One of the things that I quickly found out about being a young entrepreneur is that it can feel isolating, like you are in this by yourself. But having a mentor through Futurpreneur really alleviated the anxiety that I had. It made a huge difference.

Growing up in northern Alberta along the mighty Peace River, Lorne Blesse Jr. had two dreams: to play hockey – specifically to play left wing for the Edmonton Oilers – and “to start my own business and be my own boss.”

While his love of hockey has never waned, he realized in high school that he was unlikely to make it to the NHL. That realization left him with the opportunity to pursue his other dream of working for himself. As a young Indigenous person, he has worked for his First Nation in their Economic Development Department focusing on assisting young people to start businesses. That line of work, while rewarding, re-ignited his desire to start his own business. As he points out, “I had a lot of good bosses growing up, but I really wanted to take a bit more responsibility and take a leadership role. I wanted to create the life that I wanted.” By his early 20s, Lorne realized, “I can do it myself at this point in my life.”

In discussions with his fiancée (now wife) about the idea of starting a business, she encouraged his dream and prodded him to think about the type of business he wanted to create. He knew immediately that he wanted to launch an apparel company but, as he recalls, “I wanted an apparel company with purpose.” In describing his objective, Lorne notes that, “As an Indigenous youth growing up, I never felt my identity was represented in the clothing that I saw in my closet. I just wanted to create something so that the next generation of Indigenous youth in Canada, across the U.S., across Turtle Island could see their culture represented in their clothing.”

Inspired by the beauty of northern Alberta’s natural environment and by regular family forays into the landscape around his home, Lorne knew that he wanted his company’s name to reflect both the wilderness and his Indigenous culture. He recalls that, together with his siblings and his parents, “We were always out on the land – boating, and fishing, and canoeing. And my parents taught us to respect the northern wind that can quickly stir up the water and make it impassible. That always stuck with me. And then I woke up one night and said to my wife, I’m going to start the business and it’s going to have a Cree name. The name is going to be Kiwetin (a shortened form of the Cree word for north wind).” The beginnings of what would become Kiwetin Clothing were established.

Having made the decision to start his own business, Lorne decided to participate in the Alberta Aboriginal Youth Entrepreneurship Camp in 2017, sponsored by Alberta Indian Investment Corporation. Through contacts he made during the valuable week-long session, Lorne was referred to Futurpreneur to further explore his business idea and plan. As he points out, he wanted to get started on realizing his dream and he knew that he wanted to “grow the business slowly so that it would be my full time gig in a few years.” Futurpreneur’s Alberta team lead responded to Lorne’s inquiry saying, “You know what? It’s a great idea.” Shortly thereafter, they discussed his business plan and the services offered by Futurpreneur. For Lorne, it was important to speak directly with someone in Alberta. As he points out, “He is in Edmonton, but by being in Alberta, he understood where I was coming from and the challenges that I would face starting a business eight hours north of Edmonton, on a reserve, and an hour and a half from the nearest town.”

Lorne immediately began using Futurpreneur’s business planning services. As he recalls, “It was so user-friendly…it allowed me to put new ideas into the business plan. It was flexible and really kept me going. Futurpreneur really made it easy for someone who lives eight hours north of Edmonton.”

With an approved business plan in place, Lorne worked with Futurpreneur to secure initial financing and to be linked to a mentor. The mentor relationship proved invaluable: “I quite enjoyed having a mentor to bounce ideas off of. There were a couple of times when I felt discouraged and my mentor basically told me to just keep going. She gave me the encouragement I needed. Through her, I was able to find a marketing specialist for social media marketing and to make other important contacts. I couldn’t be any happier now.”

Staying true to his “slow and steady” approach, Lorne launched Kiwetin Clothing in 2017 while retaining his full time job. He devoted his off-hours to developing the business, assuming responsibility for his line’s designs, establishing his online capability and managing all the online inquiries, sales, and shipments. He also used the time to refine his business model. “I thought about what I wanted my business to represent. We live in Canada – both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. I wanted a clothing line that would represent both cultures and give Indigenous people a positive image. I wanted a clothing line where Indigenous and non-Indigenous people can come under one umbrella, one clothing brand. That’s why I mixed some aspects of my culture into the designs to create something uniquely Canadian for all Canadians to enjoy.”

After four years of conscientious business building, Lorne decided in 2021 to leave his employment and devote his full time attention to Kiwetin Clothing. Having created a hugely successful line of clothing and accessories that reflect his business ethic, Lorne was ready to expand the business and to embrace his company as his life’s work. Full time attention allows him to develop more eco-friendly ways to print his clothing, to formalize already well-developed relationships with wholesalers and retailers, and to “always find ways to improve the quality of the products.” His excitement is palpable. He notes, “I have to make this work and now I know I can.” He adds, laughingly, “My chances of making the Edmonton Oilers as a left wing is a 0.0 percent chance.”

In reflecting on the value of Futurpreneur to his business’ success, he points out, “So many young entrepreneurs who are Indigenous can find it a bit daunting to approach an organization they don’t know much about, right? But, I tell them, Futurpreneur really made an effort. I felt my message and my business idea were very well-received. I got a lot of feedback, a lot of encouragement. I felt welcome.”

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