How an Indigenous, Sister-Owned Brand Maintained its Business and Supported Local SMBs

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March 17, 2021 | Jim Magats, SVP Omni Payments

Twin Sisters Dakota and Jesse Brant founders of Sapling & Flint
Twin Sisters Dakota and Jesse Brant founded Sapling & Flint in the summer of 2015.

Ecommerce has experienced tremendous growth over the past year as consumers have gravitated toward online shopping amid the pandemic. Businesses that invested in their online presence and digital capabilities were best positioned to thrive in this new environment, and we saw many small businesses double down on their digital strategies to do just that. In fact, a PayPal Canada study found that 69% of small business owners say that selling online has made their business more successful.

In honor of Women’s History Month, I’m highlighting Sapling & Flint, an Indigenous, women-owned Canadian jewelry brand, and one of PayPal’s small business merchants. In a conversation with Dakota Brant, one of the brand’s founders, we learned just how well-positioned her company was to rise to the challenges that the pandemic presented.

Sapling & Flint first launched as an ecommerce business in the summer of 2015 with the goal of elevating the Indigenous culture of its founders, twin sisters Dakota and Jesse Brant. Hailing from Six Nations of the Grand River, a First Nations reserve in Ontario, the sisters wanted to create a brand that would share the story and history of their people, support Indigenous artists and foster economic growth in the Six Nations community.

When the pandemic struck, Sapling & Flint was able to leverage its robust online presence and its founders’ digital chops to stay afloat and even continue to support other Indigenous vendors, small businesses and first responders. I recently heard about the sisters’ inspiring story from my colleagues in Canada, and I was inspired to share it here.

Jim Magats: Can you share a bit about Sapling & Flint and how you started the company?

Dakota Brant: We are an Indigenous, women-owned jewelry brand based in Six Nations of the Grand River, a First Nations reserve in southwestern Ontario in Canada. We design all of our pieces and specialize in gold, authentic wampum and sterling silver jewelry. Helping others and bringing the rich history of Indigenous people in Canada to the forefront has been a goal of ours since we first founded Sapling & Flint. All of our pieces are inspired by the stories of Haudenosaunee culture and are meant to spark conversations about the contributions Indigenous people have made.  

JM: The pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on small businesses. Have you had to pivot or change anything about your business since the pandemic hit?

DB: More than 80% of our sales come from online shoppers, so the pandemic was really a test of what we already knew. Our plan, before the pandemic hit, was to expand our business with a new line. But when manufacturing came to a halt because of lockdowns, we had to change course. Early on, we doubled down on our digital strategy. We devoted time that would have usually gone to vending at powwows in the U.S. and Canada, and instead focused all our attention online – redesigning our website and improving our Instagram presence. Within a week of the lockdown going into place in Canada, the hashtag #PowwowAlleyOnline was gaining traction on Instagram, so we used the hashtag to share content highlighting our products and those being sold by other Indigenous entrepreneurs, which helped us and the broader community grow in the face of the pandemic.

JM: Can you share some of the lessons you’ve learned as a small business operating during a pandemic?

DB:  It’s so important to help others and to surround yourself with people and partners you trust. It’s also important to have an optimized website and reach out directly to your customer base. We’ve also learned that businesses large and small can make a significant impact during global crises, which we saw when we pivoted some of our manufacturing to make mask filters to keep our community safe – the mask filters sold out online in two minutes! From this, we were inspired to donate masks and filters to help frontline workers in Indigenous communities.

JM: I’m inspired by your enthusiasm and passion for supporting other small businesses and your community. How has the work continued during the pandemic and how has that impacted your brand?

DB: Supporting others is a core value for us and we really wanted to help other small businesses, so we amplified other businesses’ products on our own social channels to help increase their sales. It was a simple way to help them put food on the table, and soon after, other brands helped promote Sapling & Flint online, which helped expose us to new audiences. We have to support and uplift each other if we are going to get through this.

JM: How have you supported women-owned businesses specifically? What actions can we take as a society to help enable women entrepreneurs and set them up for success?

Indigenous women entrepreneurship is the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs in Canada, according to the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, and the vast majority of businesses we’ve highlighted through social media and the #PowwowAlleyOnline hashtag are women-owned. We recently highlighted other Indigenous women-owned businesses during the holidays and International Women’s Day.

As a society, the best thing we can do as consumers to empower women entrepreneurs is to make a conscious decision that "when I shop, I will start with businesses owned by women.” It's really simple yet impactful on the lives of women and their families and communities when shoppers choose to research and shop consciously.

JM: Has PayPal helped your business grow during the pandemic?

DB: Having a commerce partner like PayPal has made our jobs easier. As a business owner, there’s so much to do, I can’t just duplicate myself. I rely on PayPal for invoicing. It’s simple and transfers seamlessly into the accounting software I use so it saves me a lot of time when it comes to bookkeeping and managing my business. Best of all, I don’t have to wait a month for a check in the mail to get paid! But at the end of the day, it’s the customer that matters most and the fact is, people around the world trust paying with PayPal and as someone trying to grow their sales, especially outside of Canada, that’s something money can’t buy.

JM: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs or people looking to start their own business?

DB: Get online and find a commerce partner that helps make your job easier. It’s also important to have an e-subscriber list to reach out to customers directly. It’s a small way to drop a line to customers to let them know what you have to offer, especially when the pandemic is keeping everyone at a distance. Finally, as a small business, it’s important to support and lift up other small businesses in your community. We need to start humanizing each other instead of competing against each other.

You can learn more about Sapling & Flint and shop their store here.

We’ll be publishing another interview with an inspiring PayPal small business owner next month, so be sure to check back in.