LODGE Soy Candles–Igniting The Indigenous Spirit
Muhib Nawar wrote this case under the supervision of Michael Mihalicz solely to provide material for class discussion. The authors may have disguised certain names and other identifying information to protect confidentiality.
In mid-February 2022, Angela DeMontigny, founder of Angela DeMontigny Boutique & LODGE Soy Candles, was thinking of how to scale her soy candle business. She has been single-handedly operating out of her home since the Covid-19 pandemic began over a year and a half ago. With her expertise as an internationally renowned fashion expert and passion for promoting her culture and principles, Angela has been successfully able to establish a loyal following for her line of sustainable candles. The substantial demand for her products since the launch of her online store has forced her to think about the future growth potential for the business. She was ruffling through ideas on finding a balance between retaining control of the overall business operation and implementing scale-up strategies to capitalize on the growth momentum—some of which could lead to loss of control if not carefully crafted and implemented.
Angela DeMontigny is an internationally-renowned fashion designer of Cree-Metis heritage. She she is an entrepreneur, an artist, and an advocate of Indigenous women entrepreneurs, designers and artists. DeMontigny grew up in North Vancouver and came to Toronto in 1991 after being awarded a design internship through the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business. It was an award from The Winds Of Change—a national Indigenous design competition. In 1995, DeMontigny moved to Six Nations of the Grand River reserve to start Spirit Ware and the Factory—the first and only Indigenous-owned apparel factory and industrial sewing training program.
No one exemplifies the title of a trailblazer like DeMontigny does. She was the producer and feature designer for ‘FashioNation’ at L’Oreal Fashion Week, the first designer ever for Aboriginal Fashion Week during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, and the first Indigenous Designer In Residence at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Faculty of Communication and Design (Angela DeMontigny. n.d.).
True to her Cree-Metis heritage, Angela embodies a sense of sustainability and wellness practices through her products. The primary rationale behind setting up her first factory in the Six Nations comes from her ancestral knowledge and desire for helping other Indigenous women by providing them with employment opportunities as well as the training, mentorship and capital necessary to be successful in today’s market. Sustainability to Angela means economic solvency, especially for Indigenous women. She has always tried to feature Indigenous women as models for her fashion line to promote Indigenous beauty to the world.
DeMontigny is not only known in Canada but around the world. She was the first Indigenous and Canadian designer to be featured on the runway during South Africa Fashion Week in 2017. She was also chosen by the Canadian High Commission to create and facilitate workshops to empower Indigenous women in Suriname and Guyana through fashion and business development in 2019. Her goal as a designer has been to challenge people’s perceptions and ideas of what ‘Indigenous fashion’ is and to break down stereotypes that have been that have been ingrained in mainstream society since Europeans first arrived in North America (Angela DeMontigny. n.d.).
Angela first established LODGE Soy Candles as an extension of her high-end fashion company, which she founded and ran successfully for over 25 years (Ricci, 2018). Angela also recognized that this is a relatively high-margin industry and would provide her with an opportunity to leverage her reputation and strong brand identity to make a meaningful impact with her contributions back to her community.
The fundamentals were self-evident. The business would be built on the traditional Indigenous values of love for fellow beings and honesty in each transaction. It would represent the true sense of Indigenous artistic values and spirituality combined with “passion with purpose”—acting as an instrument of social change within the Indigenous community. Her goal as a designer has been to challenge mainstream society’s perceptions of ‘Indigenous fashion’ and to challenge harmful stereotypes about Indigenous peoples. She used fashion as a tool to educate people that Indigenous beauty and culture has a significant part to play in the contemporary fashion industry. Her LODGE soy candles line was an extension of this.
Angela described her natural inclination and fascination towards working with leather and fur as an skill passed down from her ancestors. She incorporates the sustainability aspect of the ‘Seventh Generation Principles,’—an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future (Joseph, n.d.).
At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Angela was confronted with one of the most difficult and complex decisions of her career—to shut down her brick-and-mortar fashion shop and move entirely online. Some of the challenges with this included a lack of experience in promoting and marketing her company and products in an online space. She had little knowledge of professional social media advertising and Search Engine Optimization (SEO), on which the success of her online business was highly dependent. Angela, however, is a quick study and has been teaching herself the nuances of e-commerce. LODGE Soy Candles depends heavily on its Instagram page for promoting its products and interacting with its consumers, but it’s a lot of work for a single person (A. DeMontigny, personal communication, February 15, 2022). With the business’s increased demand and growth potential, seeking help, either by hiring an in-house social media manager or outsourcing to a digital marketing agency, might alleviate the pressure and let her focus on the strategic aspect of the business.
