Homegrown Business: Erin Brillon of Totem Design House

Totem Design House is an Indigenous lifestyle brand which design and produces an array of apparel, jewellery, eco-friendly home decor and women’s wear, as well as fine art and wellness products featuring Northwest Coast native designs. We spoke with its owner Erin Brillon to find out more about what they do.

Totem Design House

What made you want to do this work?

When I was growing up the Native art market was, and still largely is, dominated by non-Indigenous people; most of whom have exploited Native artists, and at times left them out of the process entirely. Ultimately, the only ones benefiting from the production and sales of Native art products are not Indigenous. Because I grew up in the art world and saw first that level of exploitation, I really feel that if anyone should benefit from this art form- it should be the Native people who are keeping these art forms alive.

What problem did you want to solve with the business?

The time is now to stop the ongoing commodification of our art forms in ways that least serve the people who are creating them. Our people survived genocide, and we honour those who held onto those traditions for us to express them today, but we can no longer allow for our people to be ripped off for others to get rich off our cultural property.

Who are your clientele/demographics?

About half Indigenous people from across Canada and USA as well as non-Indigenous people who admire and respect our people and our art forms.

How does your business make money? How does it work?

We have 4 primary revenue streams, the first (and how we got started) is setting up booths and selling in person at various cultural events (anywhere from Santa Fe all the way to Alaska), and the second was our online store. The 3rd was our retail location which we built in 2019 on my husband’s traditional territory. He inherited his grandparent’s Oceanside property on the K’omoks Rez and we built our home, studio and retail store under one roof. We were busting at the seams with production so last year we built an outbuilding to house our art production studio. Our fourth revenue stream is from wholesaling our products to retailers.

What is the best question a prospective customer could ask a member of your profession when comparing services? Give the answer as well.

Is this authentically made by an Indigenous-owned business or a native artist?

Answer: 100% it is.

Totem Design House

What is the best part about what you do? What is the worst part?

Best: The possibilities of things we can make are endless. Worst: The labour shortage has had us short-staffed for nearly a year— it’s impossible to grow when we can’t hire. There are only 2 of us full-time, one part-time and then my husband and brother are the lead artists who provide designs.

What is your favourite joke about your own profession?

Why do Native artists hate the snow? Because it’s white and it settles on their land. (Whomp-whomp)🤪

Where can we follow you?

Website | Facebook | Instagram | TikTok



About Demian Vernieri 531 Articles
Demian is an Argentinian retired musician, avid gamer and editor for the Montréal Guardian, Toronto Guardian, Calgary Guardian and Vancouver Guardian websites.