BY JESSICA CHRISTMAS
Felicia Mitchell was on her way home and had a vision.
Mitchell is from Listuguj First Nation, which is located in Quebec, on the opposite side of the Restigouche River from Campbellton, New Brunswick.
She was driving and the brightness of the sun got in her eyes, but she was able to see beyond that point. What she saw was a cross that looked like a flower, and it inspired her to create a new piece of beadwork when she got home. That evening at her kitchen table she created a beaded flower. At the time, she didn’t know that it would become her signature work, and her best-seller in an expanding business with clients around the world.
After Mitchell brought her vision to life she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her beaded flowers, so she asked her followers on social media for advice. One friend suggested she make them into earrings. So she did, and more designs and products followed.
Mitchell became a single mother at 20 years old, and when her now seven-year-old daughter turned one, she decided to go back back to school because she knew that education was important.
She was passionate about working with young people so she took a one-year course in Human Services at New Brunswick Community College and graduated in 2011.
She says she was raised as a person who expressed gratitude toward her teachers and mentors by giving gifts. She asked a younger cousin to teach her to make dream catchers. Her instructors were so pleased with the gifts that Mitchell was inspired to continue making handmade goods. So by June, 2011, her journey as a recent graduate with a new business of her own had begun.
Start-up businesses that take off quickly often fail, but not in this case. Mitchell’s beadwork has crossed borders and traveled over seas. Her work has been shipped to every province in Canada, more than 33 U.S. states and to a few countries in Europe. She’s been making custom orders since 2013.
“I still feel star struck when I think of how far my work has gone and when people want to meet me,” she says. “I still think of myself as a Migmaq woman from Listuguj, Quebec, who accidentally turned a hobby into a business and with a little bit of experimentation with social media.”
The bead designs have brought Mitchell many opportunities. In 2014, she traveled to Montreal and her beadwork had sold out within 10 minutes at a craft fair. A Mohawk newspaper interviewed her.
In 2015, she traveled to Albuquerque, New Mexico, for the Gathering of Nations Pow-wow, the largest in North America. She met one of her customers, who took Mitchell and her young daughter, Lauryn, on a tour of the reservation. It was a sacred place, and at the end of the tour her new friend gave her stones to work with.
Mitchell also sold her work at Christmas fairs, pow-wows and universities but had to turn some opportunities down because she had school commitments at the Nova Scotia Community College where she was pursuing a second diploma in business administration.
Mitchell lives in her community and works as a receptionist at the Listuguj Mi’gmaq Development Centre. She also helps youth in the community pursue their goals. She says it’s challenging to fill orders for her beaded pieces while working, and that building an inventory can take up to a month. She has worked through lapses in her motivation, and through severe pain in her forearm and wrist (that results from the repetitive motion of the beadwork). Her mother would send her sewed gems in the mail to help.
Her daughter also inspires her to keep going.
“Not to toot my own horn, but she loves my creations and often says, ‘Oh, these are beautiful, mom. Are they for me?’ And whenever I would do a local delivery for my work, she would ask where I am going. I would keep it simple and say ‘I have to go bring my friend their earrings.’ She would jokingly say, ‘Mom, you have a lot of friends.’”
Mitchell’s plans to open her own beading supply store, once she gets past the expenses of having been a student.
Mitchell knows when women become mothers during school, the majority will not return right away, but that doesn’t mean all of them will quit school. After having a baby, a person becomes motivated to do better things for them and their child. It takes a strong woman to experience the ups, downs and continue to do what they love and remain positive. Small opportunities can lead to bigger things.
“I think if you’re passionate about whatever hobby that you have, pursue it, set your goals and crush them.”