The “Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs” list serves to elevate awareness of the innovation, professionalism, competence and tenacity demonstrated by Native entrepreneurs across Indian Country. Native Business is rolling out profiles of these 50 Native entrepreneurs online, in no particular hierarchy, to document and memorialize their innovation and self-determination. The inaugural class of the Native Business Top 50 Entrepreneurs recognizes leaders across 13 business sectors, demonstrating the diversity of industries where Natives are making an impact. Among the entrepreneurs recognized in our Beauty & Wellness sector are Monica Simeon and Marina TurningRobe.
Siblings Monica Simeon and Marina TurningRobe established Sister Sky in 1999. The Spokane citizens utilize ancestral, herbal wisdom and ethics to create natural hair and skin merchandise, and they continue carrying these principles into their newest venture, Sister Sky, Inc.
Sister Sky’s products started as a home-based business, and in the beginning, both sisters held full-time jobs outside of their company.
“We were mixing lotion, making candles and doing all these hobby-type things,” Simeon said.
Simeon and TurningRobe enjoyed working together, packing their merchandise for trade shows and events every weekend, but they wanted to invest more time and energy into their business.
“And as fate would have it when my son Kevin was born with severe eczema, we really started looking at traditional herbal ingredients from our heritage,” Simeon added.
Kevin’s struggle with dry, sensitive skin furthered the company’s mission to create natural products rooted in Native American teachings.
“It’s been a great opportunity for us to build upon that anchor that we’ve always had for Sister Sky’s products division,” Simeon said.
With two decades now under their belts, the sisters have served as leaders in the all-natural movement of today. They strive to honor traditional plant knowledge and herbal wisdom in everything Sister Sky does.
“By that I mean the natural ingredients that our ancestors used when there wasn’t a Walgreens or a Wal-Mart or a drugstore that we could go to,” Simeon added. “And anything we put in our blog or any products that we release or offer to the public, we really do ask ‘Will this pass the test with our elders? Will they think this is OK?’”
The company began creating a business growth plan several years ago, and the siblings decided to launch Sister Sky, Inc. The offshoot enterprise expands the company outside of the beauty industry and into federal contracting. However, throughout its development, completing the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 8(a) Business Development Program remained at the forefront of TurningRobe and Simeon’s minds.
TurningRobe headed up the project, and two and a half years after applying, they received the certification notice from the SBA.
“It takes dedication, and it takes teamwork with whomever you’re working with,” TurningRobe recalled. “You really have to stay focused through the 8(a) application process. It was from our intentions of diversifying that we now find ourselves with two companies, but our products division is still alive and well and running very healthy.”
The services division, Sister Sky, Inc., targets federal agencies that provide resources or health and wellness initiatives across Indian Country. It currently collaborates with several federal agencies, including the Administration for Native Americans, to support language revitalization across five Tribes. The company also holds an Indian Health Services contract with 12 Tribes who are currently integrating behavioral health into primary care.
“Not only is the approach to treat the patient who may have primary care symptoms — physiological symptoms — but it also addresses behavioral health as a potential link to some of the things that are going on with the physical,” Simeon said.
“Our company has been deeply anchored in health and wellness, whether it’s through products or services,” she added.
Simeon and TurningRobe’s children have returned home from college to carry on the Sister Sky legacy.
“They’re talking about products they want to launch and divisions of the company they want to start, and … I can look ahead and see an amazing vision that is yet to unfold,” Simeon said.
The sisters are proud that the brand they have built together, with its foundations in Native American traditions, will continue for generations to come.