Ande Brown is the brains behind I-Co Globes, an 18-month-old enterprise that turns out eye-catching world globes made of wood, brass, cork or leather, each one in the shape of a 20-sided geometric figure called an icosahedron, hence the I-Co part of her business name.
Around this time last year Brown was preparing a custom order for a friend when she observed the wood she was using had a tiny knothole precisely where the African continent was going to be. A bit of a fussbudget, she was about to start anew using an unblemished piece of lumber. At least that was the plan until the person for whom the globe was intended asked why she wanted to go to all that trouble. "After all, it’s not like the world is perfect," her friend pointed out.
"That was probably the best piece of advice I could have ever received because as soon as she said it I was like, ‘Ain’t that the truth,’" Brown says, seated inside a coffee shop a few blocks from her home in Sage Creek. (Not sure whether a reporter would recognize her from a photo on her website Icoglobes.com, Brown, comfortably dressed in a T-shirt and khakis, arrived early, plunking herself down at a corner table with a cork globe positioned in such a manner no scribe worth their salt could have missed it.)
"Also, by her telling me that, it made me think back to how when you were a kid you’d go to your grandparents’ place and there was always some feature about the house — maybe a small scratch on the dining-room table or dent in the drywall you’d run your hand over — that stuck with you even years later," she goes on. "I decided those were the types of unique ‘things’ I wanted for my globes. My friend was right. So what if there’s a knothole? That’s what makes the globe one-of-a-kind. That’s what makes it hers."
Brown grew up in Phoenix. Drawn to maps and globes at an early age, she would spend hours in her bedroom studying exotic cities and countries, promising herself she’d visit as many as possible someday. While that has since come to pass — most recently she spent parts of January and February on a solo motorcycle trip across New Zealand — she nods her head no when asked about any memorable family trips from her childhood. Her father died when she was young, she explains, so it was all her mother could do to make ends meet, never mind pile her and her sister into the backseat of the car and hit the road for a week or two.
"As a kid, my family never went anywhere unless you count one night in a hotel with a swimming pool, eight miles from home," she says, taking a sip of her coffee.
Brown met her Winnipeg-born partner, a registered nurse, in Arizona 21 years ago. At the time, the United States wasn’t "too cool" with same-sex marriage, she says, so they eventually relocated to B.C., settling on the Sunshine Coast in 2005. Brown smiles as she recalls an incident that occurred not long after their move north, one that clued her into the fact she wasn’t in Kansas, err, Arizona, anymore.
One afternoon while they were running errands, she spotted an elderly man in a wheelchair slowly making his way up a hill. Behind him was a fast-approaching, boisterous group of boys. Concerned for the fellow’s well-being, she pulled over and parked the car, trying to decide what she would do if, as she anticipated owing to events she’d witnessed back home, the youths were up to no good.
"When the boys caught up to him and surrounded his wheelchair, I turned to my partner and said, ‘Omigod, here we go, they’re swarming him and now they’re going to rob him.’ Instead, they proceeded to take turns pushing him up the hill and down the other side. I almost started crying; I was so overcome with joy."
Skip ahead to 2016, by which time Brown and her partner had moved back to the States to be near her mom. Brown, who studied environmental science at Arizona State University, had landed a supervisor’s position with a civic engineering department but 12 months into her tenure she had a dilemma on her hands: retain her job or follow her dreams.
"Before I was hired, I let my bosses know I was planning a month-long trip in December 2017 to Antarctica, the last continent in the world I had yet to visit, followed by a motorcycle trip through Chile and Argentina," Brown says. "They were totally fine with it, they asked lots of questions about how I was getting there and where I’d be staying, but as the date got closer and closer things... uh... changed." (Not wanting to go into too many details, Brown chalks it up to a toxic work environment where, after speaking up about what was taking place, her life "got miserable, let’s put it that way," culminating with her previously approved vacation request being denied at the last minute.)
"That first winter ‐ 2018 ‐ was a bad one. Honestly, I never thought a car could freeze from the inside out." – Ande Brown
Undeterred — and freshly unemployed — Brown boarded a flight to South America two days after being told she wouldn’t be allowed to go. A few days after that, she found herself on a boat in the Drake Passage approaching Antarctica’s South Shetland Islands. Upon her return, she and her partner made the decision to move yet again, this time to Winnipeg.
"I’d been here before to visit her family, but only in the summer," she says with a chuckle. "That first winter — 2018 — was a bad one. Honestly, I never thought a car could freeze from the inside out."
To occupy her time Brown, who’d always had a crafty side, began making three-dimensional globes based on a decades-old design she once studied called the Dymaxion map, created by an American architect named Buckminster Fuller. She’d give the finished product away to friends and family only to hear time and time again, "Ande, these are so great. You really should be selling them."
She initially pooh-poohed the idea. But after being invited to display her globes at a one-night pop-up art gallery in Charleswood where she proceeded to sell five of them in the space of a few hours, she switched gears, thinking maybe there was a market for her wares, after all.
A member of North Forge Technology Exchange, an innovation-based economic development agency in the Exchange District, Brown currently spends hours putting her creations together with the help of a laser cutter. She has developed a ritual. Before attaching the last of the 20 pieces with metal fasteners and her "secret sauce," she takes a moment to whisper a special message into each globe giving thanks to the wood or metal it’s fashioned from. Then she seals it up. Following that she names each globe with whatever positive word pops into her head at that precise moment, for example, "Courage," "Honesty" and "Resilience." (Brown’s globes come in two sizes, 10 cm and 20 cm in diameter, and range in price from $40 to $300, depending on dimensions and type of material.)
"So far, I’ve heard of people doing everything from sticking pins in them to show where they’ve traveled to a person who was considering using hers to place her dog’s ashes in," Brown says, noting she’s currently toying around with a gift-inside-a-gift idea, a bit like a Kinder surprise egg, by suggesting buyers tuck an engagement ring or plane tickets to a faraway destination in their globe before turning it over to a recipient. "Based on pictures I’ve been sent most people seem to display theirs on a mantle — one of my friends keeps hers next to a wartime photo of her dad — but like I always say, once you buy it, you can do whatever you like with it."
Admitting she has a love-hate relationship with social media, Brown says she’s so far resisted the urge to market her globes in retail locations, preferring the one-on-one exchanges that come with individual orders.
"When I was young and there wasn’t a lot of money to go around, a good salary and sizable bank account spelled success to me. But thanks to my partner, who’s always been super-supportive, money is probably the least of my worries right now," she says. "I can spend endless energy doing these, I love it so much. In my previous job I was forever looking at the clock, almost willing my day to be over. Now, not only do I hardly ever know what time it is, I usually can’t remember what day it is, either, I’m so lost in my work."
By the way, in case you think a person who makes globes for a living is predisposed to pronouncing place names correctly, think again. Brown, who joined the Prairie Pathfinders walking club in order to familiarize herself with Winnipeg and the rest of the province, laughs when asked if it’s been a chore wrapping her tongue around the likes of Lagimodiere Boulevard or St. Vital, what with the "Vital" part of the latter sounding nothing like a synonym for "necessary" or "important."
"There are a few tricky ones here, for sure," she says. "There’s a road right near where I live, Des-something or other (we think she means Des Hivernants Boulevard) I still have no idea how to say. Whenever somebody stops me for directions I just point and tell them to take a left ‘over there.’"
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.