Treaty 4 News, in partnership with the Office of the Treaty Commissioner, proudly present the Ones 2 Watch. Over 10 weeks, we will present 10 individuals who are making an impact in their communities, making career moves and making people take notice of their impressive accomplishments. 

This week we focus on Heather Abbey.

Heather Abbey brings Indigenous-crafted products to the world with  

By Chelsea Laskowski

Heather Abbey remembers the first time she made a pitch.

It happened long before she entered international business competitions, and long before she created

Abbey was a girl standing in the kitchen of her family’s Regina home, asking her father for money to go out with her friends on the weekend. He turned the request into a miniature version of Dragon’s Den.

“Well, why don’t you use your mind and write down five reasons why you think you should?” her dad asked, and then told Abbey to come back at 3 p.m. This would happen many more times over the years; sometimes her father would have a friend over and Abbey would have to present a case for them both to critique.

More often than not “one by one they’d shoot (the ideas) down,” but would give what Abbey asked because she tried her best.

ones2watch_sept-interior-panel-ad2“But it really forced me to think outside the box and to think creatively, because there were a couple times I did win,” Abbey said.

This small practice from her younger years – which she plans to pass onto her children – has helped mold her into a force to be reckoned with in the business world. However, it took her some time to find her fit.

Abbey said in younger years she “hopped all over from career to career” – from taking marketing in school, to working in radio promotions, to working with Common Weal Community Arts – until she fell in love with entrepreneurship.

In 2012, she came up with the idea for a website where Indigenous people can sell their wares online. This came after Abbey realized how hard it is for Indigenous artisans to make it in today’s world, with barriers like the cost of vendor tables and transportation issues from reserve.

So she got busy, entering business competition after business competition in order to raise the funds to create Abbey placed in all of the competitions, and from there she created a business plan and created the website.

Later on, Abbey said they took the lessons of what worked and what didn’t from the first website to create, which is an e-commerce website that can handle a large number of Artisans and heavy traffic as Indigenous designs are sold to a global market.

Indigenous culture is ingrained in each of Abbey’s business ventures. She is a member of the Little Pine First Nation who was raised by a “very loving” non-Indigenous family after being adopted at eight weeks old.

Her family was open about her background from an early age, but it wasn’t until Abbey was 15 or 16 and befriended more traditional Aboriginal families at powwows that she learned ‘there’s this whole world and this whole culture that I never knew growing up.

“I spent my entire life not being surrounded by this beautiful culture so I feel that I’m making it up to myself now doing all the learning and absorbing all the knowledge that I can,” she said.

In learning more about her culture, Abbey has also learned more about the problems her people face. Luckily, one of her strengths in business is solving problems.

“I figure out what’s missing and I try my best to create it,” Abbey said.

In recent back-to-back trade shows, she noticed Indigenous vendors were almost entirely absent.

That’s where the idea for the 2016 ShopIndig Showcase and Tradeshow came from. Booths at the November 26 and 27 event at Prairieland Park will be low cost to remove barriers for Indigenous people. Also, there will be a series of sessions with business experts on learning how to photograph items, how to sell, and perfecting the pitch.

“It’s probably one of the most rewarding times in my life right now. I mean, I know I’m young but to be able to put my finger on a problem and say ‘hey, I’m going to create a solution’.. that’s such a huge thrill for me,” she said.

As a self-described “serial entrepreneur,” Abbey also has a clothing line called Kiowa Sage Apparel.

For the past year and a half, demand for the brand’s t-shirts, tops and tanks have seen her go from selling at the farmer’s market and pop-up shows to opening up a cart at Midtown Plaza.

On Nov. 28, Abbey is venturing beyond finding graphics and clothing suppliers for Kiowa Sage as she makes her debut as a designer at a showcase. This is her first time creating clothing by hand.

“I’m incredibly self-taught. I believe in a combination of Wikipedia, YouTube, books for dummies,” Abbey said.

Her first-ever creation was a pillow, and from there she worked on quilts, doll clothes, basic t-shirts, and skorts.

“Being able to create something with your hands is fulfilling in a totally different way than being able to create something with your mind, which is how I view all the business I do,” she said.

Abbey is always thinking ahead to the next thing. That doesn’t stop when she receives national or international accolades.

“I pretty much give myself a couple hours after I get some great news like ‘yeah, right on, this is it!’ then I’m kind of like … what do I do now? There’s something more,” she said.

Abbey is a mother of a boy and a girl, and a stepmother of two children. She said Indigenous businesses are understanding about balancing family and work, and on many occasions she has bounced a baby in her lap in a meeting.

“They’re okay with you showing up with your babies because they know that you’re trying to do something to better yourself or trying to move forward in your life,” she said.

Thinking back on her own childhood, Abbey remembers herself as a clumsy daredevil – always pushing herself to go bigger.

“My parents, no matter what, every time I fell, every scraped knee, every skinned knee, every time I sprained something, they’d say ‘get up, you can try it again, you can do whatever you want to do as long as you put in the work.’”

To this day, Abbey says her parents are her best friends.



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