Tammy Beauvais is a new designer on the scene, who owns her own company making unique clothing and accessories with an Aboriginal theme. I first came across Beauvais’s work at a Christmas office party. Since I had done some work for the Eastern Door, the Mohawk newspaper, I received an invite. To my surprise I won first pick of the presents. The Eastern Door gives out tickets and you pick from a table of presents in order of being picked. I looked over the presents and just before I picked up a portable CD player, someone remarked that there were scarves. Well, one look and I was hooked. There was this green cashmere scarf with a beautiful design on it. The design was in black and had an Eagle flying over a tree, which in turn was over a criss-crossed axe and club. It was love at first sight. I hadn’t felt that way since Sandra Nash back in the fourth grade. Now it’s coming up to Valentines Day and I know that people are desperately looking for that perfect gift. Here is something that is both beautiful and Native.
The Nation: When did you get started?
Tammy Beauvais: I started in January of 1999- I’ve been doing this type of work since I was 10. My mother used to design leather clothing like vests. I was always watching her and my grandmother. So I just started doing it. I went to Indian Way School here in Kahnawake. Part of what they taught was our traditional ways. They taught us how to make traditional clothing. I started doing children’s traditional clothing. I was 13 when I sold my first piece of clothing and I never stopped.
I continued it as a hobby and when I started college I did it to make extra money to go through school.
All through my teenage years I always worked in companies doing sewing contracts. It was something I liked to do.
So you basically started by yourself and built on your experience?
About three years before I started this business I was in Winnipeg and started doing the groundwork. I became part of the Aboriginal Fashion Designers Association. I founded it along with three other women. We did research and fashion shows together. Then from there I was introduced to an entrepreneur’s course. I eventually did a total of three of them. The next one was six months in school followed by six weeks internship. The last one was here in Kahnawake, which lasted ten weeks.
But before I came back here I was with a well-known Canadian designer, Linda Lundstrom in Toronto. She designs clothing and has sales of about 14-15 million dollars a year. She utilizes native symbols in some of her work. She contracts out to Native artists who do the artwork. I went and worked with her company for six months.
Did you go from working on the floor to …?
Yes, everywhere. I worked in the whole company. She was very good with me. She sent me to Aboriginal Achievement Awards, fashion shows, trade shows. I got to see everything.
Before I had worked for a company with 1 employee and another with 4 employees. Now I was working with one that had 150 employees. I got to see how you started and how you got bigger this way.
So once I finished that training I came back home. I didn’t think this business would work in Winnipeg so I came back and started right away.
I started selling door to door. There was this young man, who was a childhood friend, he helped me with the sales. From that he went to stores and then we started going to retail shows. We did that for a year and a half. We started to hire people through programs like KJETA. We trained people through that program. I was lucky that Kahnawake has one of the model economic development commissions.
Right now we are starting to expand and focus on the wholesale aspect. We plan to do this through trade shows and have three lined up in March. Two are in the U.S. and the third is in Toronto. We’re still going to do retail.
What sells for us is the Native designs. Our most popular is the Iroquois but we do the Ojibway medicine wheel and Kokapelli. We have an artist here that is going to do some of her work.
We do simple things that have meaning and stories to them. We have a good team.
I spotted most of them on the street and said to myself they looked like good people to work here. It worked out and those ones worked out better than the ones I interviewed. For me anyways. There are four fulltime employees and one part-time.
We have a very positive environment here. It’s not all about making money through we’d like to do that too.
I think one of my strong points is managing people and having them want to come to work rather than not want to come to work.
Where are you heading next?
Well, we’re going to have to contract some of the work out because we’re working to capacity.
Are you looking at a cottage industry in Kahnawake?
Yes, but that would come later. I’m looking to contract out in Montreal. That’s what we have to do to survive. It takes a lot of work to train people in the community and I’m only one person, at this point, trying to manage everything. Keeping the store open, creating things, selling and buying, there’s so much to it and I I’m not ready to start a whole cottage industry.
That is one of my eventual goals and has been from the beginning is to do a cottage industry in Kahnawake and see more employment for the people here. We’ll see what happens.
The cashmere scarf worn by Tammy and those shown below carry the Hiawatha belt motif, created by two great leaders of the Iriquois Confederacy, the Peacemaker and Hiawatha. The belt symbolizes the unification of 5 Nations living under one law, The Great Law of Peace.
For those of you who would like to purchase any of Tammy Beauvais’s work. Phone 514-272-3077 and ask for Aaron.