4 min. reading

Entrepreneurial Goals Inspire Cultural Pride and Community Healing in Nunavut

A woman in a parka stands on a balcony

With Catalyste+, Candace Kashla launched a business creating custom Inuit parkas. Photo: Shelby Lisk

Winter on the shores of Baker Lake in Inuktitut, Nunavut can be intense. Temperatures drop well below -30 C with windchills reaching frigid depths beyond.

For some, this is an unthinkable climate in which to be outside. But this is where 35-year-old Baker Lake native Candace Kashla thrives.

“You would go out and play in the winter,” she laughs, reflecting on her childhood. “It was the best thing.”

When she wasn’t outside playing, Candace spent her time sewing with her mother.

“Once I learned how, I loved it. My dream was to open up my own business,” Candace says.

A close up of a woman sewing using a thimble

Candace is a skilled seamstress from Baker Lake, Nunavut. Photo: Shelby Lisk

Candace held tightly to her ambition years later after moving to Ottawa to live with her sister.

Ottawa winters can be harsh, but they are no match for the biting cold of Baker Lake. It’s the kind of cold that necessitates a certain dress code—one that can’t be easily purchased or mass produced.

Photo: Shelby Lisk

Many Inuit handcraft their own parkas using traditional materials that surpass the synthetic materials from commercially available winter coats. Candace herself sewed her first parka in 2020 in preparation for a visit back to Baker Lake. This creative and often necessary approach results in a vibrant mosaic of deeply personal and unique parkas across Nunavut. It’s a trend that Candace sees taking off beyond the north—and one her sewing skills and entrepreneurial vision could one day make real.

“It would be so cool to see people in Toronto wearing a coat with Inuit design,” she muses.

Candace began taking steps towards opening a business making custom Inuit parkas. She recognized this undertaking would require a different set of skills than those she held in abundance as a seamstress. In September 2022, she applied for Catalyste+’s business mentorship program after learning about the opportunity at a Rankin Inlet tradeshow conference.

“It was so helpful to have my Catalyste+ Advisor with me,” Candace shares of her mentorship experience. “The beginning phase of developing a business is when you may doubt yourself, but with the Advisor checking in on me, it really helped me keep going.”

With the motivation and guidance from Catalyste+, Candace saw more engagement with her company, more requests for parkas and her own self-assuredness grow.

Photo: Shelby Lisk

“People asking for orders makes me feel like my work is important. It builds more confidence.”

That confidence and conviction opened the door for a greater purpose for her business—one that could have a ripple effect across her community back home.

“There are a lot of problems in Nunavut,” Candace reflects sombrely. “There’s not enough housing, elder centres, group homes, healing centres or affordable food.”

Compounding this issue is a deep mental health crisis that Candace sees stemming from generational trauma.

“I want to help in a big way, and what motivated that is the need to address generational trauma. I myself have gone through that and I have overcome it,” she adds tearfully. “It’s everywhere in Nunavut and it’s opened my eyes.”

Photo: Shelby Lisk

Candace began to re-evaluate the goal of her business, shifting to an altruistic one. For Candace, making parkas in Inuit design could be a way to bring about a revival in cultural pride and raise awareness of the challenges faced in her home territory. Candace envisions a future where her parka business funds solutions for mental health and affordability issues across Nunavut.

“It’s bigger than just parkas,” says Candace of her newfound business plan.

It’s part of a solution for Nunavut.

Catalyste+ thanks and gratefully acknowledges financial support from Indigenous Services Canada.

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