LODGE Soy Candles: Company Background
In 2014, Angela launched her sustainable soy candle line in her high-end luxury fashion boutique located in Hamilton, Ontario. Her strong sense of promoting contemporary Indigenous culture and spirituality translated into the main philosophy behind developing the candle line. It is important to understand that her luxury boutique line and her line of candle products do not operate as separate and distinct entities. Decisions made for one business have a direct impact on the other.
LODGE Soy Candles are hand-poured candles that are developed using natural essential oils. Angela has maintained her commitment to sustainability by making LODGE Soy Candles eco-friendly from soy wax and using reusable and recyclable containers for its packaging. The candles are made from undyed, 100% natural soybean wax infused with DeMontigny’s unique and original blends of essential oils and essences that are poured into convenient reusable & recyclable containers. Soybean Wax is environmentally friendly and biodegradable it cleans up easily with soap and water, and it burns cleaner and longer than other types of wax candles (Lodge soy candles, n.d.).
The essential oils used in the candles are outsourced from a third-party manufacturer who Angela works closely with to develop scents that are grounded in her artistic knowledge and Indigenous roots. One of the key differentiating factors of her candle line is how the scents are developed and what the end product represents; a means to help consumers process some of the things that they’re going through. Her goal is to bring ceremony into people’s lives by creating a holistic experience through her candles and her use of sacred medicines to develop her candle scents perfectly aligns with her goal to educate mainstream society about Indigenous culture (A. DeMontigny, personal communication, February 15, 2022).
“As a designer and artist, I have numerous opportunities to explore different mediums — whether it’s creating hand poured soy candles that utilize the healing aspects of Indigenous plant medicines, or large scale public art as a means to educate people about our beliefs, our ties to the land and all living things.”
LODGE Soy Candles can be ordered in three different sizes of 4 Oz travel tins, 8 Oz Travel tins and smaller Tea Lights. All three can be ordered by selecting from Angela’s six signature scents (Lodge soy candles, n.d.). These exclusively designed scents by Angela DeMontigny have been a staple of the brand’s roster of small-batch, hand-poured soy candles for over seven years. Some of the most popular scents are Woodland Forest, Giving Thanks, and Indian Summer. Customers can order Lodge Soy Candles through two websites: either through Angela’s original website, ‘AngelaDeMontigny.com’ or through a newly established website dedicated to her wellness products ‘lodgesoycandles.com’. The rationale behind keeping two websites is that the original website features Angela’s high-end fashion line, whereas the newly developed website only features the LODGE Soy Candle line.
Covid 19 & LODGE Soy Candles
With the onset of the global Covid-19 pandemic, the world went under lockdown and there was a global upsurge in demand for wellness products (Dunn, N. 2020). The newness of the entire paradigm shift was being strenuous for people. They needed products that would help them to better cope with the ‘new normal’ from a wellness point of view. Angela saw this opportunity and decided to use her online website to cater to this demand with her existing high-end soy candles line. LODGE Soy Candles saw immediate success.
There were a few significant milestones in establishing the brand and creating a loyal follower base since she moved her business online. She developed a new scent during the summer of 2020, which she felt personally connected to. The new scent she developed was intended to honour strong Indigenous women in Matriarchs, which she aptly named ‘Matriarch’. Users of that scent have told Angela that it helps them deal with their grief in these trying times (A. DeMontigny, personal communication, February 15, 2022).
She has successfully leveraged her long-standing reputation in the high-end fashion industry and capitalized on her image of integrity and creativity to create sustainable equity for the LODGE Soy Candles brand. She remains competitive by differentiating her products right from their inception by ensuring high quality.
“Intention is the most important element, and I know how different I am and how and why I go about doing it.”
Currently, LODGE Soy Candles markets its products using two channels: (1) Online Channel (two websites); (2) Wholesale Channel (partnerships with retail stores). Angela has successfully secured a partnership with a renowned Canadian retail chain where she has to ship products differently than how she does it for her online orders. For the wholesale part of the business, she has to package the candles in bulk, whereas for the retail (online), she uses packaging materials more tailored to the size of an individual order. With the introduction of the partnership and immense demand for her candles, it is challenging for Angela to run the ship by herself.
