Canada 2017

Piñata-maker to the stars, from a studio on B.C.'s Galiano Island

As seen on "Ellen" and beyond.

Small town living helped make Meaghan Kennedy's custom-piñata business thrive.

Meaghan Kennedy is "en garde" with one of her papier mâché creations. (Meaghan Kennedy)

Startups in the Sticks highlights small town businesses with big time goals. Do you have a local business that's resonating beyond its postal code? Email 2017@cbc.ca.

At $250 a pop, minimum, you wouldn't want to beat one of Meaghan Kennedy's piñatas with a baseball bat — and besides, they don't come stuffed with candy anyway.

The intricate personalized piñatas that she makes in her studio on Galiano Island, one of B.C.'s Gulf Islands, are highly in demand as keepsakes. She's shipped the quirky works of art as far as Europe, and they've attracted attention from the likes of Ellen DeGeneres (who featured the piñatas on her show) and Carly Rae Jepsen.

You'll find Kennedy's piñatas hanging from the ceiling at Aphrodite's Café and Pies in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood, where Jepsen often lunches.

"She texted me a few months ago, and said 'Hey, it's Carly Rae, don't know if you know who I am,' and I was thinking oh no big deal, right?" says Kennedy. "She wanted to connect me with her boyfriend [director David Kalani Larkins] because they wanted to make a music video using my piñatas. They animated the piñatas and it was so fun."

Actress Susan Kent and her piñata likeness. (Meaghan Kennedy)

Getting there is not half the fun

Kennedy absolutely loves what she does and says the only not-fun thing about her business is getting her piñatas where they need to go. "We live boat access-only, so I load them onto my boyfriend's boat, we shoot across to the marina, where he drives me to the ferry, where I get on with my bag full of piñatas. Then I head down to FedEx. It's pretty easy, though it sounds complicated," she says.

I was really worried about being isolated, but I feel like there's a connection and self-assurance that I didn't know I would get through crafting.

That isn't the not-fun part though — that comes once they're in the hands of the shippers.

When you live on a small island and your customers can be 50 to 2,000 kilometres away, shipping is the biggest challenge. "The furthest place I've shipped and successfully gotten it there is London, England, but it took three attempts to get it through customs," she explains. Occasionally her piñatas get broken in transit, despite the fact that she packs them up securely.

Why have just one James Harden (of the Houston Rockets) piñata when you could have three? (Meaghan Kennedy)

"Every time they do get broken, I picture that opening scene in Ace Ventura when he is kicking a box down the street, because you'd have to do that much stuff to it to break one of the piñatas in the box," she says. "It's like maybe at customs they took it out, smashed it, put it back in and then shipped it to the client — and then I have to give them a refund or make them a new one, and hope they want to work with me again."

Imitation is the highest form of flattery

Although shipping has been her biggest recurring issue, it hasn't been the only spanner in the works for Kennedy. After finding success and attracting media attention, she started to see people copying her concept and undercutting her.

Custom orders for Kennedy's "Your Piñata" includes bride and groom pairs. (Meaghan Kennedy)

"I have a dozen girls on my Instagram and I see them getting jobs that I maybe quoted too high on. But I didn't quit my job to make $50 piñatas!" she says. "I make really high-end, super detailed, expensive piñatas, and I think it is so cool that I've inspired people to do it."

Kennedy fell back in love with her business by building a website, with e-commerce, that reflected the quality of her product. "So it no longer looks like I'm just a quirky girl making piñatas," she says.

Kennedy and a few of her piñata apprentices. (Meaghan Kennedy)

She also started teaching piñata-making classes, which has given her a real sense of connection and fired her back up about what she does.

In 2015, she was a contestant on CBC's Crash Gallery, and right now Kennedy is working on a series on piñatas of her favourite Canadians for Canada 150. She's already made Captain Kirk, Gord Downie and David Suzuki, and has plans for at least seven more.

Small town benefits

Moving to Galiano Island to make piñatas was a bold move for Kennedy, who was used to a much faster pace of life living in downtown Toronto before heading west.

"I was really worried about being isolated, but I feel like there's a connection and self-assurance that I didn't know I would get through crafting," she says. "Living here helps me to do what I do, I just want to make stuff all the time. It's inspiring."

About the Author

Lola Augustine Brown

Freelance writer Lola Augustine Brown moved to Canada in 2004, but was born in England and has lived in the U.S. and Australia. She loves her adopted homeland and is settled in Nova Scotia with her husband, three kids, two dogs and 12 chickens.

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