The Femme Stories is a blog series celebrating the makers who inspire and empower their community, and continue to gift us with their creativity; these are their stories.

Mel & Trish | Mini Tipi

I first met the owners of Mini Tipi in December 2017. I had just moved back to the Ottawa area and was participating in my first Freewheeling Craft Show, Mel and Trish were my booth neighbours. They came over to introduce themselves and were kind, lovely and instantly made me feel welcome. Throughout the day I got to see their products up close; the quality of fabric, the beautiful prints, the gorgeous cut, each piece was lovelier than the last. Fast forward to today and a lot has changed under the Mini Tipi brand, but the quality of product hasn’t. We dive into all those changes, a lot which happened this year, in this Femme Stories edition.
Mel and Trish, owners and designers of Mini Tipi
How did the two of you meet?

 Trish: I moved to the Gatineau area and my youngest child was six months old at the time. I didn't have any friends in this new place so, I started joining all kinds of mommy and me classes. Melanie was also there with her baby who was the same age as mine and we kind of just became friends. She was the only one that would speak English to me and had this big warm smile, we just clicked.  

Mel: You could also say it was our love of aqua fitness that brought us together!  

What prompted you to start your company?  

Mel: It came together very organically. When we first met Trish was sewing for fun, it was her hobby, and I would ask can you make this? Or what about this? We had young babies so we were looking at what products other moms needed. 

Trish: I was mostly sewing two products, washcloths and baby blankets and I had done a couple Christmas Markets by myself and I was selling in a shop. Nothing major, but it was Mel who suggested making a Facebook page, she started taking pictures and at shows she was always there for support, so I said why don't we do something together. Then started building this [Mini Tipi], well I didn’t think it would be this, but we just started working together and it eventually grew into this. We are so lucky because our strengths are opposite each other, we know a lot of makers who are envious of our partnership. 

Mel: I used to think just find a person to work with, like it was easy. As the years have gone by, I realize it isn’t that easy. We are very lucky, because it is almost like a marriage. We know how lucky we are too have found each other. You know, the road is not always easy, but what is always our rock is us, and our love for our baby; our business. As we grow I find it more and more special what we have. 

When you first started working together, the creation of Mini Tipi, was it very much the company that we see today or did it look different? 

Trish: Very different. It used to be called TP Creations and it was very much me sewing in my basement. The name was a fusion of culture and my initials and our logo was a picture from Vista Print, it wasn’t great, we knew we had to switch directions. 

Mel: The name ‘Mini Tipi’ came about because Trish is an Anglophone and I am a Francophone so we wanted a name that was bilingual and reflected the Indigenous culture. 

Trish: Past the name changed, our products have changed as well. We started out with a lot of baby products. I think just based on our lifestyle, we started to move away from that because as our kids grew, so did our company. We added products like our blankets, bags, mittens and started focusing more on women’s fashion, accessories and more home décor. 

Mel: Definitely and as we moved away from baby products, we started looking at other company and realized there was no one selling authentic Indigenous prints. It bothered both of us, Trish was reconnecting with her culture and for me I am a nerd, I love details and I love to know facts. We decided Mini Tipi needed to make a difference and we would offer authentic Indigenous designs in collaboration with artists. 

Last Winter I got to see your new headquarters, with your in-house sewing team, how has the transition been to having control of your own production been? 

Trish: It's a huge relief and honestly, I have found we still have some trauma from dealing with production outside our control. For us to grow as a company and feel confident, having that knowledge of what we're capable of doing and not doing, based on what fabric we have in stock or what is being produced has been game changing. Before we were limited, and now we're kind of like, what is our full potential? This is a brand-new year for us to be able to meet demand for our harvest season. 

Mel: What we needed just didn’t exist. There wasn’t a cut and sew shop that could keep up with our demand for product, so we decided to jump and make it happen for ourselves. 

What was the inspiration behind your blankets? 

Trish: Going back to what Mel was touching on, in terms of realizing that there was no authentic Indigenous design. We wanted a product that could tell a story and that customers could have an experience with. For me as we have built Mini Tipi I have gone on this journey to reconnect with my culture, so it really is about promoting the culture, the artist and at the same time giving back to our community. 

What prompted you {Trish} to reconnect with your culture?

 Trish: Major disconnect and lack of confidence. There were a few times at shows that people would come up to me and ask a question and I would just breath and want to cry, not wanting to say the wrong thing. Mini Tipi really opened the door for me to learn more, have more of an acceptance for who I am and gain that confidence in myself.

Mel: In the last few years, we have definitely noticed on the business side through social media that people were looking at us more for a connection to the Indigenous culture. You know for a lot of people Trish might be the only Indigenous person they know, so for them it is a connection to this culture and a way to learn. We often receive such an overwhelming response to information we provide and we definitely found our voice. I feel as confident to talk about one of our designs as Trish would and that is because we have both taken the time to learn. 

The patterns for your fabrics are designed by local Indigenous artists how do you start working with them? 

Trish: A lot of times the artists are new to the process when it comes to textile design. They are often established in their own right, but we help guide them on how to design for textiles. 

Mel: That is Trish’s superpower, she is amazing at finding talented artists. 

Trish you designed The Four Directions blanket, what significance is that design to you? 

Trish: I was inspired by the sacred circle. Indigenous people are guided by the “medicine wheel” and how all things are connected. 4 directions, 4 seasons, 4 beings of life, Spiritual, Emotional, Physical and Mental. For me personally, I was definitely seeking direction and reconnecting to my culture has helped me find that. Stay connected to your true self and all things surrounding you. – Follow your direction. 

You are both such pillars in the locally made community, you are always uplifting at shows and interested in other designers process, what is the thing you miss most about in person markets? 

Mel: Everything! Except load in and load out. I miss in person contact, I miss hanging out with makers and sharing our problems, hearing theirs and helping to solve them. I really miss hearing other people’s wins, that always makes us happy. I miss seeing customers in person and letting them see our passion. In person that is easy to get across, through online sales that is always a little different. 

Do you have any new designs or fabrics dropping this Fall? 

Trish: Well we can give you first dibs on some news. This year’s Fall Collection we have a big change, we have switched our manufacturer and we will be introducing an eco-friendlier fabric that is Made in Italy. This was a huge win for us to secure this new fabric and make our products even more special. This was a big goal, as our company grows and has more of an impact, we wanted to ensure we are doing our part for the environment. 

What are you currently reading? 

Mel & Trish: We are reading Traction by Gino Wickman & Pursuit 365 an amazing book showcasing a lot of Ottawa business women. 

As you all know now, Mel and Trish are pillars in our maker community, as well as champions for being as eco-friendly as possible. As fashion designers we all see our waste first hand and I adore both of these women for standing up and working to make that waste useful. They have turned a lot of scraps into their bags and mittens, but when they reached a point of some pieces being to small they contacted me to see if I would be interested in putting their scraps to good use for my Conscious Heart Sweaters. This is the definition of COMMUNITY OVER COMPETITION. Make sure to follow Mini Tipi on social media to stay up to date with their new Fall Collection Drop and you can head to their website to see their gorgeous products.

 Check back tomorrow to spot their scrap fabric featured on my Conscious Heart Sweaters.

 I am so honoured to collaborate with ladies of Mini Tipi.

Written by Carissa McCaig

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