressure system out of the Gulf of Mexico, and will also affect southern New Brunswick and P.E.I., with P.E.I. seeing the worst of it. Parts of Halifax may see up to 30 to 45 cm of snow. Environment Canada has issued special weather statements about the weather disturbance.

Burning cigarette to blame for fire in Halifax’s north end (CTV)

Halifax Regional Fire and Emergency crew were called to Agricola Street around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday. The crew found a storage shed on fire that had been used by a construction crew working on a local project. After an investigation it was determined that a cigarette had been disposed of into a pile of debris, and started the fire. Nobody was hurt.