Three Indigenous entrepreneurs from across Canada celebrated a new journey with their businesses.
On March 21, LODGE Soy Candles, LOFTTAN and Mother Earth Essentials were welcomed onto the shelves of 10 Rexall Pharmacy Group ULC stores in select locations in Toronto, Sault Ste. Marie, Caledonia, Ottawa, Sudbury, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Kamloops and Nanaimo.
“Rexall is doing something really groundbreaking,” said Angela Demontigny, owner of LODGE Soy Candles.
Each of the three companies are owned and operated by Indigenous women whose business models are based on their Indigenous knowledge and traditions.
Each of them were provided the opportunity to present their products during an open house to a panel comprised of Rexall Pharmacy Group ULC leaders in 2021.
The company had launched an Indigenous marketplace initiative and was looking for like-minded entrepreneurs with whom to partner.
There were only two criteria for entry. All vendors must have Indigenous ownership and the products must be made in Canada.
These Indigenous-owned companies were then guided through a variety of different aspects about launching products within larger big-box stores.
“We take great care and pride to ensure that the vendors selected for this showcase are supported through any potential barriers to entry presented by other national retailers,” explained Nichol Noorirad, visual merchandising manager for Rexall Drugstores.
“We are building custom solutions for the unique needs of each vendor. This ensures a great relationship is built and each vendor feels supported during this journey. This has created new partnerships and allowed Rexall to diversify the assortment offered in our stores.”
“I have been incredibly impressed with Rexall and their commitment to people,” said April Mitchell-Boudreau, owner of LOFTTAN.
“The people we have worked with have been tremendous. They have been super supportive.”
Each of the three vendors offers products that create wellness within the community.
LOFTTAN, established more than 20 years ago, is a line of convertible jewelry that uses sustainable materials such as shell, crystals, wood and sterling silver to create interchangeable pieces.
“Everything is here to help you connect to the creator that lives inside you,” said Mitchell-Boudreau, adding a special line was developed for this specific launch. “With Rexall we wanted to create collections that honour the earth, because our design is inherently sustainable. As we say `do more with less’. We wanted to do a collection that honoured Mother Earth as we always are. That’s how we came up with our three different collections what is land, water and woods.”
Her products include earrings, bracelets and necklaces, all of which can be clipped together or apart to allow each individual to create their own vision.
Another important aspect for Mitchell-Boudreau was to maintain accessible pricing to allow individuals to enjoy her products without a high financial burden.
Carrie Armstrong, owner of Mother Earth Essentials, has been working on her personal care products for almost 20 years.
Her teachings about plants and their healing properties began with her great grandmother who was a medicine woman and took care of her community.
Over the past several years, Armstrong has also had the opportunity to learn from Elders who have given her more of a background about traditional methods.
“We have wonderful Elders here (at Amiskwaciy Academy where Armstrong teaches) who guided me on my journey and taught me about the plants and properties and proper protocol and all of the things I needed to know,” she said.
“I need to take this business and take it out into the world to showcase the beauty of culture of these teachings, and to help other people see that.”
All of her tea blends, soaps, lotions, oils and aromatherapy sprays are created with the indigenous plants of Canada.
Demontigny, who has also been in business for more than 20 years, said LODGE Soy Candles was only a fraction of her business prior to the pandemic, but since she has placed more focus on developing it.
“I had such a strong following with the candles, because they had essential oils from some of our most important Indigenous medicines,” she explained. “I had something that people really needed at the time because people were so anxious and full of fear. (The candles) were instantly calming.”
During this time of COVID, she had developed scents that encompassed sage, sweetgrass, cedar, tobacco, fir and pine, which she realized were very ceremonial.
“Throughout the last year-and-a-half I had some time to really reflect and started to understand the really core scents were ceremony based,” she explained. “Being able to share that with people, the culture and the ancient knowledge that comes with it has just been a wonderful thing to be able to share with people.”
The three women are more than excited about the collaboration and really believe this is just the start of a bigger journey.
“I just think this is so exciting. We are infants in this industry. So if you walk into Rexall or any other store, there is hundreds of brands, thousands of brands in the world but there’s not thousands of Indigenous brands. There is so much space in this,” Armstrong said. “It’s time for us to step up and be the dominant force.”
Crystal St. Pierre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Windspeaker.com/The Canadian Press