Entrepreneurship was never what she had in mind when she started working, but Kahnawake native Michaelee Lazore is beaming with pride, having just opened up her second Native-run and inspired bath and body shop under the moniker Sequoia.
The Mackay Street shop in downtown Montreal is both stylish and succulently scented. Its mission, however, is not solely to sell cosmetics to urbanites and tourists but also to raise the profile of Natives and their culture.
“This puts us in a different light, that we could own something that is just as nice as the Body Shop,” says Lazore.
Her products are inspired by First Nations legends, with product lines named, for instance, “Sky Woman” and “Brother of the Sun.”“It’s just to get people asking questions about our folklore like the creation story or maybe what red clover was used for.”
After a mechanical engineering degree from Concordia University, Lazore began her professional life at a local consulting/engineering firm in Kahnawake. Though she stayed in the field for five years, it didn’t thrill her.
“I definitely was trying to think of ways to start something where I wouldn’t have to do my job,” she says with a laugh.
Originally, she did not have much interest in bath and body products but after seeing how a friend of hers reacted to a gift basket she had received filled with similar products Lazore began to take interest. With a background in technology, Lazore found it easy to research and formulate products, but it was the business aspect that interested her the most.
Lazore opened up her first store in Kahnawake March 19, 2004. The downtown Montreal store was the real challenge, however.
“It’s very hard for me because I have almost no French background. Even just the rules and regulations, it’s all new and not what most business owners in Kahnawake have to deal with.” She persevered despite the challenges and right before Christmas the second store opened its doors.
The second Sequoia store is filled with hope, promise and a stunning array of the most delectable soaps, candles, bath bombs, lotions, scrubs and much more. Lazore is thrilled to have opened a second shop, but it’s not just about dollars and cents. For her it’s about being a role model for her community and about having a presence as a successful First Nations woman on the downtown scene.
“I think Canadians forget about us,” she says. “When they see us they don’t really recognize us unless they can tell we are homeless or drunk on the side of the street. But when we are here [in the store] they think we are Spanish or Italian or Asian.”
Though it may be difficult to conceive of a bath and body store breaking down racial barriers, it seems to be working. The culturally inspired products that showcase traditional elements used by First Nations people, such as cedar, violet, raspberries, sweet grass and a whole bevy of others will often spark a client’s curiosity and open up dialogue. When clients ask about the scent interpretations of the legends, says Lazore, “it makes me feel like wow, people are really interested.”