Ashley Michel started sewing regalia after her daughter was born in 2013.
“I wanted her to have the traditional attire but as a single mom, I couldn’t afford to purchase it from another artist,” said Michel.
“So I just kind of taught myself how to sew just for her and for me and eventually started getting orders from other people across Canada and the USA.”
Now, the businesswoman from Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc travels the powwow circuit with her company, 4 Generations Creations. Michel sells a variety of Indigenous products including ribbon skirt kits, beading supplies, stickers and apparel with her own designs and more.
Michel is currently in the semi-finals of Pow Wow Pitch — a program which supports Indigenous entrepreneurs across Turtle Island — in the people’s choice category.
If she wins, Michel will receive $1,000 and a place in the grand finale event, where the prize is $25,000 towards the winner’s business. Voting is open until Sept. 17.
This isn’t the first time Michel has competed in Pow Wow Pitch — she ran last year at Kamloopa Powwow and came in third place. She tried again at the Manito Ahbee Pow Wow but did not place.
This time, Michel said, “I’m not going to let that get me down.”
“I believe in my business,” she said. “So I decided to send in a video of my new and improved pitch to Pow Wow Pitch,” she said, which helped her reach the semi-finals this year.
She added that pitching her business was out of her comfort zone, describing herself as a naturally introverted, shy person. For the contest, contestants are given a limited amount of time to pitch their businesses to a panel of funders, similar to the show Dragon’s Den.
“So for me to go and public speak, especially about something I’m so passionate about, was really difficult and hard for me but, you know, I have to do it for my business,” Michel said.
She said her spot in the semi-finals is because of the support of the people.
“Having your community stand behind you and choose you and it’s really something powerful,” she said.
When she’s not on the powwow trail, Michel runs 4 Generations Creations out of her house on the Tk’emlúps reserve — however she is currently in the process of opening a storefront in downtown “Kamloops.”
“I never thought I would be able to have the purchasing power to purchase wholesale from other Indigenous businesses to carry them in my store, and I never even thought I would have a store to begin with,” she said.
“But now I’m able to support other Indigenous businesses. And that’s even a dream on its own. I’m going to have my own storefront, that’s a dream on its own. I made it to semi-finals for Pow Wow Pitch, that’s a dream on its own.”
Michel cited social media — TikTok specifically — as playing a huge role in her business’s growth.
“We’re natural storytellers, so for me, it’s really fun to create these one minute videos that share and explain what I’m doing behind the scenes or what I’m creating or just sending a message out there,” she said.
A few years ago, Michel had one of her TikTok videos showing her packaging orders of her sticker collection gain traction, which led to the collection selling out. After her Indigenous sticker collection sold out, she invested that money back into her business and bought a heat press.
She now has more than 167,000 followers on the app and, in June of this year, TikTok Canada added Michel to their first-ever list of Indigenous Visionary Voices. This list showcased nine Indigenous creators from all over “Canada” who are making an impact.
Meanwhile, Michel still has events scheduled where she will be vending at powwows in the upcoming months.
“It’s something I’m passionate about and I enjoy doing and I can’t picture myself doing anything else, I just love it,” she said.
Powwows are an important part of Michel’s life and how she wants her daughter to grow up. One of the benefits of selling on the powwow trail is that she can support her daughter as she competes.
“It was really important for me to bring and raise my daughter in culture and language and to me that meant bringing her to powwows,” she said.
“That’s always been my dream and bringing her to these powwows across Canada has, kind of, in a sense healed my inner child and it just makes me so happy to see her out there.”
Michel says her daughter loves all types of dancing, having started as a Jingle dancer but now she prefers to dance Fancy.
“She’s out there every intertribal doesn’t matter how hot it is or how cold it is or who’s watching, she’s always wanting to be out there dancing.”
At the recent Speaking Our Truth Competition Pow Wow, Michel’s daughter was awarded the title of Junior Princess.
“I’ll never miss my daughter dance, I’ll always make sure I close down my booth or throw a blanket over my products and go run and videotape her,” she said.
“It kind of goes hand in hand with my business too because I’m able to support us and our travels and our journeys through my business by attending these powwows and vending there,” she said.
Michel notes that being around the traditional song and dance is a welcome presence, and describes hearing the drums as “really healing to me.”
Michel also warmly recalls the community of Indigenous people who look out for her and her business. She mentioned an Elder who once insisted on helping her to watch over the booth so she could watch her daughter dance.
“That’s just one story but other people on the powwow trail who have stepped up to help me or see me packing up by myself and will come and lend a hand,” she said
She added that “it’s so nice” to have people all over the powwow trail who are willing to help so she can watch her daughter proudly display the culture.
“Being able to do what I love, where I love, where I do my most healing and bringing my daughter along with me on this journey, it’s a full circle moment,” she said.
Dionne Phillips, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, IndigiNews