First Nations Jewellers Doubled Down on Digital Strategy to Overcome Pandemic Slowdown

DakotaJesse
Twin sisters and entrepreneurs
Dakota and Jesse Brant .

If community and perseverance were the cornerstones that Dakota Brant built her business on before 2020 hit, then it was only natural that the pandemic renewed her sense of responsibility to making sure those around her were keeping their businesses afloat.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve heard countless stories of how entrepreneurs, just like Dakota and her twin sister Jesse, pivoted their business strategy to ensure they could survive the stringent lockdown and social distance measures governments around Canada had put in place. But even though the Brant sisters’ jewelry store Sapling & Flint had to pause their 2020 expansion plans because of the impact the pandemic had on manufacturing, the first thing Dakota did was double down on a digital strategy that would give a boost to as many Indigenous-owned businesses as possible.

“We started our brand online so the global pandemic was really a test of what we know. Thankfully being online helped replace the fact that we couldn’t travel. We have always vended at powwows in the U.S. and Canada during the summer and now that wasn’t possible,” Dakota explained. “We weren’t alone. Indigenous vendors around North America found themselves with boxes of inventory.”

Within a week of the lockdown, the hashtag #PowwowAlleyOnline was gaining traction on Instagram. Dakota and Jesse significantly helped boost the hashtag everyday with content that highlighted not only the silverware they had in stock but heavily pushed products being sold by other Indigenous entrepreneurs as well. They encouraged others to do the same.

JesseBrant
Jesse Brant is a trained silversmith.

“It doesn’t hurt to share and promote other brands, especially Canadian small businesses. It’s marketing that they can’t afford to do. It didn’t take much at all for me to help. It was a simple way to help them put food on the table,” Dakota said.

In return, other brands helped promote Sapling & Flint online, helping expose them to new audiences around North America and confirming that even in the darkest of times, competition doesn’t need to be dreadfully fierce.

“There are very few businesses that can hurt you just by existing, even competitors, especially in the service industry. We have to support and uplift and unite with each other online. We need to start humanizing each other instead of competing against each other,” she continued. “It’s a form of entrepreneurship that wasn’t practiced in the 20th century but needs to be in the 21’s century if we are going to get through this.”

Helping others and bringing the rich history of Indigenous people in Canada to the forefront has been a goal of Sapling & Flint since its inception in 2017. The jewelry, fashion and regalia that Jesse and Dakota design are pieces that are inspired by the stories of Haudenosaunee culture and are meant to spark conversations about the vast contributions Indigenous people have made to Turtle Island over the last 400 years. Aside from selling online, Jesse and Dakota work out of a shop on Six Nations of the Grand River, a First Nations reserve in western Ontario.

Having an e-commerce business has given them the freedom to live and work in their cozy community rather than commute to a busy urban city and depend on foot traffic. Typically, more than 80 per cent of their sales come from online, with customers not only across North America but Europe as well. This year, with schools on reserve closed because of the pandemic and with the growing risk of contracting coronavirus, the sisters decided to focus their attention online with a revamped, easier to navigate website. Not surprisingly, their online sales have surged.

The attention they were getting online came to a head at the height of the pandemic. When masks were hard to come by, they used their expertise as veteran firefighters to create advanced mask filters that would help keep people safe. When they introduced them online, they sold out in two minutes. Always having their community on their minds, the women facilitated mask and filter donations to help front-line workers in Indigenous communities.

When it comes to having advice for other entrepreneurs battling their way through the challenges a pandemic brings, Dakota’s advice is simple – Get online, and find a commerce partner that helps make your job easier.

SaplingFlint
Jewelry created and sold
by Dakota and Jesse Brant.

A long-time user of PayPal, Dakota says she relies on the company not only for a secure and reliable transaction experience and ease of selling cross-border, but also because of the amount of time it saves her.

“As a business owner, there’s so much to do, I can’t just duplicate myself,” she says laughing. “I rely on PayPal for invoicing. It’s simple and transfers seamlessly into the accounting software I use so it saves me a lot of time when it comes to bookkeeping and business managing. Best of all, I don’t have to wait a month for a cheque in the mail to get paid!

“But at the end of the day, it’s the customer that matters most and the fact is, people around the world trust paying by PayPal and as a someone trying grow their sales, especially outside of Canada, that’s something money can’t buy.”

Another piece of advice she offers other online businesses is to have an e-subscriber list where she can reach out to her customers directly.

“This is a big one for us. It’s a small way we can drop a line to them to let them know what we have to offer, especially when the pandemic is keeping everyone at a distance” says Dakota.

Helping others, surrounding yourself with people and partners you trust, having an optimized website and reaching out directly to your customer base are all important lessons Dakota says she’ll be carrying into the future long after the pandemic passes as the digital economy paves the way forward.

For more information on how other business owners have found success during the pandemic and how PayPal has helped them grow their business, visit our Newsroom's Business of Change feature Also, for tips and expert advice, including how to get started, with PayPal Checkout, Invoicing, Seller Protection and more, check out our Small Business Resource Guide.

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