Fort Smith-based Aurora Heat’s sheared beaver fur warmers are now being sold by the Hudson’s Bay Company, a move that owner Brenda Dragon calls “validating.”
Dragon, who makes the hand, foot, and body warmers, said as soon as she started to market her products in 2016 she could see people found them useful.
“I knew that we were going to have success in terms of the marketplace,” she told Cabin Radio.
Dragon approached the Bay herself, and the company agreed to stock the fur warmers in its flagship downtown Winnipeg store.
“The Hudson's Bay has a long history with Indigenous people and fur,” Dragon said, explaining why she saw the department store as a natural place for her business to expand.
“It was really the start of the monetary economy for Indigenous people in the North.”
Her family also has a personal connection to the Bay: her grandparents and great-grandparents worked for the store as bookkeepers and store managers.
“I feel quite proud that [the tradition] continues on,” she said.
Between Dragon and her son, Joel, who also works for Aurora Heat, the family’s connection to the Bay now spans four generations.
Dragon and her team decided it would be best to launch the product at the department store at the end of the winter season, so they could get a feel for the demand.
“I felt quite confident we can meet the need,” she said.
“I think it's important that when we're looking at starting small businesses, we do it in harmony with the Earth.
“In my case, I've taken a natural solution for cold and replaced the disposable product.”
More fur warmers also means more employment. The partnership will mean Dragon can keep her seasonal staff on longer this year.
“We have a number of younger people working with us and they're very excited about it,” she said.
Dragon hopes to expand to other stores in future. Currently, Aurora Heat sales mostly come online and through small stores across the Northwest Territories.
Both Brenda and Joel are part of a program named EntrepreNorth's first cohort, halfway through a six-month program aimed at supporting Indigenous and community-based entrepreneurs across the three territories.
While her goal of partnering with the Bay predates her participation in the program, Dragon said EntrepreNorth had helped prepare her venture to grow.