According to The Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub, there are nearly 23,000 Indigenous women entrepreneurs across Canada, and Indigenous women are starting up enterprises at twice the rate of non-Indigenous women, and at a greater rate than Indigenous men.
These women are marching forward in uncharted territory, blazing a trail for other Indigenous women to follow. Most incredibly, they are also changing traditional business models to incorporate Indigenous values and world views into their everyday operations.
What does this mean?
Simply put, it means that success isn’t centred around, or measured by capital gain. It doesn’t glamourize the grind or hustle of intensive labour practices. Instead, Indigenous women are building their businesses from a framework of decolonization, and traditional values that veer away from the capitalistic business model to focus on relationship building, flexibility, and balance. These ventures operate in a way that contributes to an inclusive, equitable and sustainable economy.
One of those businesses is Bloom + Brilliance, an intersectional and Indigenous feminist-led design agency in Treaty 1 Territory in Winnipeg, Man. This business centres around an Indigenous value system that has changed the standard measure for success to meet the needs of its founder, Janelle Desrosiers, who is Michif (Red River Métis) and French-Canadian, and the community of colleagues and clients she is part of.
“Through the agency experience that I had, I saw that female clients were treated a little bit differently, or that they didn’t get the most out of the experience because they always had these really set timelines, and everything is based on productivity and efficiency, and it wasn’t really ever about getting to know people and their values,” explains Desrosiers.
Desrosiers says that women, especially mothers, are often penalized and not supported in the right way to achieve their full potential in their career endeavours, because they lack the flexibility to take care of themselves, and their children and families while still excelling in their careers.
“Women should be investing in their own dreams as much as they’re investing in their children and partners,” she says.
Bloom + Brilliance was born out as a freelance venture for Desrosiers. She worked from what she calls a system of flexibility that prioritizes a work-life balance for herself and her team, as well as her clients, and any contractors and vendors they work with.
“We want to have lives. Life isn’t about work, and we want to take our lives back from work,” she said, adding that labour is a colonial concept. It’s a capitalist concept . . .” adds Desrosiers.
In 2020, she says her businesses exploded. Within two years she grew Bloom + Brilliance from her solo full-time freelance gig to a fully formed company with a team of 15 people. She says she got caught up, trying to meet the demand of the ever-growing clientele. She describes the experience as dipping her toes in the rat race. For nearly a year she was working 60-90 hours a week to keep up and she barely saw her husband and young son.
Desrosiers admits that going down the path of traditional success nearly destroyed her. “I just got caught up in how much interest was all of a sudden coming my way, and I didn’t know how to manage it properly, and so I ended up sacrificing so much—sacrificing my health, family relationships, time with my family to build my business,” she explains.
“So when I finally came out of that haze I was a shell of my former self . . . I realized that I had to go back to my values, and recentre all those things, because I was trying so hard to support my clients and my staff that I had completely forgotten myself.”
After taking a step back, and realigning with her goals, Desrosiers said the path forward was a slow and steady one. Building her business without being able to access funds, and working in this way meant having to reduce her lifestyle and scale back on consumerism, eating out, and travel.
“We need to be living more in harmony with this world. We can’t keep going at this break-neck capitalist speed that so many of us are under pressure to do. I know a lot of people wouldn’t make this choice to slow down and sacrifice in order to work less, but it’s really important for my husband and I,” she says. “It’s really important for us to centre our family and our way of life over financial success and consumerist success.”