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Sisters Aunalee Boyd-Good and Sophia Seward-Good have spent five years building Ay Lelum-The Good House of Design into a cherished family business that showcases the art of Coast Salish fashion. Creating “wearable art garments,” as described on their site, they are helping share traditional Coast Salish art and culture.
On Aug. 27, the news came out that a fire in their warehouse had destroyed most of their stock, samples and business resources. In the time of COVID-19, when online sales have become a vital lifeline and Ay Lelum had made strides to create a sustainable online presence, the loss of stock and the temporary shuttering of their online store is a hard blow.
“I would say it probably took out 90 per cent of our stock” says Sophia Seward-Good. “Everything that was in there is not salvageable.”
Beyond the stock, collections and samples—nearly everything they’ve created since they started the business in 2016 was damaged beyond repair. “It’s our livelihood. It is what it is.”
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The community held onto the news that no injuries were reported and their upcoming New York Fashion Week (NYFW) collection was safe. With the fashion show scheduled for Sept. 11 and their spot already paid for, Seward-Good balances the loss and recovery Ay-Lelum faces.
“I think like most small businesses, you do go day-by-day and month-to-month. A lot of what you make goes right back in to help grow your business to become a little bit more sustainable,” she says. “Not being able to do the sale definitely impacts our whole family and how we can produce our next collection.”
With assessments being made as to how much damage the fire caused, Seward-Good says the emotions being felt at the moment are of uncertainty.
“We do have some insurance. Obviously insurance isn’t going to cover everything in order to get us back to where we were, especially when we’re in the process of actually working with [Export Development Canada] and getting into the U.S,” she says.
“I was kind of thinking about our show this morning, and it’s kind of like, you know when you’re performing on stage and they say ‘break a leg,’? We literally broke that leg. But that show has to go on.”
In this moment, Ay Lelum is pulling from the same teachings they’ve rooted the business in.
“I think the whole world feels that we’re all up against obstacles. You don’t know what’s coming, there’s a lot of change happening. And I think with our Indigenous teaching, you just have to keep going.”
“So that’s really kind of the route that we’re taking right now is just to support and uplift each other and just keep moving forward to continue the work that we’re doing.”
That uplifting is now being provided to Ay-Lelum. A fundraiser has been put together by the non-profit Indigenous LIFT Collective to help Ay Lelum cover what insurance will not and to prepare them for NYFW.
The collective is a group of Indigenous women and Two-Spirit entrepreneurs who’ve come together during the pandemic to support one another and create a thriving community. During COVID-19 lockdowns, they partnered with Indigenous-owned Iskwew Air to deliver essential supplies to remote communities.
“It’s a group of amazing women, where we choose to really just support each other in any way that we can. Whether it’s by sharing, purchasing, however we can, just to see our other community members also thrive.”
For Seward-Good, this model of business community goes far beyond the immediate help to recover from a fire that leaves hard changes in its wake.
“I think it’s a beautiful model for business. You know, so oftentimes, you start a business and you feel like you’re competing with each other. And this is not what that is, We don’t have to compete with each other, but we can lift each other regardless of what you’re making.”
This community highlight was shared in our weekly newsletter, Nanaimo This Week. You can sign up here.
Editor’s Note Sept. 7, 2021: This is a corrected story. We have updated it to specify that Ay Lelum’s NYFW show is on Sept. 11, 2021. A previous version of this story also mistakenly identified Sophia Seward-Good as the individual on the right-hand side of the photo above.