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This article was published 9/10/2018 (599 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Crissy Slater thought she’d make a few sweatshirts and sell them to help pay part of her daughter’s $4,000 cost for a school field trip.
She earned five times that amount in just a month.
That was last December. Ten months later, Slater has racked up $200,000 in sales and is on pace to break $300,000 her first year. She has started her own company, Red Road Clothing.
"It was by accident. I didn’t mean for this to turn into a big company. I thought if I sold 50 sweaters, I’d be lucky," Slater, 34, said.
She now works full time on the company after quitting her job at Wahbung Abinoonjiiag Inc., a non-profit that helps women and children victimized by domestic violence. She now employs on a casual basis some of the teens she helped there for jobs like sewing and modelling clothes.
What started as just sweatshirts has also expanded to include T-shirts, skirts, jackets and even pants. All have Indigenous-themed designs developed by Slater, whose mother is Cree and father Ojibway.
"It was crazy. Everyone started asking us when our next design was coming out," Slater said. She wasn’t planning on it, but she couldn’t disappoint her public.
Slater is up to four designs now, with her most recent one honouring murdered and missing women and girls. Her drawings come from Indigenous teachings and storytelling.
She runs the business out of her Elmwood home and connects with customers through her Facebook page.
The business started when her daughter, Ariel Spence, wanted to go on a graduation trip to Italy with her schoolmates at Elmwood High School.
Crissy and Ariel sat down to brainstorm on how to raise funds. One idea was to write a children’s book, another to sell beadwork. Crissy finally settled on designing sweatshirts.
She invested $2,000 and got 100 sweatshirts and had them silk-screened with a variation of the Indigenous star blanket. Slater lists Indigenous artist Gayle Sinclair as her friend and mentor.
Slater credits the consumer response to her daughter.
When Ariel was 12 and started menstruating, the family held a traditional ceremony that marks the occasion. As well, Ariel volunteered to start a traditional womanhood ceremony called "berry fast."
A berry fast is a year-long fast of berries. Back in the day, that would be the only source of sweets available to Indigenous people. But the modern berry fast also includes not buying anything new (other than clothes she outgrew or that wore out). As well, Ariel couldn’t keep the money she earned from her powwow dance performances.
"That taught her to go without, to be selfless," her mother said.
After a year, they held a big feast for family and relatives and Ariel gave them handicrafts she made, buying materials with her powwow dancing money.
Slater said that laid the groundwork for friends and relatives to buy the first batch of sweatshirts to support Ariel’s school trip. And business just took off from there.
"She’s, like, super cool," Ariel said of her mom. "I think she’s just really a great role model for me."
Ariel helps with making deliveries and works the selling booth at trade shows and powwows.
"It’s pretty fun. Mom is, like, so excited with how the business is doing."
Ariel likes her employer, too. "It’s fun working with my mom. It’s better than having a boss you don’t know." Slater is coming out with a fifth design by mid-November called Warrior Woman. She plans to begin designing clothes for boys and men in 2019.
The original sweatshirts retail for $50 for pullovers, and $60 for zip-up hoodies. Red Road Clothing can be found on Facebook and Instagram. Clothing can be picked up, delivered for a small charge or shipped via Canada Post.
Darrell Brown, chairman of the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, said he’s seeing more Indigenous people try their hand at running a business.
"It’s a trend," Brown said. "It’s just that a lot of Indigenous entrepreneurs start out very small. They begin with home-based businesses."
The chamber offers those businesses support like helping to raise their profile and getting them known to its membership.
"We’re a platform for all these startups and small businesses to grow," Brown said.
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