Lynn-Marie and Melissa-Rae Angus are the sister co-founders of Sisters Sage, an Indigenous brand that hand-crafts wellness and self-care products inspired by their culture and traditions.
This dynamic duo is loud and proud about their Indigenous heritage, and highlighting the unacceptable socio-economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples across Canada today. After lifting the Best Community Impact Award at the 2021 Small Business BC Awards, we caught up with Lynn-Marie to learn more about this mission-oriented and inspiring small business.
When we started off, I don’t know what we had planned. I wanted to make some money and create a safe space for my sister and I to work and get out of the construction industry that was such a toxic environment.
Quite honestly, we didn’t have products and we didn’t really have an idea. Manifestation is the word I often come back to, because I just put it out into the universe and hoped the creator would get me out of this horribly unsafe situation and find my own freedom. We knew whatever business we would start had to be Indigenous-focused. We could have been selling cars, but they’d have to be Indigenous cars.
Melissa was interested in making bath bombs, and I had an interest in soap making. To be honest, I had never made a single bar so the manifestations had to combine with a lot of hard work and research. Being in business is like a science, right? So many people study this for years, they get Masters Degrees and then they start. We just jumped in with no experience, no knowledge. But this is what I wanted to do, and I had to do it. I had to trust what we were doing would be well received and that if I brought my own authenticity and integrity to the business it would work.
I worked in construction for many years. It was an unsafe environment for me. On one particular day, I had an older white male co-worker who was running the lift hoist. He trapped me in the elevator and told me he could keep me there for as long as he wanted. Obviously, it was terrifying for me. I screamed as loud as I could and when I got out of it, I left construction forever.
As a result of this experience, I was left with post traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder and I also had to get therapy. It was the spark that drove me to take control of my working life. I grabbed Melissa by the hand and we were called to the Friendship Centre in East Vancouver. It’s like a beacon of home for us, it’s where our communities meet up.
I went to Access, which is their career and planning centre. The first thing I saw was a pamphlet on the table for a community entrepreneurship program offered through the UBC Learning Exchange. We raced down there and they only had one spot available. Melissa was pregnant at the time, she told me to take the spot. It was a night-time class, three classes a week for six or eight weeks. The program taught me business basics, your day-to-day life as a business owner, what to expect, and the kind of work I should be putting in as a business owner.
At the end, all participants were required to give a pitch on their business idea. It was my first pitch ever and it was terrifying. I didn’t have these amazing products I could talk about. All I had was a crappy bath bomb and a lavender spray in a bottle. The judges loved it and I was awarded $200. To me, that was the real beginning of Sisters Sage, that $200 investment in the business. It allowed us to buy baking soda, essential oils, and all the other things we needed to just have a solid beginning.
It took me a while to figure out that I couldn’t do it all at once. At the beginning I was running, running, running. I was in UBC for the Aboriginal Business Management program. At the same time, I was in BCIT’s Project Management program, still working in construction and still pursuing Sisters Sage. Things were really crazy. Melissa has had two children since we started the business so a lot of things fell on me, and there just wasn’t any time for self care. I really started to burn out.
At the same time, the pandemic hit and I couldn’t get anyone to come help me with me at home. Fortunately, things have settled down a bit, we have more financial stability and I’m able to get the help I need to have more self care in my life. Now, when my friends cut out of work a little early, I’m free to hang out with them. I used to be a sous chef so food is a big aspect of self care for me. Oh, and I recently bought a Peleton bike and that’s been so helpful for my exercise.
It’s such an overwhelming and weird thought but it’s super important to celebrate it because we don’t do enough of that. Community is everything to Sisters Sage. We were community nominated for the award, our community voted for us – it’s been so uplifting and it made my heart explode like the Grinch, but I’m not really like the Grinch!
I never planned on any of this and I never thought our little business could win something like this, so I’m just overjoyed.
Great question – let me circle back to the beginning of Sisters Sage. I had mentioned that I wasn’t sure what I would envision for Sisters Sage. The details weren’t all there, but we went for it anyway. Something I always say to myself and others is that growth doesn’t come at the speed of comfort. You have to be willing to put yourself in situations outside of your comfort zone. Starting a business is such a good example of this.
You’ll be faced with things that seem daunting, whether it’s doing a pitch, putting yourself out there, sharing your products and your story. Your heart will be racing and you’ll feel uncomfortable. That’s ok. That just means the next time you face that situation you’ll be better, you’ll be more comfortable, and that’s how you grow.
I have three ways you can directly support Indigenous voices in business. For starters, come and buy our products! If you see Indigenous voices, whether it’s online or in your community, amplify them. The final way is to do your research and ensure the business your supporting is actually Indigenous owned and not just pretending to be. Cultural appropriation is a big problem we face.
A huge part of Sisters Sage is representation. I want to be that representation for Indigenous youth and women. Growing up and all the way to my adult years, there just wasn’t that many Indigenous people in business, at least in the mainstream or in pop culture that weren’t just tokenized. I want to inspire other Indigenous youth to realize that they can do this too, they can become an Indigenous entrepreneur.