As a hard-working IP lawyer for Google, Maria Running Fisher Jones is creating some big legal shoes to fill someday. But it’s the little shoes that really fuel the Blackfeet Native’s passion.
In 2014, Running Fisher Jones invested $25,000 of her own money to launch TPMOCS ― an all-Native business that creates handmade moccasins for infants and toddlers ― for the sole purpose of creating economic opportunity for her impoverished Tribe.
“The Blackfeet reservation has a nearly 69 percent poverty rate. When I would go home to visit my family and get my frybread fix,” she laughs, “I looked around and realized, ‘Wow, nothing has changed.’ So, I thought, ‘What can I do? How can I give back?’”
Then it hit her: moccasins! “Our Tribe has been creating these shoes for years, by hand.” Inspired, Running Fisher Jones began taking apart her own pairs of moccasins and studied them. “I realized that they are not that challenging to make.”
TPMOCS was named for the owner’s fascination with teepees ― “Someday, I plan to have one in my backyard!” ― and pulled from the Blackfeet name, “niitsiTaPi,” which means the “real people.” The shoe company employs up to six artisans throughout the year, all Blackfeet Natives living in Montana who fashion the children’s moccasins out of soft, flexible cowhide.
“What differentiates us from competitors is that TPMOCS is one of the only companies that employs Native American artisans to handcraft its moccasins. Plus, it is the only company producing children’s moccasins that gives back to the community,” says Running Fisher Jones, who donates a portion of the proceeds to buy necessities for the Blackfeet Early Childhood Center.
Craftsmanship is an important cornerstone to the TPMOCS brand. Each pair of moccasins is cut, sewn, sinewed and branded by Native artisans to “ensure quality from start to finish,” Running Fisher Jones explains. She is especially proud of the moccasin pattern. “Our pattern was created in-house and is exclusive to our company. Frankly put, you won’t find it anywhere else.”
Surprisingly, the owner has never taken a salary. “I have taken no profit from the company. I just want to see my passion project grow,” she says, adding that TPMOCS has received some grant funding from organizations that support Native and/or women-owned businesses.
As for managing the business, it’s a family affair. Living in California and working full-time for Google, Running Fisher Jones counts on her mother, brothers and aunts to run the day-to-day operations. “They do it out of their shared commitment to giving back to our community,” and ask for no compensation, she says with much appreciation.
The busy Google attorney and entrepreneur focuses on TPMOCs in her spare time. “I spend most of my Fridays through Sundays working on this business.” She adds that Google has been very supportive of her business, as well. “I get nothing but warm wishes from my colleagues. Many managers and directors have bought my moccasins as gifts.”
Currently, her moccasins are sold only online at TPMOCS.com and at Shop.BeyondBucksin.com, a website created by Dr. Jessica Metcalfe, a Turtle Mountain Chippewa, that features Native American-made fashion. “Jessica has been amazing,” says Running Fisher Jones. “She was the first external business willing to work with us. I am eternally grateful to Jessica and inspired by the work she does.” Other online vendors, as well as brick-and-mortar boutiques, are interested in selling the moccasins, too, and Running Fisher Jones is exploring these options.
TPMOCS are available in children’s sizes 0 to 7 in an assortment of colors and Native fabrics, and range between $69 and $79. Running Fisher Jones says her moccasins have international appeal. “We distribute worldwide, including in the United States, Australia, Europe and Canada. Our customers are both Native and non-Native.” Her most popular shoe is the Firewalker, and the option for customers to customize their own design has been a big seller, too.
Nearly four years into her business, the Native entrepreneur reflects on how far she has come. “As much as I have excelled in my legal career, this is one of, if not my proudest, accomplishments.”
However, she has many more mountains to climb with her moccasins. Her long-term vision is to operate out of one large production facility and give back to multiple Native communities on remote reservations. She also has her sights set short-term on expanding into children’s apparel, such as t-shirts and leggings.
And she is not ruling out mass production in the future, either. “I think eventually we will have to mass produce in order to get higher margins and give back even more money to Native communities.”