C/O Paige Porter

Local business owner Paige Porter is rediscovering her Indigenous heritage through her beadwork

Beading has a historical and cultural significance among Canada’s Indigenous communities as an art form passed down through generations. For Paige Porter, the Hamilton-based Indigenous beadwork artist behind House of Beads, it is a means of reconnecting with her heritage and carving out a cultural identity of her own.

Porter’s small business specializes in Indigenous beaded jewellery, accessories and custom commissions. Though beading is traditionally passed from parent to child within Indigenous communities, Porter’s journey to beading arose out of a self-driven search to learn more about her heritage. She is Haudenosaunee and Onyota'a:ka from Six Nations of the Grand River. As an intergenerational survivor of the residential schools system, Porter described feelings of disconnection from her culture within her family in her formative years. 

“Growing up, I didn’t know that much about my culture. Down the line, my family was afraid to acknowledge and speak the language. Over the years it died off, which is sad to say, but because of residential schools I know some older Indigenous people went through especially traumatic experiences and were ashamed of being Native. That’s how they were brainwashed. Being Indigenous, I grew up and had to learn about my culture myself,” explained Porter.

In her efforts to reconnect with her heritage, Porter became involved with the Hamilton Regional Indian Center, where she gained more exposure to resources and other Indigenous community members. She began beading in November 2019 to rekindle the traditional art form within her family, entirely through self-teaching and her own devices. 

“Beading is usually a tradition passed down generations and generations, but in my case, my family was never taught beading. I wanted to become the first-generation leader in my family . . . It’s not only for myself, but also so I can pass it down to my family and my grandkids — I can be that grandma that teaches them how to do it,”

Paige Porter

Porter began learning to bead through online resources and imitating designs, before beginning to create original designs of her own. The learning process has provided her with a sense of resilience and pride in her heritage.

Initially, Porter never saw herself as a business owner. Along her self-teaching journey, she began posting her work on Instagram. She started to amass a following and it was her mother who first had the idea to sell the art Porter had created. Her mother’s encouragement incited the transformation of her passion into a business, now with over 1,500 followers on her combined social media platforms.

Porter fondly recalled memories from the Together in Dance Festival at Mohawk College, which she attended as a vendor in February 2020. The celebration of diversity and multiculturalism was one of Porter’s first times presenting her work to the public. After the festival, Porter went on to collaborate with Sweet Peas Baby Company, a seasonal subscription box for parents of young children, where her bead art was featured.

“My products are handmade and take time. You're getting something that is authentic and handmade by an actual Indigenous person rather than Indigenous-inspired and when you support an Indigenous business, then you're also supporting the Indigenous community. When you go and shop in Canada, those proceeds go into Canada,” said Porter.

Beyond her bead art, Porter stressed the importance of bringing awareness to injustices committed against Indigenous peoples in Canada. She called students to action to educate themselves on Orange Shirt Day, Truth and Reconciliation Day and the missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls and two spirit.

Porter’s small business has helped her to build a bridge back to the Indigenous culture that was stolen from her and her family and her art is a reminder of the importance of Indigenous culture and legacies. 

Hamilton-based Ojibwe and Métis beader is reconnecting to her Indigenous roots through her beadwork earrings

C/O @thirtywwolvesdesigns

Growing up in Hamilton her whole life, Oksana Legault knew very little about her Indigenous background. However, through her beaded jewelry business Thirty Wolves Designs that she started on Instagram in September 2020, Legault is slowly reconnecting and beading together her lost Indigenous identity.

Legault is of mixed Ojibwe, Métis and French ancestry. She is also a grandchild of a residential school survivor. As a result of the intergenerational impact of residential schools, she was raised disconnected from her Indigenous heritage and culture.

When people asked about her background, she was taught by her parents to say French-Canadian because they were taught to be ashamed of their Indigenous heritage and knew very little about where they came from.

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“I’ve been displaced from my culture, my Ojibwe and Métis culture . . . After my [grandfather attended residential school], all of our culture was lost and my parents know nothing. Especially being in the city, not in our original area, I don’t know much about it. I started [Thirty Wolves Designs] because I found art was fun and I wanted to learn more about my culture,” explained Legault.

“I’ve been displaced from my culture, my Ojibwe and Métis culture . . . After my [grandfather attended residential school], all of our culture was lost and my parents know nothing. Especially being in the city, not in our original area, I don’t know much about it. I started [Thirty Wolves Designs] because I found art was fun and I wanted to learn more about my culture,” explained Legault.

