Sapling and Flint: Sisters in Silver (and Gold)
“Creativity, it's one of those things where the more you use it, the more you have it,” explains Dakota Brant, a member of the Mohawk Nation Turtle Clan from Six Nations of the Grand River territory. She’s an entrepreneur and artist who co-founded Sapling and Flint, a wholesale jewelry manufacturer specializing in gold and sterling silver, with her twin sister Jessie.
Before Sapling and Flint, she got her BA in Indigenous Environmental Studies and a master's degree in Community Planning from UBC. In Vancouver, she taught her language and formed a dance troop with other Mohawk Haudenosaunee people to share their culture, all while learning the business side of managing a dance group. Meanwhile, her sister was learning metal jewelry methodology at George Brown College.
When she came home, they collaborated on a design brand together, with Brant making ribbon skirts and putting her designs on leggings and shirts. It was a good start, but she thought, “I don't want to hustle T-shirts for a living. That's not what I aspire to do.” After having children, they considered if this was going to be a hobby or something more serious.
“I'm trying to make sure that [my son] has something naturally that my generation and my parents; generation had to struggle for.”
They went all in, leasing a rarely available retail space which was once a jewelry store and that’s where they now sell their own jewelry. “We're proud to completely manufacture our products here on the territory. We are big on silversmithing because we have a 400 year tradition of silversmithing,” Brant shares.
The products they sell globally online and locally in store are shaped by her sister’s experience training with traditional silversmiths, making wampum jewelry, and learning to use high tech, industrial equipment. Training their staff, they are passing down the traditional art form while revitalizing the local economy.
“My biggest barrier has always been just understanding how to run a business because I never went to business school.”
Brant advocates for business education to learn to handle finances and properly value products and skills, which helps the industry as a whole. Businesses that charge sustainable pricing are impacted by those selling themselves short. Learning website and social media management and understanding analytics saved her money in the early days and since then, Brant has been learning payroll, financial reporting, people management, and how to build a business that works for her and her lifestyle.
“Figure out your lifestyle before you figure out your career. Do not let your lifestyle be dictated by your career, make it the other way around and do that when you're young.”
Her son attends Mohawk immersion four days a week and she wanted her business to allow for her family life, and also for what the customer wants. “We're an Indigenous brand, but we have to create a balance between what expresses us as Haudenosaunee people, but also what's marketable. At the end of the day, my market is all of Canada, not just Indigenous people. If you want to make money, you have to make products for a wider range than just your home community,” she elaborates.
Running a business isn’t for everyone, Brant realizes. “If you have a hard time answering emails, running a business might not be the best idea for you, because you need to know how to handle customer service, people calling you or emailing you and telling you what they like about the product and what they hate about it,” she reflects.
She considers criticism to be free market research. Customer feedback has influenced her packaging, product descriptions and how she presents her product, noting “It took that time to figure out what the customers actually want and build on that and we're constantly creating better products for it, with higher quality.”
When people ask her what the best part of being an entrepreneur is, she says, “that I have made a product that people actually want to buy.” She likes to hear the sound of online order notifications and she doesn’t see entrepreneurship as the privilege of being her own boss, but rather the responsibility of people depending on her for their livelihood.
Brant wants to encourage aspiring Indigenous business owners. “Things are going to change all the time. Most entrepreneurs question themselves at least once a day about why we're even doing this. Those are just realities, but it's a part of the journey to not get disappointed by some setbacks. It really does take time to build your brand. There's no shortcuts, especially for our people, we don't have intergenerational wealth. As Indigenous people, most of us are starting absolutely from scratch. We're going to be the first wealthy people in our families, and that's what most of us are working with,” she relays.
She doesn’t want people to lose hope. “Try not to be fazed by everybody else's experience with entrepreneurship, because you're an individual and you move at your own pace. Create the product that you're looking for, based on what your needs are, and what your lifestyle is going to be. Nobody can 100% tell you what to do when it comes to entrepreneurship. You just have to figure it out yourself and what skill sets you need,” she continues.
Looking to the future, Brant wants to build a home. She’s at a point where she feels comfortable committing to a mortgage and paying herself enough to have the lifestyle she envisioned for herself so long ago.
Creativity is one of those things where the more you use it, the more you have it, and Dakota Brant and her sister have been using it well. Building a business, a life for their families, the skill base of their community, and their local economy, they know that not everything that glitters is gold. Some is sterling silver, made with love, ancestral wisdom and hope for a tomorrow as bright as the precious metals at Sapling and Flint.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.