Unprecedented entrepreneurship

Launching a small business in the time of COVID-19

Ava Jerao is one of many Winnipeggers to open a new business during during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the summer of 2020, Ava Jerao opened her modern consignment store, Shapes and Feelings. She’s one of the Winnipeg entrepreneurs who launched a small business during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Operating almost exclusively online, Jerao sells pre-loved clothing with the goal of making it easier to avoid fast fashion and reduce textile waste. 

“I’ve always been really passionate about sustainability, even as a kid,” Jerao says. “I wanted to create a space online that’s inclusive and accessible and offers different price points.”

With roots in Winnipeg’s inner-city, Jerao has carried a love for sustainability and secondhand fashion across the various Canadian cities in which she’s lived. Now, back home, she established Shapes and Feelings as a way to make a sustainable lifestyle more seamless and accessible. 

“One of the pillars of Shapes and Feelings is making sustainable living less daunting, trying to reduce textile waste and production and (promoting) more ethical shopping,” she says. 

Margaret Firlotte, a Métis beadwork artist, is another Winnipegger who has started a small business in the time of COVID-19. Known by her Instagram alias @beadwork.by.margaret, Firlotte launched an online shop for her projects in the summer of 2020, as her beadwork had already been well-received by friends and family.

Firlotte’s beading journey began three years ago, when she learned from a Métis beadwork circle her mother guided. After working as a historical interpreter at the Riel House National Historic Site last summer, Firlotte says she reconnected with her Métis culture and found a sense of pride in her work. 

“I was doing beadwork then, but with that newfound pride in the culture, I really just went gung-ho and fell in love with it again,” she says. 

Firlotte, like many Manitobans, found herself out of work due to COVID-19. Launching her beadwork business formally became a way to secure more income while sharing her projects with the public. While she says her business is still in the “infantile stage,” she says the holiday season increased demand immensely. 

When asked what advice she would give others looking to start small businesses amid these times, Jerao suggested hunkering down on the practical matters of starting a business, like registering the business name and opening a separate bank account.

“You can run into road bumps if you don’t think about those things right at the beginning,” Jerao says.

Following the practical first steps of starting a business, both entrepreneurs emphasize the importance of building connections with the community and other small-business owners and artisans. 

Wanting to shift the consumerist narrative of Black Friday, Jerao partnered with the Wilderness Committee to donate a portion of her sales on the shopping holiday to the organization’s environmental efforts. 

For Firlotte, this has manifested in trading her work with other artists as a way to share projects and get mutual exposure. 

“I’ve actually made relationships and friendships with these people,” Firlotte says. “You get that exposure, but it’s also good for your soul.”

Published in Volume 75, Number 14 of The Uniter (January 13, 2021)

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