Legault began her journey to reclaim her Indigenous identity in 2019 when she signed up for a beading and moccasins workshop led by Justine Woods, a Métis interdisciplinary designer based in Tkaronto, at the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto.

Since then, she has continued to hone her beading skills and now creates beautifully crafted beaded earrings which she sells through Thirty Wolves Designs.

The name was inspired by her strong spiritual connection to wolves and her birth date, December 30. The fact that there can be up to 30 wolves in a pack made the name even more perfect.

Her bead designs mostly carry themes of nature as well as inspirations drawn from other art and Indigenous beaders. For example, she has recreated Pedicularis and Indian paintbrush plants, the scenery of the Meziadin Lake in Kitimat, BC and a painting called A Moment of Peace by Ryder Erickson.

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Beyond serving as a tool to reconnect with her Indigenous roots, beading has also allowed Legault to liberate herself creatively. Legault has been interested in art since high school and Thirty Wolves Designs provided her with an opportunity and platform to share her creations. 

Her most recent launch on March 5 was in collaboration with Wildflower Supply Co., another Hamilton-based jewelry business run by Legault’s high school classmate Jasmine Ellis. This is the second launch of their collaboration featuring wildflower-themed beaded earrings.

The anticipation for the launch and the general support from her audience has been overwhelming. Legault also appreciates the Indigenous beading community who has been continuously sharing knowledge and teaching her more about beading and her culture.  

“The Indigenous beading community is a really small, niche community, but at the same time it feels so big because I haven’t had access to my culture personally through my family,” said Legault.

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As with all new businesses in the COVID-19 era, starting Thirty Wolves Designs was challenging. It was difficult to find the right time, right supplies and right designs and to encourage herself to make the first post. Legault emphasizes that new business owners should start small and slowly grow their brand.

Behind the scenes, Legault is excited for more collaboration projects and the launch of the Thirty Wolves Designs website to make her business more accessible to customers. She is also looking forward to discovering more about her Indigenous identity.

“Thirty Wolves Designs means a start to learning about my culture. It’s a beginning, a stepping stone for me to learn more about my family’s history and what it means to be Ojibwe and Métis . . . It’s a fresh start to finding out the part of me that I was never able to explore when I was younger,” said Legault.

“Thirty Wolves Designs means a start to learning about my culture. It’s a beginning, a stepping stone for me to learn more about my family’s history and what it means to be Ojibwe and Métis . . . It’s a fresh start to finding out the part of me that I was never able to explore when I was younger,” said Legault.  

Every pair of earrings she creates marks a rekindled connection to the knowledge of the past that was stolen from her.

McMaster graduate’s new business is making jewellery both affordable and fun

Fashion choices, including jewellery, are inherently personal but can also be an accessory to explore and have fun with. However, jewellery especially is often seen as a luxury that is out of reach to students as affordability can often constrict choices. Businesses such as Emily O’Rourke’s No Prob Co are helping to make jewellery both more affordable and fun.

O’Rourke is a recent McMaster graduate and was the Editor-in-Chief of the Silhouette during Volume 89. She is currently working in public relations, but about a year ago when she had some time off during the holidays, she began to explore jewellery making.

A few months later when the pandemic began and she had more time, her hobby snowballed into No Prob Co.

“It's very much a nice passion project. I think I would put it that way. I love doing it and I love having that time to craft or to make things that I like . . . it's more of a fun thing to do instead of something I focused on as a business,” explained O’Rourke.

“It's very much a nice passion project. I think I would put it that way. I love doing it and I love having that time to craft or to make things that I like . . . it's more of a fun thing to do instead of something I focused on as a business,” explained O’Rourke.

O’Rourke mostly makes jewellery and hair accessories, but she has recently branched out into home goods, such as candles. All her products are made by hand and are available through her Etsy store

 

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The reception has been increasingly positive, particularly over these past few months with O’Rourke now receiving orders from across Ontario.

“I really enjoy making things that are fun and exciting and part of my own personal tastes. Like things that I would wear myself or things that I'd buy myself, so I’m glad to know that other people share the same taste as me,” said O’Rourke.

“I really enjoy making things that are fun and exciting and part of my own personal tastes. Like things that I would wear myself or things that I'd buy myself, so I’m glad to know that other people share the same taste as me,” said O’Rourke.

While suggested prices are listed alongside each product, No Prob Co operates on a pay-what-you-can model. Financial accessibility is important to O’Rourke and part of what inspired the name for her business.

“I say no prob and no problem all the time and also I really wanted this to be like an accessible business . . . Accessibility is part of the “no prob” in the name because it's something that I feel I've definitely been relaxed about instead of like “these are my prices, this is what you have to pay”,” explained O’Rourke.

