For Samuel McLeod, it all started with a recommendation from his college professor – you should take advantage of the free subscription to Shopify, an online platform that allows anyone to sell just about anything.
Originally from Waskaganish, McLeod is in his final year of Business Management and Entrepreneurial Studies at Algonquin College in Ottawa. He was intent on breaking into the clothing industry, but first he needed a name.
After a few ideas didn’t stick, he landed on Top Cree – and started building his brand from there. It turned out coming up with the name would be the easy part.
“I’ve been making designs, and once I started that I worked on setting up my online shop,” McLeod told the Nation. “Then I ran into some problems.”
McLeod found a company to make his clothing for him, but then Covid hit last spring. He was forced to delay his launch while his supplier reorganized production.
“Over the summer it gave me time to do some promotions. I bought clothes for myself and friends, took pictures doing cultural things, hyping up the brand. It worked, people got more and more exited, and I got messages asking when we were going to release it,” he said.
He also engaged in guerrilla marketing by getting friends to wear his clothes in the community, while personally promoting his styles when he went home to visit.
By September, orders were starting to be filled with the manufacturer, so McLeod decided to add another design to his repertoire, one that was about representing Eeyou communities.
Still, McLeod says he was nervous: “It’s a big step, there’s a lot relying on this. One mistake, or people don’t like it, I take that personally. I was worried about it, so I spent a lot of time testing out products. It was quite a rollercoaster ride.”
Those worries compounded the day he launched. With the website suffering technical issues, McLeod was forced to shut it down in order to fix the problems. He relaunched www.topcree.ca after resolving the glitches alongside his Facebook and Instagram pages.
He says one mission of the brand is to motivate others and show young people their potential.
“It’s simple what I did but it’s not – it just takes the right mindset and I wanted to encourage others to do so,” said McLeod.
For anyone thinking of starting their own business, he has sobering but encouraging words. “I would say it’s quite the road ahead. It can be challenging, there can be lots of bumps, but it relies on the person, how they want it to be, how they face problems and come up with ideas.”
McLeod credits friends, family, his girlfriend and her mother for supporting him, helping model his clothes and promote the brand.
Despite the online learning forced by Covid-19 restrictions, his college education was key. “Being in the program really motivated me to do something. It really has opened my mind.”