Next time you’re in Carcross, make sure to visit Mayo. That’s the idea behind From the Heart, one of the new storefronts at Carcross Commons.
The shop carries Mayo-made soaps from the Yukon Soaps Company, beadwork and moccasins made by Mayo’s Taiya Melancon and beeswax candles from Yaámí Candles of—you guessed it—Mayo.
There’s a lot of creativity in the community, says Joella Hogan, founder of Yukon Soaps, but because the village is off the beaten path, many miss it. Because of that, Hogan had been thinking for a while about opening a soap shop in Carcross when she started talking to Melancon last year.
Melancon, who’d recently moved from Mayo to Carcross, was one of Hogan’s earliest employees. Ten years ago, when Hogan started Yukon Soaps, Melancon, then 13, was one of a handful of kids who’d go to Hogan’s house after school to cut bricks of soap, wrap and sticker the slices, and prepare orders. As she got older, Melancon helped Hogan at craft fairs. She was independent and capable even then, says Hogan. She still is. Only now she also has a clear idea of what she wants to do.
Melancon left a job in childcare to run From the Heart with Hogan. She was nervous to walk away from a steady job with a stable income, but she wanted to pursue the craft she’s been honing since her auntie taught her how to bead at the age of six.
She makes scrunchies from brightly-coloured granny hankie fabric, beaded earrings, luxurious fox fur neck warmers, threaded with silk scarves, and moccasins that Hogan says the store can’t keep stocked.
Melancon says she was encouraged to focus on her art when people started buying her work on Facebook. And she had another reason too. She’d started noticing something at certain tourist shops in Alaska and Whitehorse. They sold First Nations art and jewellery, but it wasn’t authentic. The pieces were more like souvenirs. Trinkets with no connection to the Indigenous people from the places they were being sold. It bothered Melancon.
“I’m an Indigenous woman making things my auntie or grandma has taught me,” she says. “I wanted to make the stuff that I make and be able to sell it in Carcross … I thought it would be nice for (tourists) to come in and have some sort of First Nations connection whether it’s me making moccasins here and them watching me because then there’s that connection.”
Hogan says that connection surprises people. They’re shocked when they hear the people sitting behind the counter (Hogan or Melancon) are the ones who make everything in the shop. Hogan thinks that appeals to buyers, whether they’re Yukoners out for an afternoon of shopping, or cruise ship passengers on their way through the territory.
“I think they’re looking more to have an impact with their purchasing,” she says. “They’re like, ‘oh, this is a real Yukon Indigenous made business.’ It’s not like, some of the other shops that they might see along their travels and it’s actually us working the shop. It’s Taiya sitting there, working with her home-tanned moose skin and fur and beads, making the stuff.”
The shop is a lesson for buyers, just like it’s a lesson for the sellers.
Even after 10 years of running her own business, Hogan says she feels like she’s still learning, even as she provides mentorship to Melancon, who’s figuring out pricing and the value of her skillset.
Together, they decided that, while they want to keep From the Heart small for the first year while they got their footing, they also wanted to make space for Yaámí Candles, a new company that sprang out of an entrepreneurship class last year at Mayo’s J.V. Clark School. Entrepreneurship is what Hogan and Melancon’s partnership is about. Hogan says it was a natural fit to include a group of kids who are walking that same path, and to highlight that for people passing through the southern Yukon, who may not otherwise learn anything about Mayo.
“To be somewhere like Carcross, where there’s so much more attention, and definitely way more tourism, hopefully then draws people to Mayo,” she says. “And then, hopefully, we’re raising awareness about our little community and all the joy and good things that can come from our community as well.”
Contact Amy Kenny at email@example.com