Nokonanamis is a Sudbury, Ontario-based retailer that specializes in creating authentic Indigenous jewellery, homeware, and ribbon skirts. The company has received international attention for its quality work.
“There has always been a large interest in Indigenous designs, and we want to make it easier for people to purchase designs that they know are ethically created,” says Jennifer Taback, one of the three founding family members. “The gap we recognize is that Indigenous artisans don’t always have the capacity to wholesale items consistently, which would allow them to fit better into standard purchasing arrangements. We’re hoping to explore a middle ground in our work, making high-quality pieces available to wider retail stores and markets.”
It’s an exciting opportunity for the family members to pursue. Nokonanamis is a partnership of Debbie Taback and her two daughters, Julia and Jennifer Taback. They are Anishinaabe from Shawanaga First Nation and call Sudbury their home.
The name Nokonanamis has an interesting origin, as Nokomis means “Grandmother” in Anishinaabe, and Nana is what all the grandchildren call Debbie. “It’s a playful word that captures what she means to our family,” adds Julia.
Inspiring the work has been a lifelong learning process, exploring beadwork and cultural traditions and aligning them with new production technologies. Some of the recent work includes laser-engraved acrylic and wood, which give a wonderful depth and texture to the artwork and jewellery pieces. “Learning and experimenting can be a challenging and expensive process, and we’ve been lucky to have support from the Ontario Arts Council to purchase supplies along the way through their Indigenous Art Materials Grant,” says Julia.
Having established their online store at Nokonanamis.com, their next step is pursuing advantageous partnerships that can focus on helping export products to markets that are currently saturated with culturally appropriated items, diverting support and funds from Indigenous artists.
“There are countries that have their own interest in supporting the Indigenous people in Turtle Island, and I want to show them they can support artists directly, ethically, and in turn receive beautifully crafted pieces, steeped in cultural celebration,” said Jennifer excitedly.
Being an Indigenous-owned business comes with a slew of challenges, but it hasn’t deterred the team from finding its niche in the market. “Even with our own business experience, it can feel impossibly hard to manage all the day-to-day operations of expanding a business while still being very hands-on in the creation of the work,” said Julia, who is responsible for creating a majority of the jewellery items on the website. “I’m a mom of two with a full-time day job that doesn’t leave much time for other things. But that’s the reality for many of us who want to start their own business in this industry.”
At the end of the day, Nokonanamis wants to provide an outlet where ethically-minded shoppers can find beautiful items and give them a reason to abandon their fast fashion habits. They also want to create an economically prosperous environment where traditional artwork and fashion can be celebrated alongside a living wage for artisans.