Sisters Sage is the product of sisters Lynn-Marie and Melissa-Rae Angus, two Indigenous entrepreneurs from East Vancouver, Canada. Inspired by the heritage of the Gitxaala, Nisga’a, and Metis Nations, the brand creates handcrafted wellness and self-care products.
Indigenous Canadians — First Nations, Metis and Inuit Peoples — make up 3.8 percent of the population. When compared to the non-Indigenous population, Canada’s Indigenous population is generally younger, growing faster and more likely to live in a rural area, with 60 percent located in rural regions.
The sisters co-founded the business out of the desire to highlight their culture and traditions while helping others. They offer a variety of personal care products, including medicinal salves, bath bombs and smokeless smudge sprays, which are made with ingredients harvested following Indigenous protocols.
Like many small businesses, the pair took the pandemic as an opportunity to digitize their businesses. Moving from selling at markets, festivals and booths to rely more heavily on digital marketing and their Shopify e-commerce store.
Through their website and on social media, Sisters Sage makes it their mission to pass on the meaning behind the products and its cultural significance.
When harvesting ingredients, Lynn-Marie will often take videos to share with their Facebook and Instagram followers.
“I try to share information about ethically harvesting,” she remarked. “As Indigenous People we are stewards of the land. It’s not ours to own, but ours to care for for the next generations. In doing that, I like to also share that we like to use reusable glasses and compostable biodegradable materials and, for instance, we won’t use palm oil because it’s really destructive to the land. So I think that links back to our culture as well.”
In addition to sharing the history and heritage of their people, they regularly take to their social platforms to promote environmental sustainability and bring awareness to the socio-economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. “One of the main missions for Sisters Sage is to promote, inspire and motivate other Indigenous women and youth to define their own financial futures through Indigenous business,” shared Lynn-Marie.
To increase its reach, the brand utilizes a combination of platforms in its digital strategy. Regular engagement with followers on social media, paired with strategic Facebook and Instagram ads directs potential customers to their e-commerce shop.
“Analytics [tools] say that most of my social media sales are coming from Instagram, followed by Facebook, and that’s even without [paid] advertisements right now. I make sure I’m posting on both daily,” she said. “I also just joined LinkedIn which has been great for connecting with other Indigenous entrepreneurs and creating this amazing network.”
Using affordable avenues to reach consumers and generate brand awareness was a lifeline when the pandemic hit. For Sisters Sage, a low-cost ad campaign on Facebook and Instagram promoted a 2.6X increase in sales, which equaled out to a 9X return on their advertising investment.
The global reach of digital technologies has recently connected Sisters Sage with foreign markets. They regularly ship products to the United States but are hesitant to expand broadly given the impact of shipping costs and red tape for a small business.
“On my Shopify platform, I like to offer free shipping. A big barrier is the cost, but the idea is to get the products out there and get exposure,” Lynn-Marie explained. She added that they have also shipped overseas to Australia, Amsterdam, and the United Kingdom. Lynn-Marie expressed frustrations around the complexities of customs documentation and compliance in different countries.
Another challenge for the sisters has been funding. “For Indigenous women starting a business, a lot of times it comes down to access to capital. We don’t come from intergenerational wealth, and we don’t know a lot of other people who can talk to their friends and family and borrow money or have investors,” she shared. “Oftentimes, you have to have capital to get capital.”
Lynn-Marie joined networks to connect with other Indigenous entrepreneurs and women entrepreneurs to discuss similar shared challenges. SheEO, a Toronto-based nonprofit aimed at funding women entrepreneurs, recently awarded her funding.
“Another barrier is not coming from a business background. I’ve done some business programs like quick trainings, but never a degree or anything with a diploma. So I’m trying to figure out the best way to spend this money to maximize the benefit to my business, but also to maximize the benefit for my community,” she explained, adding that she plans to break through this barrier by creating a mentorship community of Indigenous women entrepreneurs to help guide her.
Lynn-Marie recounted an experience from another Indigenous entrepreneur living in a remote area of northern Canada. “She was telling me that her internet is down and will be down for a while. That’s not good for business at all,” she noted. “Access to the internet is definitely an issue here. And a stable internet connection is absolutely necessary, especially in a pandemic, to run a business.”
Lynn-Marie urged governments to make Indigenous businesses a priority. “Representation matters — grab on to small businesses and amplify them. Help them get funding, help them buy ads, give them the tools that other demographics already have access to.”
Because of its access to digital tools and infrastructure, Sisters Sage was able to adapt fast and offer alternative ways for customers to support the business and shop its products. Lynn-Marie emphasized that not everyone has had the same access. “We need to backtrack and recognize that not everyone has access to things like the internet and education and generational wealth. The scales are tipped,” she added.