Seven Leading Businesswomen of the North

She Means Business (excerpt from)

By Darren Campbell

Up Here Business thought it was about time we brought you the stories of some of the North’s most prominent businesswomen, to celebrate modern-day pioneers who continue to make inroads into what largely remains, sadly, a man’s world.

It’s an interesting and varied cast of characters, from CEOs of multi-million-dollar corporations to women running small businesses. Some you’ve heard of and some maybe you haven’t. The one thing they have in common is that they’re making their marks on business up here. It wasn’t hard to fill out the list. In fact, there were plenty of other candidates we could have profiled, women making immense contributions to the North’s economy and business community.

When fashion designer Megan Waterman moved from British Columbia to Dawson City, Yukon in 1997, the toughest adjustment for her wasn’t the cold but the clothes. “I had trouble with outer wear,” she says. “It’s big and bulky and it wasn’t fun. I couldn’t see why it couldn’t be comfortable, functional and durable.”

Waterman’s solution to her problem would turn out to be the Skookum Brand anorak, a lightweight luxury jacket she designed and made for people who live in higher latitudes. Inspired by Inuit designs, Waterman created a jacket that looks good and allows you to enjoy the cold, not just survive it.

Since creating the Skookum brand in 2005, Waterman’s anoraks have garnered plenty of attention. International Polar Year has endorsed her jackets. At the 2007 Design Exchange DX Awards in Toronto, Waterman’s anorak’s won the DX Staff Choice Award, given out to the project the staff feels is most worthy of special recognition. Skookum anoraks are now sold in Iqaluit, Whitehorse, Dawson City and Yellowknife as well as in Vancouver, Toronto, Banff, Mt. Tremblant, Que., the U.S. and Norway.

Waterman’s anoraks are often adorned with wild fur. That might not sit well with some southern customers. But Waterman makes it clear her company believes in ethical fur and the humane harvesting of it. She consults with Yukon trappers and says she donates five per cent of anorak sales to promoting habitat conservation. It’s important to her to support ethical Northern trappers.

“The trapper is the steward of the land,” she says. “They have to keep it healthy so the animal population is healthy and sustainable.”

Part of the allure of the anoraks may be that Waterman doesn’t make many of them – only 500 per year. But that may change. She says she would consider a partnership with a company outside the Yukon to grow her business, which goes by the name of Northern Garments. She’s already got her eye on a new market for her anoraks, Finland, and would like to expand the Skookum line to include pants, hats and children’s wear.

“I like new things. I like stimulus. I’m a little bit restless,” she says. “I’d like to see our sales expand and become more of an established brand. I’d like the Skookum Brand to be thought of as a cold weather specialist, right alongside brands like Canada Goose.”

Waterman knows there’s more work to do before that happens. But so far, she’s off to a good start.