In the wake of immense grief, Lisa Luscombe decided life was too short not to pursue her passion project — founding an Indigenous boutique.
“My hobbies have always been fashion, bath and beauty, gifts and home decor,” said Luscombe, who is Kwakwaka’wakw, Cree and Métis.
“I decided to open a boutique with all those things because that’s what I like to do as a hobby. It’s my passion.”
Fireweeds Boutique opened in kiʔlawnaʔ (Kelowna) in syilx homelands in the fall of 2022. Several months after opening, the shop has become a fixture, adding some Indigenous representation to the many downtown gift shops.
As an Indigenous woman selling Indigenous brands and merchandise, she added that it’s important for her to visibly identify her business as Indigenous-owned.
“Local non-Indigenous business owners have been really welcoming when I opened my store, coming in and giving me advice,” Luscome said. “Just getting that advice really helps me, especially coming from a background with no retail and not being a business owner.”
Entering the space, shoppers are greeted by the aroma of sage candles and body oils, as well as an array of home decor and t-shirts featuring slogans like “Big Auntie Energy” or “Decolonial Baddie.” For Luscombe, the store has been a long-held dream.
Before starting her business, Luscombe had been living in her homelands in Kwakwaka’wakw territory for 25-plus years, where she worked at the provincial level helping to deliver social programming, education, employment and workforce-industry-relations training to Indigenous communities.
But with both her husband and her dad passing away within the last two-and-a-half years, she and her daughter decided it was time for a change.
“After losing my husband, it was stressful to go back to my day job,” she said.
“You’re on the road doing this and that — I couldn’t go back to that. I couldn’t do it anymore after all that. I like helping people, but after my husband passed away, it was something that I couldn’t do anymore.”
So in March 2022, she and her daughter made the move to kiʔlawnaʔ. Instead of returning to her old line of work, she applied for a business loan and quickly began developing a business plan.
“We wanted a fresh start where we could meet new people,” Luscombe said.
Just a few months later, after painstaking planning and fulfilling the logistics of starting a business, Luscombe launched the Fireweeds Boutique storefront in the heart of downtown kiʔlawnaʔ. She credited her past experience in working to deliver Indigenous programming as a key factor in helping to bring her business to life.
“If I didn’t have any of that experience, I think trying to start a business would be way more difficult,” she said.
Supporting Indigenous brands
The store is home to a plethora of clothing, home decor, bath and beauty, and self-care items produced by more than a dozen Indigenous-owned brands found across the continent. They include Decolonial Clothing, The Rez Life, Prados Beauty, Standing Spruce, Crowfoot Collective and more.
Working with and supporting Indigenous brands from all over, she said, is the most fun part of the job.
“When I moved into the space, I thought that the biggest issue for me was going to be, ‘How am I going to fill this space?’” she said. “But now, fast-forward five months later, now I’m like, ‘I need more space.’”
She’s also keen on supporting local non-profits, which includes a recent collaboration with Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society to help sell articles of clothing at her store that were produced by Indigenous Youth for the society’s own shop.
“It gives me the opportunity to educate people on anti-bullying day. But not just anti-bullying day, but supporting KFS Youth too,” she said.
Similarly, she’s had discussions with the HOPE Outreach program to sell bracelets made by people experiencing homelessness at her store.
“It educates local downtown Kelowna people who are privileged that unhoused people are human, they made these beautiful bracelets — support them and this initiative,” she said.
Learning through shopping
Educating shoppers — particularly non-Indigenous locals and tourists — has been a regular part of the job. But as an Indigenous woman, it’s something she’s been dealing with her whole life, no matter the setting, she said.
“Everybody still thinks that Indigenous businesses only sell artwork — like a gallery or totem poles. They’re looking for art,” she said. “Indigenous people do make candles, they do make pretty things and gifts.”
She’s fielded questions about the store’s name, her decision to open downtown rather than on a reserve, and even her own Indigeneity.
“It can be exhausting at times. But with my background and the work I used to do with helping communities, I’m more patient.”
At the same time, she’s constantly met with praise by Indigenous people walking by the store, who she said are happy to see Indigenous-owned brands sold by an Indigenous-operated shop in the downtown sphere.
“They’re really happy that I have mannequins that are dressed in Indigenous clothing and are visible,” she said.
“One UBCO student told me that it’s like a political statement just being visible downtown, being Indigenous owned and operated.”
Luscombe is still learning the ropes of running a business on her own as she goes along. And despite the stresses that may come with it, she’s happy to find herself in this new life as a business owner — a job that she doesn’t describe as work.
“If you had told me even five years ago that I would be downtown Kelowna with a boutique, I wouldn’t believe you,” she said. “I look around and I’m like, ‘Woah, this is my life now.’”
She said that the main thing that keeps her motivated in her newfound career is her daughter, and the prospect that she can hand the business off to her in the future.
“I’m getting older. Someday I’m going to have grandkids,” she said. “So trying to set up the business so that I don’t just benefit from it — but my daughter and her kids; having something for them too.”