A young First Nations entrepreneur in Winnipeg has opened up her own store to bring representation to Indigenous-made designs, which she says mainstream businesses are lacking.
“When you go to a store, you don’t typically see any representation of native designs. So, that is something that I do want to bring into the market space,” says Amy Der-Ironstar, owner of Ironstar Co.
The 27-year-old founder of the namesake store says she was told by mall management that Ironstar Co. is the first Indigenous-owned business to open at Garden City Shopping Centre, a mall that has been in operation for over 50 years.
“My favourite part of the store is probably going to be the sage,” says Der-Ironstar, “I think that’s a very unique [aspect] because as an urban native, it is hard sometimes to go back home to pick medicines. So, it’s nice to have that ability to come to a store and get something.”
In addition to the sacred medicine, you can find puppets, blankets, body care – “and of course beadwork” – throughout the one-stop shop.
Offering designs by Ojibway, Cree, and Blackfoot artists among others, Der-Ironstar says that a wide variety of Indigenous artists from different backgrounds is important to properly represent Turtle Island.
The handmade goods found in her store are sourced from across the country, like the moccasins from northern Manitoba and Saskatchewan – but some of Der-Ironstar’s own handy work, like ribbon skirts, can be found mixed in.
“[I]t’s kind of nice that I can tie myself into the store but also have other artists as well so we can kind of showcase the different elements of it all,” she says.
She says her grandmother, Good Medicine Bracelet, is a residential school survivor and well-known for her skill at making starblankets. Der-Ironstar is in the process of designing her own line of starblankets and looks forward to when her grandmother sees them on the shelf.
“If you go around the store, I guess my personality kind of shines through in a way. It does tell a story about myself, especially when the starblankets are going to be in. I’m really excited about that because as like I said, it pays homage to my family, to where I come from, the roots,” says Der-Ironstar.
Her roots are in Carry The Kettle Nakoda Nation in Saskatchewan, and she says the store’s horseshoe logo pays tribute to them.
“It represents our ties to horses. That’s our healer.”
Originally planning to go into law, Der-Ironstar got her start in the retail business while working with the founders of another popular Indigenous-owned store in the province.
“It actually all started with a mentorship with Marilyn Tanner-Spence and Walter Spence that own Teekca’s Boutique,” says Der-Ironstar, “It was actually Marilyn that really helped me to come into this space. It’s amazing of how much support I have – so for that, I’m very grateful.”