– Story by Sean McIntyre Photography by Lia Crowe
As a student attending Vancouver’s Emily Carr Institute of Design in the early 2000s, Talia Tanaka was surrounded by inspiration. Artisans and workshops offered her a window on diverse skills, while the vivid colours and eclectic shapes of market produce stoked her imagination.
“It was a magical place to study with all sorts of creative places and a very inspiring environment,” says Talia. “I spent a lot of time in the market being inspired by Mother Earth’s jewellery.”
Despite the immersive nature of Emily Carr’s former Granville Island campus, it wasn’t until Talia found herself in a flea market on the other side of the Pacific Ocean that her path forward became clear.
Tanaka recalls walking through the rows of a market in Kyoto while living in Japan after graduation. By chance, she happened upon a table heaped with antique war medals. Sketchbook in hand, she began to jot down the first strokes of what would eventually evolve into her unique line of jewellery: Love Medals.
Military medals have historically honoured the bravery, sacrifice and honour of soldiers on the battlefield, but Talia saw no reason why recognition shouldn’t also be paid to the unsung heroes who make a positive difference in our day-to-day lives. It’s a simple and timeless concept imbued with an entirely new and novel meaning.
“It’s important now and more than ever to recognize and appreciate acts of kindness,” she says. “It’s all kinds. Sometimes it’s a husband honouring his wife, sometimes it’s a birth, sometimes it’s a wedding. It can be people getting them for someone overcoming odds or who needs encouragement. Or it can just be a nice way to say thank you.”
The result is the bold simplicity of a traditional medal mixed with fashionable colours and heartfelt emotions of appreciation.
“The nice thing about them is that, just like a medal, you don’t have to wear it all the time, and it’s a great conversation piece,” Talia adds. “It’s jewellery, but it’s also making moments to connect in a special way.”
Talia likens her work during the past decade to a calling that gives people a chance to acknowledge positive change and recognize victories in love
“Love changes the world,” she says.”Person by person. Action by action.”
Having recently relocated to Victoria from the Lower Mainland, Talia has teamed up with other local businesses to produce a handcrafted, thoughtful product.
Those early markets have helped Tanaka follow her passion and grow a craft that’s attracting orders from clients around the world. Her website lovemedals.com gives those looking to show appreciation, love or gratitude an opportunity to build their own Love Medals. Talia’s Heart Shield series can be cast in bronze or silver with a choice of ribbon colours and specific meanings, such as friendship, romance, family, community, personal growth and more, attached. Engraving, stones and other precious metals are also all customizable
“Like any creative pursuits, it was definitely a learning process,” she says. “I think my main strategy is to make sure that I am staying true to what brings me joy: making jewellery, being creative and doing meaningful work.”
Talia is enrolled in a full-time business program to help her manage the admittedly less creative side of her rapidly developing creative endeavour. Turning 40 this year offers her an entirely new perspective on school.
“I can read accounting books now,” she says, adding that age provides a chance to directly apply her knowledge. “I’m loving studying business because I can get so much out of it now.”
As her company grows, Talia is committed to staying true to some fundamentals. She feels a responsibility to make sure her products are created in the most sustainable and ethical manner possible. Working conditions, cleaning materials and use of recycled materials when possible are all part of Talia’s own way of showing gratitude to the people and natural resources that nurture her creative endeavours.
“I’m trying to be as transparent as I can,” she says.
Talia’s inspiration thrives amid the wild Vancouver Island landscape. She and her young son love heading out to the beach, where they surround themselves with the sounds and sights of the rugged shoreline. Closer to town, Talia has found a degree of support among artists and the general public that has surpassed her expectations.
“The interesting thing is it’s actually a lot more inspiring,” she says. “People are very supportive and accepting of creative people and a lot of new ideas.”
And that’s something for which she continues to be grateful.
Love Medals site is here.