Thirty-year-old Cree entrepreneur Devon Fiddler founded SheNative, which designs genuine leather goods that elevate Indigenous women and girls through sharing story, meaningful employment and dynamic skills training. (Photo by Sweetmoon Photography, http://www.sweetmoonphotography.ca)
Today marks International Women’s Day, and across the world, people are celebrating the vision and achievements of women. That’s the everyday mission of Devon Fiddler, a Cree entrepreneur from the Waterhen Lake First Nation in Saskatchewan. Fiddler founded SheNative in 2014 to uplift and inspire indigenous women and girls — and fashion just so happens to be her medium.
“It didn’t really matter what product. What really mattered was the reason behind starting the business — the why: to elevate and empower indigenous women and girls through the process,” Fiddler told Native Business Magazine.
Her plan evolved from creating a clothing line for indigenous women to designing, manufacturing and producing leather handbags and accessories. Whatever Fiddler creates, she provides employment for aboriginal women in Saskatoon, and aspires to showcase the beauty of First Nations’ cultures.
Pivotal to the 30-year-old social entrepreneur’s success has been a commitment to personal development, cultivating self-confidence and overcoming her shyness. Fiddler approached the process gradually. “The idea for SheNative hit me in 2011. It actually took me two to three years to go from forming an idea of starting a business to actually launching and starting a business. It was a work in progress, and a lot of it was me working on my own personal self to get to where I needed to be in order to launch a business,” she shared with Native Business.
Fiddler doesn’t have a background in fashion — but that didn’t stop her. In 2011, she obtained her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Saskatchewan, where she studied Aboriginal Public Administration and Political Studies. After graduating, she started a business counselor position with the Meadow Lake Tribal Council in Saskatoon.
“I worked with nine Meadow Lake First Nations communities to help advise on, coach on, and give information about how to start a business. So, I was working in entrepreneurship, but I wasn’t yet an entrepreneur. I helped write the proposals and business plans, and prepare financial statements. I was inspired by my work and working with entrepreneurs to start my own business and be my own boss. It took me a while to get there. It takes a lot of courage to drop a salary for the uncertainty of starting a business,” she admitted.
Part of her ongoing self-development included participating in a four-month Indigenous Women in Community Leadership Program, offered through the COADY International Institute of the St. Xavier University in Antigonish, Nova Scotia. She was one of 12 out of 100 Indigenous women in Canada accepted into the program. She additionally went on to earn her startSMART Entrepreneurship Program certificate from the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship in 2014.
When Fiddler summoned the courage to launch SheNative, she hit the ground running — throwing herself on stage and out of her comfort zone. Her vision won over judges at business competitions across Canada. She received two awards from Start-Up Canada: Young Entrepreneur of the Year and Sustainable Business of the Year. And she was selected to represent Canada at the 2016 Young Entrepreneur Alliance Summit in Istanbul, Turkey.
Over the years, Fiddler has learned about entrepreneurship through trial and error — all while teaching and training fellow indigenous women, whom she has hired as contract employees to assist her with manufacturing and production.
Forming a partnership with a local shoemaking company, Fiddler rented out studio space and machines. “I had to learn how to cut leather and sew leather. It was different from outsourcing,” she said.
Today Fiddler has struck a balance between hand-manufacturing and outsourcing the more complicated bags — rather than trying to do it all on her own. Still, employing local, indigenous women is the heart of her business.
“I feel like the best way that we give back to these communities is by providing skills training and jobs to the communities in Saskatoon,” she told Native Business.
SheNative has sold at various pop-up shops — always offering short-term employment opportunities. SheNative has primarily earned money from direct online and retail sales. Now Fiddler is working toward securing a permanent location, while reworking her business model “to help more indigenous peoples in our communities in Canada, the U.S. and around the world,” she said.
“The idea is to change public perception surrounding indigenous women, and to teach even corporations how to be more sensitive — so sensitivity training. That’s something on my radar. I know a lot of people are not educated about indigenous issues,” she said.
Fiddler is also formalizing her approach to training, educating and inspiring indigenous women. “These are in the works, part of our new strategy. We’ve done leadership and entrepreneurial projects in the past; now we’re just integrating it into the business model,” she said.
Meanwhile, she intends to “share the positive stories of indigenous women and girls in our communities. We do that by profiling different women across Canada and via our social media platforms and cross-promotion,” she said. (Follow SheNative on Facebook @SheNative and on Instagram @SheNativeGoods.)
Fiddler’s website is undergoing a facelift — look to read the “HerStory” of various female entrepreneurs on SheNative.com in about a month or two.
As SheNative moves forward, Fiddler wants to help other women start their own businesses as well. “I dream about SheNative getting into franchising so we can help women own their own businesses. Part of that would involve building their skills as leaders and working on their own personal self-development.”
Fiddler added: “My goal is to really inspire other women on a larger level, on a larger scale.”