Local Indigenous artists will be able to see their work on gift shop items across the province — or at least, that’s the hope for Nations Creations, a manufacturer of Indigenous branded goods.
“Everybody thinks an artist is a stay-at-home person doing artwork,” Sandra Bobb, manager at Nations Creations, said. “I’ve been telling everyone for years, it’s a career. You just have to find the right path.
“So now we’re hiring these staff members and artists, and giving them a path. That’s exciting.”
Nations Creations first started in 2016 as part of a social enterprise project under the Stó:lō Service Agency.
The company had received funding from the provincial government to develop a program to support workers interested in learning sophisticated, computer-based light manufacturing. With that program the company also created a business around using Indigenous art on items for gift shops, which were sold in places like the Stó:lō gift shop.
Local artists received royalties for the use of their work, and profits from sales went to employ more workers in the training program.
But, “being a social enterprise, the second the funding dries up it makes it very difficult to make it profitable,” Seabird Island executive director Jason Campbell said.
|Shirts like this one will be among the first products Nations Creations will be producing once it opens up its Agassiz location. (Nations Creations/Contributed)|
In early 2020, a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nations Creations shut down and sold their trademarks and equipment.
For Seabird Island, it was the perfect opportunity.
“I just really loved their model, their intent behind providing stable employment or at least opportunities for Indigenous artists,” Campbell said.
The band had also purchased the former Ledoux Hardware building on Pioneer Avenue around the same time that Nations Creations came up for sale.
“Magically, we had a great place to put the equipment,” Campbell said.
Although COVID-19 put a halt on the band’s progress in setting up Nations Creations in the Pioneer building, the launch date is now “tantalizingly close,” Campbell said.
They are hoping to have the business officially up and running by late spring or early summer, but they are already starting on product designs for Seabird Island and other long-standing clients of Nations Creations.
There are currently four dedicated staff for Nations Creations, and two more who are split between the band and the company.
In the short-term, Campbell said the company will be working primarily as a print shop, providing products with and without Indigenous designs to local customers.
“We want to be there to service the whole community for their print shop needs,” Campbell said.
“We are a start up, so we want to make sure we are able to do one side of the house well, and it’s going to be profitable and functional,” he added.
Once the print shop is up and running, the next focus will be on establishing a gift shop in the Pioneer building itself.
“We think that it would be a lost opportunity if we didn’t have a storefront, seeing as how we are sort of a tourist hub with Harrison Hot Springs being right there,” Campbell said.
The inside of the building is in rough shape, Campbell said, but it has great potential.
“The main entry area is perfect for a storefront, it’s just gorgeous,” Campbell said, adding that “we’ve got some aesthetic work to do, both on the interior and the exterior.”
|Glassware with Indigenous designs are among some of the products Nations Creations is hoping to bring to Agassiz. (Nations Creations/Contributed)|
The entrance off Cheam Avenue shows off what would be the main storefront area, with a large entryway and a broad staircase leading to the upstairs with an old saloon-style railing.
The storefront would include items like lanyards, mugs, hats, glassware, mouse pads, coasters, t-shirts, hoodies and track pants. The company is also getting set up with an embroidery machine, which will allow artists to see their work embroidered on blankets and other textiles.
“We’ve got an opportunity to do a lot of stuff, it’s going to be exciting,” Campbell said.
There’s a lot to be done before the business is ready to take off, but Campbell and others at Seabird Island are looking to what they hope will be a successful future for the company.
“We’d love to be in competition with companies like Native Northwest,” Campbell said. “That’s sort of a long-term stretch goal, but we’d love to have an Indigenous company in competition with this non-Indigenous company selling Indigenous products.”