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Knitwear designer Shirley Paden addresses Women Taking Action at UIC

The attendees were ready for a day of networking and learning from the moment they walked in the door.
The attendees were ready for a day of networking and learning from the moment they walked in the door.
The Fiber Friend 2014

Women Taking Action, an organization founded by Kamilah Paden and Angela Underwood to further the education and empowerment of women in both their personal and corporate worlds, held their day-long workshop with speakers from various spheres of expertise gathering to share their knowledge. The second floor of the UIC Student Center West was filled with women who wanted to network, learn, and most importantly, better themselves by listening to some of the most motivational speakers in their individual field including life coach Beth Majerszky, personal trainer Tina DeNard, and wellness expert Randi Kant. Underwood also addressed the crowd as a presenter, on the subject of becoming money wise in 2014.

Keynote speaker Shirley Paden was just another interacting attendee at the seminar, participating in all of the talks and question-answer sessions and relating her own personal life to the crowd. The New York-based designer, who had previously worked for both Exxon and Johnson & Johnson before throwing caution to the wind and becoming a knitwear designer, networked and lunched with the group as if she were no more special of a guest than any other attendee.

Paden's keynote address, Finding the Courage to Follow Your Bliss, was focused on her personal journey and how her story can be an inspiration to others to follow their own path they carve for themselves. After landing in a hospital on coincidentally the same day as the infamous San Francisco Earthquake in 1989, Paden felt her own life needed to go in a different direction than its current, corporate-tracked path. After beginning to teach knitting in 1992 and then teaching design starting in 1994, she took a self-proclaimed "vow of poverty" to set her unwavering path into place without money being the factor that motivated her passion. Her book, "Knitwear Design Workshop," has been a huge success in the industry, and the success of it was a true surprise to her.

Paden credits her team of editors, publishers, and illustrators and how well they worked together for the success of the publication. In life in general, however, she can see her place and gives credit to any and all who are due. The youngest in a family of eight, Paden is quick to thank both her parents and her faith for guiding parts of her life. "Even when they pass, our parents are always with us," said Paden while having lunch with a few attendees of the workshop. During her keynote, she told the group that her mother would say, "Be the best you can," and also referred to her when speaking about conceived notions and breaking down those preconceptions in one's head.

Her encouragement to the group was not just motivational; Paden addressed the Women Taking Action group in a pragmatic, architectural way, much in the manner with which she designs her knitwear. She has a business plan she wrote when she decided that knitwear design was the way to go, and she told the crowd that it was such an important piece of the journey, she still uses it today. By using her own life story as a success model, she was able to ease the fears of the group if any of them wanted to take the next step in their own lives. "If you have to switch lanes, just do it," said Paden.

Her life now involves speaking at other events, in addition to a wildly successful Craftsy class involving over 4,000 students, and one deadline after another for her design business. Regarding her beaded cape, featured in the 30th Anniversary issue of Vogue Knitting magazine, she told the group, "We had two weeks to do that."

The final two speakers of the day, Randi Kant and Angela Underwood, addressed the audience on their respective topics, making people feel like they could leave the room for the day and accomplish anything they wanted. Shirley Paden's closing remarks in her keynote resonated best and translated a lesson all speakers were trying to translate, however. Her husband had once said to her, "If someone made you work this hard, you would quit immediately." The room full of empowered women at the UIC Student Center understood, and they were ready to take action.

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