To most of us, a weapons technician with the Canadian Special Operations Regiment doesn’t scream crocheting, soap-making and candle-crafting, but that’s exactly what Alexis Sapera of Ewe Crafts in Beachburg is doing — and so much more. To Sapera, it’s all the same skill set.
“You’re working with your hands and you have to think outside the box,” says the former master corporal with the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) and the Corps of Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. “You’re taking something that’s broken and mangled and thinking, ‘How do I fix this, what can I use?’ If you’re in an isolated area, you don’t have your tools, you don’t have all the parts, but you have to make it work because these men rely on you to do their job, they need their weapons. So, in a way, it’s kind of the same. I was inclined to create,” Sapera concludes with a shrug.
Sapera joined the CAF in October 2005 and completed training in Edmonton and Gagetown, N.B. As a fully qualified journeyman, Sapera remained in New Brunswick for three years before joining the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. During her four years with the regiment, Sapera deployed on an international mission that earned the Operational Service Medal Expedition. Sapera was posted to The Royal Canadian Dragoons in 2016 and left service in July 2021.
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“At the time of my release I spent seven months without employment,” she recalls. “I was lost. I had no sense of worth anymore. It was very hard, I still miss it today, but I started doing crafts to keep myself busy. I wanted to know how to make things. I had no background in crafts. I would draw schematics for weapons, which I enjoyed very much, and that’s where it came from, really.”
Still, candle- and soap-making, crocheting and creating concrete planters, wood engravings and string art seem very far away from fixing combat weapons in an isolated village in Africa.
In fact, the transition from army to civilian life hasn’t been easy and, to some extent, Sapera still struggles.
“Alexis’ biggest challenge was accepting her new identity as a creative entrepreneur and believing that her work has monetary value … she is still moving through this,” says Heather Inwood-Montrose, small business advisor with Enterprise Renfrew County.
Sapera started her business on her own, not realizing that there was mentoring and funding for entrepreneurs available through Canada Business Ontario (CBO) regional access sites.
“If I had known about the starter company plus program when I started, I can’t imagine where I would be now,” grins Sapera.
Just as she discovered the eight-week program offered through Enterprise Renfrew County, she learned of an intensive one-week program through the military. Naturally, she took both.
“It was a super-intense program. They just take your mind and expand it so rapidly,” says Sapera of the military course. “But because I was doing it concurrently with the Renfrew County starter company plus program, it helped me hone my pitch deck and prepare for my presentation.”
Her efforts paid off. The grant review committee with Enterprise Renfrew County awarded her a $4,000 grant that Sapera says was incredibly helpful to her business.
“Alexis’ greatest strength is drawn from the resilience she developed as a military veteran … she is dedicated, driven and focuses on succeeding in her career transition,” says Inwood-Montrose.
And so Ewe Crafts was born. The business name was inspired by two orphaned sheep Sapera adopted and took in as house pets for a while.
“A lot of people don’t know what a ewe is and pronounce it ‘eewe’, which hurts my heart a little bit,” she chuckles.
A positive attitude, good sense of humour and generous spirit mean she not only finds joy in her newfound path, she wants to share it. “I figured having a class to teach people is not cutting into my business and it’s teaching something to others that brings me joy,” she says.
That same generosity extends to donating her surplus products when her enthusiasm for crafting overtakes her space
“A lot of times I make so much that I just end up donating hats to hospitals or blankets to friends,” laughs Sapera.
Determined to secure a storefront, Sapera is going into partnership with like-minded entrepreneur Vanessa Hawkins, a tattoo artist, painter and leatherworker who shares Sapera’s joy for making.
“We’re both just excited about the idea of making things and trying new stuff and putting it out there in the world. We’re matched soulmates in terms of making stuff,” says Hawkins with a chortle.
Together, the two women intend to open a gallery with an attached workshop and tattoo parlour in either the Pembroke or Petawawa areas.