A Design for Life: Cieranne Kennedy-Bell

CKB

Cieranne Kennedy-Bell is many things: a teacher, a mother, a designer and a director.  She is also a very good friend of mine, and one of the very people I was thinking about when I decided to set up this writing project.  Her sense of self and her employment history are very separate, and my interview with her really showed me just how far apart those two things can be.

Her main employment role is fashion designer.  Her online clothing store and its popularity have given her ample opportunity to flex her creative muscles, but she admits that it doesn’t always feel real:

“I kind of feel like I’m over doing it when I say ‘yeah, I’m a designer’.  When I’m at home sat in front of my sewing machine I don’t feel very designery.”

The issue of identity is a big one for creative people like Cieranne, who often feel that claiming a job title which reflects your passion is somehow play-acting.  Particularly when your dream job is freelance, part-time or even not yet paying you, it can be difficult to feel confident about awarding yourself the job title.

This can also be confusing when you have a completely unrelated job which pays the bills: thousands if not millions of creative people work in places with little or no relevance to their ambition, hence the old joke: “I’m an actor.”  “Really?  At which restaurant?”  Cieranne’s attitude towards this is one of acceptance and pro-activity.  She has been supporting herself with part-time teaching assistance work for just over a year, and has recently managed to find a more relevant employment role with a tailoring service.  However, it’s not always easy to switch off her creative brain when she’s working:

“I do it with customers quite a bit, like someone will say ‘I think I want this dress shortened’.  ‘No, you don’t’.”  

This comment is made in good humour, and Cieranne is far too professional to lecture her customers.  Having said that, her strength of conviction is something that her friends and loved ones value enormously – but will never find a place on her CV.  Perhaps the most important example of this characteristic is how she dealt with the birth of her son, Gray.  Cieranne was a student at the time, and was encouraged to give up on her education to have her son.

 “It wasn’t even put that subtly, it was like ‘are you coming back?  I don’t think you should’.  If I put that on my CV, what would that do?”

It’s an interesting question, because Cieranne’s determination to finish her degree – which she did, returning as soon as possible to her Drama & Theatre Studies course after giving birth – is something that has defined her career trajectory as well as her professional persona.

“Having Gray for the past seven years – dear God, he’s seven –  obviously changes who you are.  When I took a break from uni and came back, I was very different from other students around because I had an extra responsibility… I liked doing all the studenty things, but then I’d go back home and deal with nappies.”  

Cieranne is understandably reticent about including her son in her professional identity, but she has plenty of other enormous achievements to write about instead, such as her directing residency at a school and her acting work in India.

“If I’m asked to talk about my CV I would choose to talk about the theatre in Cranbrook, because I think that’s quite a cool thing that I’ve done.  I think the second thing I tend to talk about is taking a play to India, because that always comes across as good as well….We spent a week in a very dusty room with men climbing about without safety harnesses in a forty foot roof, which was…an interesting experience.” 

While the differences between her personal and professional worlds may seem strange, there’s no doubt that Cieranne works hard within them both.  She has had rich (and often bizarre) experiences in them both, and she has developed some incredible talents in them both.  She has also developed some very strange ones:

Find out more about Cieranne’s fashion line here.

Next time: Helena Bumpus.

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