BUSINESS: Helen Oro from Pelican Lake First Nation is busy making last minute preparations for the NBA All Star Weekend Fashion Showcase being held this weekend in Los Angeles, California, “I am pretty excited, I haven’t showcased in LA before.”
This star-studded event will showcase fashion designers’ brands from all over the world including Helen Oro Designs who will also be the only Indigenous and Canadian designer included in the show. At just 31 years old, she is the CEO of her own company as well as the creative talent behind her designs including the Statement collection which will be included in the event.
“Right now, I am working on a new collection, it’s called the Statement collection. I showcased a mini version of it at start up fashion week in Toronto which was three looks. I am continuing on from that collection. I am currently working on new pieces, really big chest pieces and earrings. They are show stoppers so when you walk in a room, someone is going to come up to you and ask you where you got it from, that is my ultimate goal when creating these pieces.”
In just five years Helen Oro Designs has evolved from a beauty business into a fashion brand that has grown exponentially and has taken Helen all over the world including Canada, the United States, Australia, New Zealand and London, UK. The ability to promote her business, which is based in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, on the international stage has proved to be very successful as her company continues to grow. Her schedule is extremely hectic, as this mom of two spends most of her free time beading, selling, travelling and building a business.
Helen Oro Designs is not just a one woman show. She has a staff who help with product and marketing as well as a team of models who have all been instrumental in building her company from the ground up. Collaboration has been key to her company’s success and she prides herself on hiring models from within the Indigenous community in Saskatchewan who also travel with her.
She originally started her own business in 2012 as an esthetician and worked with a number of magazines in the United States who introduced her to the fashion industry. It was then that she changed the direction of her company and moved from beauty to fashion. She went back to school with hopes of turning a hobby into a business.
“In 2014 I went to the Praxis School of Entrepreneurship and I learned more about business. That is when I became legit. I learned the formal side of entrepreneurship and that I could take my beading hobby and make it into an actual business, into a fashion brand, a label like I really wanted.”
She currently resides in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan with her family who all play a big part in her success. She was raised by her grandparents who immersed her into the Plains Cree culture which included beadwork, a skill her late grandmother passed down to her at an early age. She also credits friends and family that she has met along the way who have given her tips on perfecting her craft as well as the occasional YouTube tutorial.
The benefits have been enormous for Helen and her family who now include her husband and two children. Being the boss of her own company not only allows her to provide for her family, travel and set her own hours but she also gets to make a living out of her passion for beadwork. A lot of time is spent on creating her product, managing the business side of things with very little time for days off.
“I get to be my own boss, I get to set my own hours with work and family. My family comes first and if I get invited to an event or if something important happens like birthday’s I won’t go, I can control that kind of stuff. I think that is one of the biggest benefits for me. Also beading and creating, I can provide for my family by doing something that I really love and am passionate about. I do bead every day, off and on pretty much the whole day. I have the odd day off when I am not feeling well. I also get to travel. It really tests you and the person you are.”
Business is not all roses however Helen has been able to work through a lot of barriers that one faces as an entrepreneur. Everything from being rejected to preparing for the unknown, Helen Oro Designs has been a work in progress, “Being rejected and told no or your collection is not what they are looking for or being told from a potential mentor, that you are not where you need to be for them to mentor you. You know there is a lot of hardships, a lot of struggle as an entrepreneur.”
She also adds that turning a profit is not always guaranteed and that being prepared for the unexpected is crucial to the success of any business, “You are not always guaranteed money or income if you are not working so if you get sick or break a bone or anything like that. I broke a collarbone and it put me out for a while and I didn’t prepare myself. I didn’t have another worker to continue working for me so things like that. It’s a lot of trial and error.”
Despite it all, Helen Oro Designs is thriving and is preparing for busy times ahead including this mainstream fashion event in L.A that will give her business the added exposure that it needs to keep growing. As she moves forward, she hopes to open more doors for other Indigenous people in the industry like models, photographers and designers who don’t always have that opportunity to expand their hobby into a lucrative business.
To find out more about Helen Oro Designs or to purchase her products you can follow her on social media; Facebook and Instagram. Her products can be also be purchase online at www.saskshop.ca or in several shops in Saskatoon.
(Photos provided by Helen Oro including photos from Kim Regier)