PHOTO: Carlene MacDonald, Sunflower Salon & Piercing

Learn as you go

September 4, 2021

Semi-Finalist Spotlight on Carlene MacDonald, Sunflower Salon & Piercing Studio

Meet Carlene April MacDonald, Owner of Sunflower Salon & Piercing Studio from Millbrook First Nation, Nova Scotia. Carlene is a Pow Wow Pitch Atlantic Canada Semi-Finalist. We sat down with Carlene to learn more about her, her business and her reflections on entrepreneurship. 

PWP: Carlene, what motivated you to start your business?

CM: I decided to become an entrepreneur to provide security for my family while doing something I am good at and passionate about. 

PWP: Can you share with us a bit about your business?

CM: Sunflower Salon & Piercing Studio provides a range of hair and body services, like cuts, colouring, makeup, waxing and piercings. We are always adding new services as we train and become certified in the latest services and techniques. 

My clients love that they can get all of their beauty and self-care services done in one place. 

PWP: What was your experience like starting up? 

CM: Indigenous entrepreneurs face visible and invisible barriers. Although we were once the underdog, times are changing, and we are clearing new paths and making our own way while welcoming others to use the paths we clear. 

I tried to get financing the ‘normal way’ for my business. But I was too ‘risky’ for a loan, even with my husband co-signing with a full-time job and perfect credit. They implied this is ‘just another salon.’ 

I set out to show them that this is not ‘just another salon.’ It is a salon and experience that sets an example of humility, kindness, respect, and love. A salon committed to the community and strengthened by a strong passion and desire to succeed — a salon built by warriors. 

PWP: Congratulations on clearing your own path with a warrior’s heart. What has been the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?

CM: It fills me up when my clients feel good about themselves, and on the toughest days, my heart swells when my kids look at me with pride. They believe in me and are my biggest cheerleaders. 

I love being able to do extra little things here and there because I have a few extra dollars, and even though it is only a little right now, I have been able to give back to my community through my business. 

I want to start so many programs and initiatives to help my community and provide for my family. But, I know that I can achieve my goals as I continue to grow my business. 

PWP: What are you most proud of so far?

CM: I am most proud of my physical studio space.

I started up by doing house calls for hair and makeup services with a suitcase of supplies because I couldn’t get a loan. 

I saved up all the money I earned with the support of my husband and have reinvested most of it right back into my business to invest in our family’s future. 

Eventually, I had a bare-bones studio with only a sink. Once I passed the inspection, I started welcoming clients. Over time we added cupboards, a piercing room, a bathroom. 

Today our studio, although small, is a beautiful, welcoming place I can be proud of and can grow from. 

PWP: Why did you choose to apply for Pow Wow Pitch?

CM: I learned about Pow Wow Pitch from a Facebook ad. I thought, why not? It was worth a shot! 

I have a good little business, and the worst thing that could happen is that I wouldn’t win. The best thing that could happen is that I would win. I knew that if I didn’t try, nothing would happen. 

So, I made a quick one-minute video submission between clients, sent it in, and prayed to the creator. 

I didn’t realize it would be so much more than a pitch competition. 

PWP: What has been the best part of being part of Pow Wow Pitch as a Semi-Finalist so far?

CM: Through Pow Wow Pitch, I have connected with many great Indigenous entrepreneurs and made new friends. It’s been fun, and I’ve learned a lot. I feel as though I have already won in that sense. 

I was matched with two mentors, Chelsea Prescod from BDC and Spencer Callaghan from CIRA. From Chelsea, I learned to relax and let my true self shine through. Chelsea showed me that people invest in people first, not businesses and that my focus on delivering a ‘perfect’ and ‘professional’ pitch was not allowing others to see my light. Once I let go, the words just flowed. 

From Spencer, I learned that I am the expert in my business and should feel confident in that. Spencer gave me great advice on capturing attention with my pitch and keeping it high-level enough to fit within the timeframe with little hooks to invite interesting questions from the judges. 

PWP: What advice do you have for Indigenous people thinking of starting up a business?

CM: Go for it! You don’t need to know how to run a business or know every little detail. If you have a skill, a product or a passion, start, and the rest will fall into place. You will learn as you go. 

Being an entrepreneur is a lot of work. Days are long. You make mistakes. But every mistake comes with a lesson. Believe in yourself. Just start. You won’t regret it!

PWP: Thank you for chatting with us, Carlene! Good luck with the Semi-Finals.

You can support Carlene to reach the Pow Wow Pitch Finals by voting for her for the People’s Choice Prize. Click here to vote for Carlene. You can also watch Carlene Pitch at the Atlantic Sem-Finals Live on September 20, 2021, at 6 PM ET / 7 PM ET. Click here to register to watch.