Angela’s primary concern is inventory management. This is not unusual for small businesses operating from the owner’s house, while a sudden but sustained growth opportunity presents itself. Angela currently uses her home as the storage unit for her candles. It has become particularly challenging for her to manage the required space, now that sales have increased. This has presented her with challenges in keeping her inventory up-to-date and calculating how much to produce—which requires forecasting of future demand for her products. Hence, she is considering hiring someone to manage inventory and take care of the potential storage unit she is thinking of leasing.
On the other hand, she must be certain about a sustained order for a prolonged period to offset the enormous initial investment of developing in-house storage and inventory capability. Another option can be to outsource the storage and packaging part of the business to a third-party contractor. This will require a lower capital investment; however, the opportunity cost of losing control over the tightly-knit operation that she has built for so many years has to be addressed through favourable contract terms for Angela. Moreover, this option could be more costly in the long run if her initial momentum continues (A. DeMontigny, personal communication, February 15, 2022).
Another option might be to partner with a large retailer; however, partnerships of this nature are not as simple as they sound. Small businesses usually do not have a homogenous order pattern. Their lack of ability to promote using mass media makes it challenging for them to ensure visibility to a vast audience (Wyld, Pugh & Tyrrall, 2012). Partnerships with large retailers are also often conditional on a predetermined volume of sales in a given time. In other words, if they do not hit their sales targets, the small business is contractually obligated to take back all the unsold products. This poses a substantial financial commitment from the small business, which makes this a riskier option. Hence, Angela has been very cautious until now before partnering with large retail stores.
Going back to setting up a brick-and-mortar store again will be a substantial financial investment and commitment. Given that real estate prices are currently at an all-time high, selecting a suitable location and acquiring one will be difficult and time-consuming. Even so, Angela is considering this option because there are advantages to opening a brick-and-mortar store over conducting business entirely online. Setting up a physical store would allow Angela to scale up and retaining control over the business, while also creating a sense of permanency for the brand, and leveraging her extensive experience in this space by reverting to a more familiar business model. Also, her love for meeting and helping people in-person interacting with them makes this strategy the natural next step for her.
However, Angela’s resolution this year is ‘Trust’. According to that philosophy, she wants to trust herself and trust whatever comes her way. Angela is also aware that these are uncertain times. She wants to remain agile and keep as many options open as possible (A. DeMontigny, personal communication, February 15, 2022).
Next Chapter for DeMontigny & LODGE Soy Candles
Angela set a goal of making LODGE Soy Candles a fully functioning business unit within the shortest possible time to go back to working with the fashion line of her business to create beautiful high-end luxury apparel and accessories motivated by her Indigenous roots.
Her expansion plan for the LODGE Soy Candle was five fold:
- Diversification of the product range into new categories of health and wellness products;
- Scaling up the company’s storage and packaging capability;
- Establishment of an in-house manufacturing facility;
- Optimization of the website for the business; and
- Hiring staff to fill new roles in operations and marketing.
This expansion plan would take sixteen to twenty-eight months to implement, requiring a significant investment. Angela pondered as she began to list the options at her disposal with the objective to create a long-term competitive advantage for LODGE Soy Candles—and how she could leverage that advantage to build a growth strategy. Another question was also swirling in her mind, “When is the best time for me to reopen my brick-and-mortar shop? Or should I continue to expand my business online for now?”
Name of Interviewer: Michael Mihalicz
Date of Interview: Feb. 15, 2022
Time of Interview: 11:00 am
Length of Interview: 1.5 hours
Type of Recording: Video and audio
Location of Interview: Online via Zoom
Name of Interviewee: Angela DeMontigny
Title of Interviewee: Founder
Company: LODGE Soy Candles
About Indigenous Canadian fashion designer, Angela DeMontigny. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from http://www.angelademontigny.com/about
Dunn, N. (2020, September 25). Council post: How the Wellness Industry has changed during the pandemic. Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2020/09/28/how-the-wellness-industry-has-changed-during-the-pandemic/?sh=65bae6556938
Joseph, B. (n.d.). What is the seventh generation principle? Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://www.ictinc.ca/blog/seventh-generation-principle#
Lodge soy candles. (n.d.). Retrieved February 28, 2022, from https://angela-demontigny.squarespace.com/lodge
Ricci, T. (2018). Ryerson University’s first Indigenous designer in residence hopes to inspire fashion students. CBC News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ryerson-university-first-indigenous-designer-in-residence-hopes-to-inspire-fashion-students-1.4928252
Wyld, J., Pugh, G. & Tyrrall, D. (2012). Can powerful buyers “exploit” SME suppliers? Journal of Small Business and Enterprise Development, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 322-334. https://doi.org/10.1108/14626001211223928