Emily Clairoux, Founder, Eagle Women Arts
As we enter September and reflect on The National Day for Truth and Reconciliation or Orange Shirt Day, Saturday 30th September 2023, what better way for startGBC to consider impact than to celebrate an amazing indigenous entrepreneur!
Emily Clairoux is the founder of Women Eagle Arts, where she uses her heritage and learning about the environment around her to create beautiful pieces of personal art.
About Emily Clairoux
Emily is a primarily self-taught creator working with beads, leather, and recently digital illustration. Her practice is slow and thoughtful, as she believes the items created carry the energy of the person who makes them. Emily comes from a long line of artists, teachers, hunters, and trappers which is the inspiration for much of my work.
Emily studied fine arts at the Toronto School of Art, Centennial College. The skills obtained through these courses have provided her with much inspiration through her creative development. Emily completed the Community Worker program at George Brown College and has combined these aspects of her education to support her community through traditional arts programming, especially around entrepreneurial endeavours.
What made you want to become an entrepreneur?
Emily hadn't considered herself an entrepreneur, but it came at a time of necessity.
Upon reflection, she sees now that being an entrepreneur was something that she had already been taught and that had been taught to generations before her as a means of survival. As a kid, it was normal Emily, that people would come to her grandparent's house and purchase live fishing bait at $8 a dozen, or that there were stretched-out beaver skins in the basement. Some of Emily’s earliest memories were in her old family home that was attached to a convenience store with a butcher shop in the back.
Emily’s mother told her stories about making a certain number of snowshoes by hand after school before she was allowed to go outside and play with her friends. This was while Emily made dreamcatchers, and other crafts, to sell at the Pikwakanagan Annual Pow Wow. Later, Emily’s grandparents opened their smoke shop where her aunts, and cousins, and Emily sell some of their creations.
Why did you create your business?
While Emily was working relief at a women's shelter, she didn’t get a single shift for 2 weeks. Emily was at home beading and decided to start an Etsy shop to see if anyone would purchase what she had made. To Emily’s surprise, she made a few sales in her first week. Thus, Eagle Woman Arts was born.
Prior to this Emily was beading for herself and to make gifts for her friends and family. She had some people asking when she would sell her creations, and she would say she wasn't planning on it. Now Eagle Woman Arts has been in operation for 5 years, and Emily is still shocked that people like her stuff (and is very grateful for the support!).
What successes have you enjoyed so far with building your company?
In the last 5 years, Emily has been asked to facilitate multiple workshops around beading and mitten-making within my community and beyond. Emily has been tasked with creating ceremonial items for regalia, and even an entire wedding party.
Emily was awarded a small artist material grant to purchase a sewing machine to help with a pay it forward initiative and she started providing leather mittens to unhoused Indigenous peoples living in Toronto. Emily has provided leather mittens to community members funded by donations for 2 winter seasons. The mittens were distributed by Parkdale Queen West Community Health Centre's Four Winds program.
Emily co-founded the Odeyimin Collective, which is a developing arts collective for Indigenous women and gender-diverse artists to create space and empower each other. Her auntie, Mary Commanda, who owns and operates Sticks N Bones Studios, is the other half of this initiative.
Emily was a runner-up in the Anishnabek Nation's Great Lakes Pow Wow Guide cover art contest and winner of the PFLAG Canada Indigenous inclusive logo contest. Emily was also chosen to share her art on the TTC for their Indigenous People's Month campaign alongside many other fabulous artists.
What is one piece of advice you would give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
Always be authentic and true to your work as a creative entrepreneur. For Indigenous artists, I would tell them that they belong in these spaces just as much as everyone else. Imposter syndrome is real and is a result of generations of intentional exclusion.
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