(Courtesy Michaelee McComber)
Sequoia Soaps – an Indigenous bath and body product company based in Kahnawake – just launched at the Hudson’s Bay Company, a move that opens up a brand-new market for the local favourite.
Owner Michaelee McComber said that it was, in fact, the Bay that contacted her and offered to carry her products. She decided to start with two locations, in Ottawa at Rideau Centre and in Toronto at the Eaton Centre.
“I chose those two because those are the two I’m most familiar with, so I thought that would be a good start to just get a feel for it and go from there,” said McComber.
“So, it was all up to me. I could have launched in 15 if I wanted, but I didn’t want to bite off more than I can chew.”
She started making soap in 2002 as a hobby but quickly realized that she wanted to start her own business, so she decided to enroll in the local entrepreneurship course. She made a business plan, and a year after, she quit her job and dedicated herself to her new business full time.
“So that’s like 19 years ago. I’ve had a lot of ups and downs. I had a store in downtown Montreal for a couple of years, and that closed in 2009. But that was great, I did a lot of learning with that venture, and since then, we’re growing and growing,” said the entrepreneur.
Today, McComber has eight employees.
The team manufactures and produces the soap in town. The company also carries a variety of products, including candles, lotions, bath bombs, lip balms, and scrubs. She explained that they recently had to outsource some of the manufacturing because the business has grown to the point where the demand exceeds their manufacturing capacity.
“It’s all really exciting! I’m looking at scaling Sequoia currently. I hope to be free from making the products myself personally in the next six months,” said McComber.
“Because we’re selling so much, I’m going to have to look at either hiring more soap makers or outsourcing it to a company that is used to producing those volumes.”
Thus far, most of the clientele that the soap maker caters to is very much local, or people who are interested in Indigenous products or supporting Indigenous-led businesses.
“The Hudson’s Bay clientele is totally different. They’re not necessarily interested in that but, in my opinion, more on the merit of the product. Like if they happen to see our display, they would be interested in it just because it’s a good product,” she said.
McComber is very proud of everything she has accomplished with Sequoia, but it hasn’t always been easy.
The mother of four – Leilani, 26, Rahnienhawe, 21, Tahanien:te, 8, and Leia, 6 – has had to learn to juggle her professional life with her family life. Add a global pandemic to the mix, and there have definitely been difficult moments, but she said it has all been worth it.
“It makes me feel proud that other people are proud of me. And I think they get that there needs to
be Indigenous representation on the shelves of just regular big-box retailers,” said McComber.
“And that’s the point; it’s about having Indigenous representation on the shelves just like they should.”
McComber said that she would not be here without her team and credits them with Sequoia’s continued success.