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Caitlin Wemigwans always had the idea that she wanted to be a fashion designer. In 2017, she worked for a vintage clothing rental company in the film and television industry and landed a place in the “Fashion Your Future” youth program offered by the Toronto Fashion Incubator.
“It was an intense kind of bootcamp...and also a competition,” Caitlin said about the month-long program where she learned the basics of how to develop a fashion accessory line. She completed the program with several designs rooted in her own Indigenous culture, but decided she wasn’t ready to move forward with it. She went back to her job with the intention of picking it up again in the future.
The COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, and the birth of her first child presented the unlikely opportunity for Caitlin to revisit her vision; she decided to stay at home with the baby and make the business a reality.
Pre&Peri, her Indigenous clothing business grew from a desire to merge “pre-colonial Indigenous traditions with ‘peri-colonial’ urban life”. “My vision is to spread awareness about Indigenous culture and about making products locally,” she said. She wants her brand and business to have integrity, both culturally and in how it’s made. She began with her fabrics, sourcing the knits, dye processing, cutting, and sewing within 100 km of her home in Toronto. Her socks and headwear are made on the West Coast.
If it was possible to do all this herself, she would, but realized it wasn’t practical while working from home. However, Caitlin hand stitches the custom leather “Made in Turtle Island” patches on her hats.
On the business side of things, Caitlin wished she could jump back to that Fashion Incubator program from five years ago. Instead, she found the Indigenous Women Entrepreneur Program at Wilfrid Laurier University and enrolled from November 2021 – March 2022.
“I just needed to learn everything,” she recalled. Even though it was difficult with a small baby at home, she showed up for every online class, to the very end of the 5-month program. One of the most helpful things was learning from Indigenous guest presenters. “Representation does matter,” Caitlin said, “it was most helpful hearing from other people who are already more established… and it’s nice to see what’s possible.”
Caitlin went on to enrol in the Grow My Business program in 2022 to access the valuable network of women entrepreneurs and resources. As her confidence grows, so does her business.
Watch Her Soar by following her on Instagram
Juanita Metzger is a freelance writer specializing in hyperlocal community features, profiles and travel. She also owns and operates Stroll Walking Tours based in Kitchener, Ontario.
The Women Entrepreneurship Centre (WEC), as part of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, is dedicated to empowering women entrepreneurs of every age, stage and culture to achieve their business dreams. We believe in fostering leadership. We believe that everyone deserves an equal shot at success. We believe in connecting you with the right people, skills and support to make it happen.
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