Made on Haida Gwaii: Entrepreneur Erica Ryan-Gagne launches her vision

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Erica Ryan-Gagne displays Eri-Cut & Nailed signage outside of her new salon loca

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This week we resume our 'Made on Haida Gwaii' feature series, by writer April Diamond Dutheil. This series of articles, which we first featured throughout 2012, showcases the stories of talented young person who call Haida Gwaii home. In this vast country, our major urban centres tend to soak up most of the attention. This collection of success stories, about young people living on these beautiful but remote islands off the Pacific coast, aims to disrupt the dominant myths of what it means to grow up in Canada's North. Watch for new installments of Made in Haida Gwaii coming this week and later in July.

Winning double gold medals in hockey was a prominent memory from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. But Erica Ryan-Gagne remembers the Olympics differently than most Canadians. For her the 2010 Olympics catalyzed an entrepreneurial vision, one that she has turned into reality and continues to iterate upon.

Erica, who is of Haida heritage, was invited to perform along with over 300 Indigenous Canadians at the 2010 Olympic ceremonies in Vancouver. In addition to performing, Erica was introduced to a series of workshops and speakers organized for Indigenous performers. One topic was on entrepreneurship.

For Erica this introduction to entrepreneurship was timely. "I was finally ready to hear it," she says, "It just sunk in and planted the seed." Equipped with inspiration, Erica returned home and took the next step. "I asked myself, what are some of the demands in my community and how can I fill that demand," she says.

In October 2010 Erica launched her first enterprise, Eri-Cut & Nailed, a one-stop salon providing manicure, pedicure and haircutting services to the residents of Haida Gwaii.

Filling a niche, Erica provides a much-needed service to people of Haida Gwaii who prior to Eri-Cut & Nailed made a bi-annual trip to Vancouver. She also provides scissor and clipper haircut services for men.

Not limited to cosmetic incentives, Erica notes the therapeutic benefits of her services. "Eri-Cut & Nailed provides a getaway for people to relax, if only for an hour," she says.

From a purely economic analysis, the northwest is depressed and unemployment and underemployment is high. Providing low cost and healthy ways for people to feel good about themselves makes good business and social sense.

Nearly two years from the launch of Eri-Cut & Nailed, Erica and her husband, Joshua Gagne, are finishing renovations on a new space. With plans for a grand opening in the near future, Erica describes her new salon as "clean, relaxed, funky and professional."

This is exactly how Erica pictured her vision. "The business was a way for me to live my life the way I saw it, I wanted to have kids and I wanted to be mom but I didn't want to entirely give up working; I just didn't see it that way," she says. "It's great that I can do both and make that happen."

However, the road to where Erica is today, as for most, was not a path of linearity or planned prescriptiveness, "I kind of wandered and did a lot of random jobs, worked really hard for a lot of other people," she says.

Erica hopes that the story of her journey can be conveyed to young people facing similar questions about what to do next, "When I get my hands on young people I just encourage them to look to that same route that I took." It's possible to discover what you love, be happy and to make money doing it she says.

Erica was named Young Female Entrepreneur of the Year by the BC Achievement Foundation and is a recipient of the New Relationship Trust's Young Entrepreneurs Symposium travel scholarship, the Hollyhock Social Venture Institute scholarship, Haida Gwaii Community Futures small business loan, and the Northern Savings Credit Union Be Remarkable Micro-Loan.

She is a graduate of the Aboriginal BEST program and the Marvel College Cosmetology School and Hair Salon.

Matching personal with professional growth, Erica and her husband recently welcomed a new baby girl into the world.

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April Diamond Dutheil is a social advocate, entrepreneur, scholar and researcher of northern and Arctic issues, one of Canada's Top 20 Under Twenty and a recipient of the Association of Canadian Universities for Northern Studies' Northern Resident Research Award. April is committed to strengthening knowledge and understanding of the social issues facing Canada's North.

Photo credit: Patrick Shannon

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