In the last couple of years, Vanessa Marshall has learned the meaning of 'follow your heart', and it's paying off in ways she never imagined. From expanding a woman-owned-and-run beauty and wellness business (started during the pandemic, no less), to taking part in Pow Wow Pitch (which supports Indigenous entrepreneurship), the 49-year-old Edmontonian is thriving.
An admitted risk-taker, Marshall didn't always have starting her own business on the radar. Growing up in Northern Alberta as part of a Metis, business-minded family, Marshall's life went on a different path, raising two children and working as a dental assistant. Though she did that for decades, the feisty Marshall says she wanted to be happier.
"I know life is short and I knew I didn't want to be chained to an office," said Marshall, whose company Jack59 is seeing growth through online and retail sales across the country. "Starting in a basement kitchen in 2015, with no packaging for our products--has been a huge learning curve. But I know what I'm good at--product creation, networking, innovation--and I recognize other people's strengths too. I've got an amazing team of women growing the company along with me."
Jack59 (named by Marshall's daughter for the stray dog she discovered when the family lived in Faust, Alberta) encompasses a product line of plastic, sulphate and silicone-free hair products (even vegan and gluten-free options) that are all about sustainability. Since it started, Jack59 has kept over 500,000 plastic bottles out of the landfill.
There are 11 varieties of shampoo and conditioner bars for every hair type, plus dry shampoos, leave-in conditioners, a shave/body wash bar geared to men and a detangler bar for children. A dog shampoo bar, says Marshall, is 'going crazy' with pet owners.
Marshall's operations team, which includes her sister Cynthia (COO) and right-hand woman Dorothy Goodale are becoming a force among women entrepreneurs, advocating for (and walking the talk) for fair wages (for a staff of 13 females) and using environmentally and socially-responsible ingredients to create products and packaging. As well, the entire staff has a say in business decisions and is part of weekly meetings.
"Instead of being competitive, we network--we do things differently. And we lift up those whose lives we impact," she said. "It's paramount for me to stay true to my integrity."
And now, Jack59's efforts are going even further to include a scholarship for Indigenous youth going into post-secondary environmental studies, which Marshall says will help "bridge the gap for rural Aboriginal youth moving into urban areas."
Marshall says Pow Wow Pitch (powwowpitch.org) is creating wonderful networking opportunities with fellow Indigenous women entrepreneurs, whether she wins or loses. But her journey with the organization thus far is impressive, making it to semi-final round in the consumer beauty and wellness category. Of 2,400 applicants to the entire pitch program this year, less than 100 have advanced, sharing their products and vision in one-minute taped pitches for a panel of judges.
"There's a reader's choice portion, with voting open until Sept. 19," she said. "There's prize money, which would be great, but the real benefit is engaging with other Indigenous entrepreneurs."
Jack59 has production and retail space in South Edmonton, and participates in pop up events and regular spots at farmer's markets (Old Strathcona, Bountiful). You'll find Jack59 at the Butterdome Christmas sale and in stores like Healthy Planet and Hudson Bay Co. too.
"We had over $1 million in sales in 2021 and aim to break into the U.S. market soon too," said Marshall, noting products are now at amazon.ca, and jack59hairco.com. "It feels like a big responsibility, but we're confident in the brand and the timing. Our products are great for travel (bars aren't restricted the same as liquids at airports) and are an easy change for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint."
See powwowpitch.org for more on this year's Indigenous entrepreneurs.