New Alberta subscription service helps Indigenous entrepreneurs

An Edmonton woman is hoping to bring more awareness to Indigenous entrepreneurs through a new subscription box.

Mallory Yawnghwe, originally from the Saddle Lake Cree Nation in Northeastern Alberta, said she has attempted to help Indigenous entrepreneurs for most of her life. She was ecstatic this year when she was able to take the support further.

In March, Mallory launched the Indigenous Box, a subscription that celebrates Indigenous entrepreneurs. It can hold about seven items, and it highlights businesses all over Canada.

“When we did our incorporation and we got the documents back from the lawyers, and it said president and CEO, I was just in tears,” Yawnghwe said.

Yawnghwe said it was made possible after she won a pitch contest for startup companies.

Read more: Indigenous entrepreneur using tech to help Alberta women find work

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“We actually just put up a countdown timer. It was a blank web page, with my emoji on there. Nobody knew what the countdown was for,” Yawgnhwe said.

“People were constantly viewing and we got more and more traffic everyday. We saw hundreds of people were visiting our website.”

Afterward, the launch orders poured in, and the boxes were quickly sold out. Yawnghwe said they made more available, and it sold out again.

All the boxes are packed by Yawnghwe and her family at their Edmonton home.

People have ordered boxes from every province and territory in Canada.

“We’re overwhelmed, but we have so much gratitude, too,” Yawnghwe said. “We didn’t do any marketing or take out any ads. It’s all word of mouth.

“I got it down to a very specific calculation of how things fit in the box, the weight of the box and how it’s all themed together. Our first box was with women and honing in on the self-care.”

Her family, meanwhile, doesn’t just help her pack.  Yawnghwe’s 13-year-old daughter, Kamryn Yawnghwe, is excited her handmade kokum scarf button earrings were part of the first edition box.

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“It’s exciting, because I used to sell them at craft sales, and mostly family and a few people in Edmonton were wearing my earrings, but now it’s across Canada,” Kamryn said.

Kamryn is also inspired to see her mom living her dream.

“I am proud of her. She has been waiting to start this business with my dad, and it’s good that she go the grant to start the business.”

Edmonton-based business Mother Earth Essential is also included in the first box. Carrie Armstrong has been making soaps, candles and other products for 15 years, and has soap products in hotels across the country.

“It’s so exciting. I’m proud of (Yawnghwe), and she has done such a good job of it,” Armstrong said.

“Someone was going to do it because it’s such a great idea. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner, but I think it happened with the perfect person, because she has done such a remarkable job.”

Read more: Women more likely than men to see jobs transformed by automation: StatCan

Armstrong said when she first started her company, there weren’t many other Indigenous businesses. She hopes the box will lead to people learning more about Indigenous culture.

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“When I first started, it was 2006. Things have shifted a lot in Canada since I’ve started the business, as far as acceptance of Indigenous business,” Armstrong said.

“It’s that sharing of knowledge, and breaking down stereotypes and misconceptions that are out there.”

The summer Indigenous Box will soon be available, and it’s also expected to sell out. Yawnghwe has dreams of demand growing in leaps and bounds.

“To see just our cartoon image on the box means a lot for our communities, and our kids,” she said. “So to see people that look like them represented in mainstream contemporary ways.

“If we can help somebody find an Indigenous product, then we are just over the moon.”

Click to play video: 'High school student project on Indigenous culture endorsed by one Alberta school division' High school student project on Indigenous culture endorsed by one Alberta school division

High school student project on Indigenous culture endorsed by one Alberta school division

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