Written by Karen Kwan

When Devon Fiddler decided to launch her own company, she had a singular mission for her brand: that it inspire indigenous women. Three years later, SheNative is doing just that and then some.

Fiddler, who grew up on the First Nations reserve Waterhen Lake in Saskatchewan, didn’t grow up with a lot of things to look up to. She experienced racism within her own community throughout her childhood. But it was after graduating from university and working in her first job coaching entrepreneurs that she was inspired to launch her startup. It was during an economic development conference in 2011 that she decided right there in the conference centre that she wanted to launch her own business.

It took a few years of working on getting into the right mindset, working on strategy development and doing in-depth research before Fiddler launched SheNative, a leather accessories and fashion brand rooted in empowering indigenous women. “I want to inspire their confidence in what they’re doing, and let them know that they control their lives and can start their own business, too,” she says. SheNative employs only indigenous women (currently she has a solid team of eight employees) who are included in a wide range of responsibilities within the company so as to make it a collaborative community design process.

In 2016, SheNative was one of five recipients of funding for her venture from SheeEO, a global ecosystem designed to help support, finance and celebrate female entrepreneurs. Of the SheEO funds, the company’s set aside a portion for future growth, and also hired a sales representative but quickly realized that they needed to narrow down their strategy rather than do too much at once. Fiddler refined business model, bought new equipment and built a local manufacturing facility within small studio space.

Currently, the SheNative collection includes timeless leather handbags and totes but the majority of sales come from the apparel sold at pop-ups and online; think t-shirts printed with inspirational sayings such as “She believed she could so she did” and “SheWarrior.” “These quotes really resonated with me when I started the business,” shares Fiddler of the sayings, which are combined with indigenous design graphics.

When it comes to being an indigenous entrepreneur, Fiddler admits there are particular challenges. “I think often times indigenous people are often left out of larger incubators and accelerators, so we often don’t feel connected or safe in those types of environments.” And then in her position, she says, you can almost feel like a token because you don’t see a lot of other indigenous entrepreneurs. This calls for really pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, she confesses, and says that it can be a bit of a culture shock. She also names the bar being set so high to get involved with certain programs (having a certain level of revenue to qualify, for example) as a barrier.

But Fiddler, in her role now as founder of SheNative,  is speaking at panels, indigenous organizations and schools and hopes that by sharing her journey, this will change the landscape. “I don’t gloss over anything, though. I talk about my successes but also share about the struggles. “Entrepreneurship can be very lonely if you don’t have the right circle,” she says, adding that she had to change the circle of people surrounding her.

Now with a supportive community around her (and two young kids of her own), Fiddler is ready for the rollercoaster ride ahead of her of continuing to grow her brand and being there for indigenous female entrepreneurs just starting out. “You want to feel you have someone to connect to.”

Photo credit: Zlatko Cetinic, Images Made Real