Meet a Halifax sneaker artist and his inspiring path into the world of film

Kemmy Smith is in his studio. Benjamin Edwards

A sneaker artist in Halifax describes himself as a “simple guy” who cuts hair, makes shoes, watches Law and Order with the wife and his daughter, and calls it a day.

Kemmy Smith never thought he’d become the subject of a short documentary that got selected for the Atlantic International Film Festival (FIN).

The film is called Kreations, as is his business, and has him reflecting on his journey from the Bahamas to being a business owner in Halifax.

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“Being an immigrant, you’re resilient. You endure hurricanes, you endure hardships. You can endure anything that comes your way,” said Smith, who moved to the city in 2012 as a student.

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Smith has a bachelor of fine arts from NSCAD University in Halifax in interdisciplinary arts, where his focus was on painting and design.

But making designs on shoes was never a business, and he was doing it as a hobby to cope with depression.

“I was working all these jobs at university. I was shovelling snow, working as a full-time barber and going to school every day, I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere, so (this was a way) for me to chill out and have a little thing for myself,” Smith added.

Everything changed, though, when Smith had Ta’Quan Zimmerman, a former Halifax Hurricanes basketball player with the National Basketball League of Canada, came to get his hair cut at the barbershop where Smith used to work.

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Zimmerman saw Smith’s sketchbook and asked for a pair.

“He wore it in a game … and it went viral after that and it turned into a business,” said Smith, who registered his shoemaking business in 2017.

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So far, some of his clients includeย hockey player Jill Saulnier, NBA star Buddy Hield, rappers Robin Banks and Twy, and DSW.

Smith said he does all this for the sake of his wife and his one-and-half-year-old daughter.

“I thought I was doing well before I had a kid, now I have my daughter and it’s like I took it to a whole other level because now you have three people to provide for,” he said.

Kemmy Smith and his daughter. Benjamin Edwards

He said his family has a philosophy he calls ‘M&M’s,’ which stands for “money and memory.”

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“I try to have as much fun with her as possible, I take her to school every day, she works with me sometimes, so I try to make as much money and memories with her,” Smith said.

“By the end of the day, if I have my family and money, I’m OK…. You can have a lot of time on your hands and be broke, but if you have a lot of money on your hands, you could do more at the same time…. No one respects a broke dad. That’s the sad reality of it.”

Smith hopes that when people watch the documentary they’ll feel inspired to go after their dreams and not be afraid to take a chance.

“I kind of look at my daughter and say, ‘Hey, you can achieve your dreams…. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t because your dad did it. Your dad didn’t have no help from anybody,'” he said.

The director and cinematographer of the film, 20-year-old Benjamin Edwards, said he first came across Smith’s art at an event while he was still in high school.

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He then started talking to Smith online and going to him for haircuts.

Edwards attended and graduated from the screen arts program at NSCC in 2020, and as part of his final project he came up with the idea of making a film about Smith’s life. But COVID-19 stood in the way of that.

However, Edwards and a crew of 10 people decided to work on the project after graduating from the program truly for the sake of art and “the culture.”

“It’s very inspiring to meet anyone who really is goal-driven and has an ambition about any kind of art form and they want to pursue it…. I think his story might consider what he’s been through and how much he’s grown as a person and as a business owner,” Edwards said.

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“I’m way younger … so for me to be able to see that, that really does inspire me to think about things long-term in my journey,” he added.

Edwards said only he and Smith have seen the final film, and that no one else knew he was going to submit it to the film festival.

“I did that because I didn’t want to put any pressure. I just want to have fun and make the story come to life,” he said.

“It’s big for the people around us, the people who are part of our lives, to actually be able to go to the theatre experience with us. And I know they’re very excited. And it’s a proud moment. We didn’t have the resources as most of the other films, but it’s the story that drives things.”

Click to play video: 'FIN Film Festival back in cinema & online'
FIN Film Festival back in cinema & online

Smith said the best part of being part of this project was the interviews where he and Edwards spent hours talking about art in his studio.

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He said he’s proud of how the film turned out because he had never shared his story about how he started out, and always believed that his work spoke for itself.

Looking back, Smith said that at some point you realize that so many immigrants have started their own businesses because they’ve already lost so much, and are willing to take risks.

“You’re told to shut up and do your work … but what do we have to lose? You might as just give it a try, start your own business … and live your life, so you don’t have a life of regrets,” he said.

Kreations will be playing at Park Lane Cineplex on Sept. 20 at 6:20 p.m. and it can also be livestreamed online.

Tickets can be found on the film festival’s website.

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