The Slash Factor

Writer: Jody Gifford
Photographer: Duane Tinkey

Like spies or Marvel superheroes, there are people going quietly about Des Moines with more than one identity. They freely admit to two or even three roles, neatly punctuated with a slash. This is no identity crisis, scam or split personality disorder, just an acknowledgment that people are complex, multidimensional and oh so interesting.

Take versatile John Sayles, for instance, who has worked in the design field for more than 30 years as owner of J. Sayles Design Co. He loves his job—yet now, at age 57, he has three: graphic designer, vintage store owner and, most recently, vodka distiller.

Sayles is part of this growing trend of “slashes,” people with a double professional identity that extends beyond their typical 9 to 5. Most aren’t moonlighting for the money but for a way to explore talents and interests that their first career may not fulfill.

In her book “One Person/Multiple Careers: The Original Guide to the Slash/Career,” journalist/author/speaker Marci Alboher interviewed fellow slashes to learn how they turned passions and hobbies into viable second—and third—careers.

She discovered that, while the options are limitless when it comes to slash careers, the most sought-after fields have no connection to the professionals’ first line of work. Her research uncovered a longshoreman/documentary filmmaker, a psychoanalyst/violin maker, and a Pilates instructor/author. Examples in Central Iowa are no less intriguing.

Jason Walsmith

Jason Walsmith
Jason Walsmith
Jason Walsmith Photography

If you’re from Iowa, you’d be hard-pressed not to have heard of the Nadas.

Formed in 1995, this folksy-rock band became a fixture in Ames, and their fame grew as they released albums and toured nationwide playing for throngs of fans.

As a founding member of the Nadas, Jason Walsmith has been writing songs, singing and playing guitar for more than 20 years. Even while making music and touring, Walsmith, 41, says he’s always had photography.

“I just always did photography parallel to the music,” he says. “At my core, I’m a storyteller and a communicator, so both of these jobs to me are similar.”

While the band is still making music (its latest release was on March 4), its members are focusing more on family and other careers these days. No more year-round tours means more time to pursue other interests. The pause allows Walsmith to focus on his photography business and spend more time with his two young children.

His advice for others pursuing a slash career?

“A lot of people overlook that there is reality to every fantasy,” he says. “That applies to your dream job. You might think that it’s just too far out of reach, when the truth is you may already be there and you’re just not able to see it yet.”

Walsmith realized he actually had two job fantasies—music and photography—that he already enjoyed. But he says he was slow to recognize the potential viability of a photo career. He was “there,” but it took a while to see it.

Amy Heinz

Amy Heinz
Amy Heinz
Paralegal/Animal Rescuer
AHeinz57 Pet Rescue & Transport

By day, Amy Heinz is a paralegal. By night, she rescues dogs. That’s how things have been since 2008 when she started AHeinz57 Pet Rescue & Transport on her acreage in De Soto.

Heinz, 50, had always loved animals, but her love turned to passion after she saw a dog being dumped on the side of busy Interstate Highway 80.

“It happened right in front of me,” she recalls. “The dog was right next to the truck, and the driver shooed it away and just took off. Right there, I was on a mission to find her.”

After nearly two weeks of trying, Heinz managed to catch the dog, gave her the food and care she needed and made her a part of the family. Heinz called her Grace.

The whole ordeal—from seeing an animal being abandoned to recognizing a lack of adequate animal control resources in the area—made Heinz identify the need for a local shelter where animals could get a second chance.

“Months went by after I found Grace, and it just clicked that I could be the change that I wanted to see,” Heinz says. “What Grace started was pretty incredible. We’ve saved thousands of lives ever since.”

Today Heinz still runs the show at AHeinz57. The nonprofit shelter has outgrown its facilities in De Soto and, in the next few months, is expected to begin operating out of two new buildings on four acres nearby.  

With the help of hundreds of volunteers and donations, AHeinz57 has placed thousands of dogs—and some cats, rabbits, hamsters, cockatiels and ferrets—in good, loving homes over the course of eight years.

Whatever slash career you pursue, “jump in with your whole heart,” Heinz says. “That second career is going to consume your life. It really has to be something you’re passionate about, especially if it involves animals or kids. If more people followed their hearts, so much good could happen in the world.”

John Sayles

John Sayles
John Sayles
Graphic Designer/Vodka Distiller/Store Owner
J. Sayles Design Co.
Beaverdale Vintage
3702 Beaver Ave., Des Moines;
Swell Vodka

John Sayles has been advising clients on how to market themselves and their products for decades. Last August, he decided to use those tactics to market a venture all his own—Swell Vodka (see sidebar at left).

“You get to a point in your career where you can only win so many awards, you can only work for so many other clients, so what’s the next move?” Sayles asks. “For me, that was Swell vodka. I figured I needed to be doing everything that I’ve been telling others to do for the last 30-plus years.”

Sayles says he never set out to become a distiller. Initially, he just wanted to design the labels. “I always thought bottle design was such a beautiful thing,” he says. “It sits on a shelf and screams, ‘Pick me up.’ That’s how I buy wine. I’m not a wine connoisseur. I always look at the labels. You have to do a label that matches the content.”

Developing the Swell label and product was only the beginning. After the workday ends in his design studio, Sayles heads out to knock on doors, looking to expand the distribution of his vodka. Whether grocery or liquor store, bar or restaurant, Sayles is determined to get the vodka in front of consumers.

And, as if one slash weren’t enough, Sayles also owns and manages Beaverdale Vintage, a retail store that sells clothing, jewelry, furniture, housewares and accessories from the 1950s to 1970s.

“I love design. It’s my first love and passion,” he says. “There is design everywhere. That’s why I’m a collector. That’s why I own Beaverdale Vintage. It turned into a huge collection, and then it turned into a store.”

Sayles says his current schedule won’t allow for much more than three careers, but he’s not ruling anything out: “I will work until the pencil falls from my ear.”

Victoria Herring

Victoria Herring
Victoria Herring
Attorney/Photographer/Gallery Owner
Herring Law
Artisan Gallery 218
218 Fifth St., West Des Moines

After a 40-year career as a civil rights attorney, Victoria Herring, 68, has no interest in retirement. She’s just adding a slash, taking on second and third careers as a photographer and gallery owner.

“As I’ve been less busy with lawyering, I wanted to be busier with other things,” Herring says. “It’s the left brain, right brain balance. The fact of the matter is, if you have hobbies, you should be serious about them.”

Specializing in architectural and travel photography, Herring has honed her craft through classes and workshops even while practicing law, taking advantage of vacations to build her portfolio of travel images.

That’s why, in 2014, Herring put an ad on Craigslist looking for other photographers and artists interested in opening a gallery where they could market their work.

“I needed somewhere to have things on display and sell them,” she says. “I don’t know that I was overly realistic about it, but everyone was as serious as I was and we ultimately decided to form Artisan Gallery 218 in Valley Junction.”

The gallery opened in November 2015, featuring the work of Herring and the other three founding artist-partners, plus a rotating roster of juried consigners. Herring says her slash career as a gallery owner is taking off.

“I think you have to make a decision about what you love to do—do you love it so much that if you weren’t paid, you’d be OK?,” she asks. “The gallery isn’t making me rich. I had a nice basement office full of artwork and I needed to get serious, and that’s what I did.”

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