Spouses Erin Brillon and Andy Everson celebrated the grand opening of the Kwigwatsi Studio – Totem Design House on Saturday, Nov. 19 – a celebration three years in the making.
Totem Design House originally opened in 2019 and features Brillon’s Indigenous-designed clothing, home decor and jewelry, as well as a front-of-house area for Everson’s art – or whomever they will be promoting at the time.
“The way we started was everything was inside where the boutique is now – all our production equipment – and just this year we built a production studio, so we were able to move our production equipment to that building and expand our gallery and boutique space here,” said Everson. “It is nice to be able to set up a gallery space where I can showcase my art, and where we will be able to showcase other artists’ work in the future. We really wanted that artist-led space. One of our main visions was to create a space for artists to be able to put on their own shows… with the vast majority of profits given back to the artists, because we know what it is like to be an artist. When guest artists come, we will also offer a platform where they can do artist talks as well… it’s all about education, and learning and sharing of culture.”
The majority of the retail floor space consists of the Totem Design team’s clothing, jewelry and apparel – and a talented team it is. Erin is the conceptualist, with her brother, Jesse Brillon, and Everson, bringing Erin’s ideas to life.
“Oftentimes Erin will come up with broader ideas, whether it is apparel she wants designs for, or a piece of jewelry, where she will suggest different shapes,” said Everson. “She will bring that to Jesse or myself, to work on the actual Northwest Coast art end of it. So it is a real collaborative, where we all work together to reach the goals.”
Add to that Erin’s daughter, Marlo, who has been part of the process ever since she learned how to screen-print, at age 14 (in 2014) and it is a family affair.
“We work very well together because we all have different strengths, so it is just very seamless,” said Erin. “If I had the idea for a product, I can either sit down with Andy, or my brother Jesse, and for instance, with earrings, I’ll say ‘this is the shape’ and they will do the form line for me, then Andy can digitize it, and my daughter can screen-print it… it’s like we are all very hands-on, but all in different capacities. It’s just a lot of fun.”
“We also have Rob Long, who is also Haida, as a lead production guy, who does a lot of the hands-on work,” added Everson.
In addition to the bricks-and-mortar of the boutique, there is also the Totem Design House website (totemdesignhouse.com) where people can shop online.
The Totem Design house has an ongoing philanthropic angle, as 10 per cent of annual profits are donated to Copper Legacy Indigenous Empowerment Society.
“Before I became an entrepreneur I was decades into doing empowerment work and healing work with Indigenous people,” said Erin, of the non-profit society she helped create. “I still feel like that is such a huge part of our growth, as coming out of the trauma, the inter-generational trauma, and all of those devastating impacts that Indigenous people have had, that there is literally no way for us to come into a place of having success, whether it be in the workplace, or in business, or things like that, unless we address all of those traumas. I feel like there have never been enough opportunities for people like myself to have healing work and be involved in culture.
“My passion is still very much in the wellness space for Indigenous people. And fortunately for me, I am also surrounded by a group of incredible Indigenous women who do that sort of grassroots work too. So that’s why we started the Copper Legacy Indigenous Empowerment Society – because of these women all doing the same kind of work. We formed a board of directors and created that. Now we can fund some really incredible programs that would not have been otherwise eligible for funding from different organizations. So it has been awesome, and my hope is that as the business grows, the organization itself will grow as well, and we will have the ability to give back even more. I wouldn’t be where I am without the support of my community, so giving back is just a core of the business.”
The Totem Design House is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.