By Alexandra Brothers, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter / August 4, 2023 Edition
Indigenous entrepreneur Leslie Butt has earned the honor of competing alongside other Indigenous business owners at the international Pow Wow Pitch semi-finals in September.
The Pow Wow Pitch describes itself as the most prestigious competition for Indigenous entrepreneurs in North America. Semi-finalists will get the opportunity to receive mentorship from industry experts and the chance to win $25,000 to expand their businesses. Butt was selected as a semi-finalist out of more than 2,000 applicants for her company Threads Up —a liquidation store in Kelligrews that provides affordable clothing and household goods.
Butt attended junior high and high school in CBS but currently lives in St. John’s. She is a single parent of two and has been met with no shortage of hardships in her lifetime. “Being part of the Indigenous community, we face a lot of systemic racism,” Butt said. “There is intergenerational trauma, (and a) lack of access to affordable housing and resources in general.”
Some of these challenges are what inspired her to start her business in 2021, Butt said.
“I was actually in a residential treatment facility for addiction… when I came up with the idea of giving back to the community,” said Butt.
She wanted to establish a company that would sell high-quality products at affordable prices. “Having a happy life does not have to be unaffordable,” she said.
Starting the business was a challenge. Access to capital is one of the biggest hurdles facing Indigenous entrepreneurs, according to Butt, and something she experienced too. “I literally started with nothing and just kind of built it up from there,” she said. “I just really had to work very hard and pull out all the stops and get really creative.”
In spite of the challenges, Butt said she has seen rapid success in the expansion of her business over the past year. She has two store locations — the one on Conception Bay Highway in Kelligrews and another on Blackmarsh Road.
Butt spoke of how rewarding it is to run a community-driven company. “I just really love the fact that when people leave here, they’re always smiling… Being able to help people and give back is just fantastic.”
Besides being a place where people can shop affordably, Butt said she tries to make the store a space that fosters community spirit. “This is the kind of store where you can come in and have a chat,” she explained. “This is a place where everybody is welcome.”
Threads Up offers sensory-friendly shopping times where people can book appointments to visit the store during off-hours. Butt likewise tries to help those who are struggling financially. “If someone comes in and says they’re in need, I am more than happy to donate items and I’m more than happy to point people towards the right resources,” she said.
It turns out, those are exactly the kinds of qualities the Pow Wow Pitch recognizes.
“I think any community support, or any sort of acknowledgement just means so much because it’s showing that my hard work is actually getting somewhere,” said Butt of the impact of advancing to the semi-finals.
Being selected for the semi-finals has been something of a whirlwind experience for Butt. “Things are moving very quickly,” she said.
Competition preparations include one-on-one mentorship and being filmed for a documentary series in the coming weeks. There are already talks of the series being picked up by Netflix or Prime, Butt said.
Taking part in the Pow Wow Pitch is an especially meaningful opportunity for Butt. “I just really am excited to be able to connect with other Indigenous people,” she said.
Butt believes there is a cultural disconnect that she and many other indigenous people of her generation face due to the Canadian government’s efforts to assimilate Indigenous people during the Sixties Scoop. “Now it’s the time that we are taking back our culture, and taking back the things that were taken away from us,” said the entrepreneur. “It’s up to this generation to preserve those ideologies and to preserve our culture… I think just being able to connect with all these different people from around Canada and the U.S. that know what I’ve gone through and people that have the same history is going to be very healing.”
Butt has big plans for Threads Up in years to come. “My business model is actually franchisable and scalable,” she said, “so, I’m going to open up my markets both nationally and internationally and I am going to have stores all across Newfoundland.”