 

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As a recent graduate, she understands that affordability is of particular concern to students when shopping for jewellery, whether it is for themselves or loved ones.

“I think when I was a student, I was very disappointed when I couldn’t find things that I could afford that I liked . . . [but] if somebody else is making it and I can pay what I want, I think that's a lot more accessible and a lot more like inviting for students particularly,” said O’Rourke.

“I think when I was a student, I was very disappointed when I couldn’t find things that I could afford that I liked . . . [but] if somebody else is making it and I can pay what I want, I think that's a lot more accessible and a lot more like inviting for students particularly,” said O’Rourke.

O’Rourke acknowledged that while it might not be the most sustainable business practice, No Prob Co is more of a passion project than a business. She wants it to be something enjoyable not just for her, but for others as well.

“I really want someone to walk away with something they really like and I think at the end of the day that's why I make these things because I really like to make them. So people who maybe like the same things I do can buy them at the rate they want to buy them at and can walk away with something that they can cherish,” explained O’Rourke.

Shop Boho is carving out space in the Bohemian market and supporting Black business owners along the way

Stories build communities and celebrate cultures by bringing together ideas, emotions and experiences in a meaningful way. Some stories are told through books or movies, others are told through artifacts or products. At Shop Boho, each accessory paints a landscape and tells a story of a different culture from around the world. 

Shop Boho is an e-commerce, Bohemian-inspired accessory and lifestyle brand that was launched in July 2020. Each jewelry is unique and handpicked from vendors by Shop Boho’s founder and McMaster alumna, Yosra Musa. The names of the pieces are inspired by cities whose landscape, aesthetic or culture is reflected in the design of the piece. It is how Musa integrates diversity and breathes life into all of her products.

“I don't want to be wearing what everybody else is wearing. I like to think of my pieces as a statement and as a talking point,” explained Musa.

 

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Yellow, brown or off-white- which one are you choosing?

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Musa started the brand because she noticed a lack of representation of people of colour in the market for bohemian lifestyle products. 

Bohemian lifestyle describes an unconventional life often lived by constant travellers, artists or other creatives. Bohemian style captures this way of living through objects, colours and patterns from many different cultures. However, a quick Google search of “Bohemian style” yields results that are rather disappointing. Instead of the diversity that you would expect to see, the vast majority of the images are of white blonde women wearing colourful and patterned dresses.

So undeterred by the current pandemic, Musa decided to use her strong background in supply chain management and her interest in alternative lifestyles to address this gap in the market.

Support from the community was a significant factor in successfully opening Shop Boho. Musa was promoted by local platforms such as Blk-Owned Hamont and received a microgrant from Black Artists Union, an art collective that showcases work by Black creators. The microgrant allowed her to expand her resources and have more creative freedom. 

As a way to give back to the community, Musa is planning workshops and sharing YouTube videos documenting the challenges she faces as a small business owner and how she overcomes them. She is also sharing other lessons from her supply chain management experience. Musa understands that the initial learning curve of opening a business can be a financial burden and setback for many new business owners or discourage people from pursuing their entrepreneurial goals altogether.

“There's so many people that want to start an online business and anybody can do it. But I'm hoping that people can bypass a lot of the challenges that I faced by sharing that information,” said Musa.

One of the critical values of Shop Boho is representing and supporting Black women-owned businesses. Musa has always been an advocate for anti-racism movements. When she was a student at McMaster, she received the Lincoln M. Alexander Award for her contributions toward removing racial barriers in the community. She helped to establish McMaster’s African and African Diaspora Studies minor and co-founded Nu Omega Zeta, the second Black-focused sorority in Canada. 

Musa realized early that it wasn’t enough for her as a Black woman entrepreneur to support and celebrate Black Girl Magic, a movement that highlights the beauty, power and resilience of Black women. She realized that she had to support an entire ecosystem of Black business owners. For example, for her upcoming winter collection, she purchased from women and/or Black-owned vendors. 

“It's time for people, especially during this Black Lives Matter movement, to really think about their purchasing decisions. Purchasing from a small Black-owned business shouldn't feel like charity. They should be products that you genuinely enjoy and love. But as a consumer, you just need to be aware of where you're really putting your dollars and who you're supporting,” said Musa. 

Currently, Musa is most looking forward to her winter collection, which will feature gold-plated, minimalist and classic jewelry pieces as well as staple everyday accessories such as tote bags and travel mugs. In the future, she hopes to host in-person pop-up shops in the Hamilton and Toronto areas.

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