Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Tasha Nathanson, founder, and CEO of 7 Leagues Leather, located in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

7 Leagues Leather is a circular economy fish leather tannery and fish leather boot social enterprise: upcycling fish processing waste using forestry-waste tannins, to be crafted locally by urban workers facing barriers to employment.

Our venture is innovating in an industry that Canada lost when leather tanning methods became too toxic to meet our environmental standards and so moved to poorer countries less able to protect their land and people. By returning to environmentally sound plant tannins for leather production and researching cutting-edge opportunities for water treatment, agricultural waste reuse, and clean processing techniques. We improve the outcome for both producers and consumers. 7 Leagues is building a restorative and regenerative production model for a more inclusive economy. Using greentech, ingenuity, and the resources at hand with a purposeful, durable, gorgeous craft product result.

Our customers are ethical shoppers who use their purchasing power to support businesses that uphold and reflect their values. Who seek well-crafted goods that will last and who will appreciate this material's distinctive pattern and story. Our products are for people who enjoy beautiful, unique things but not at the cost of our planet.

Tell us about yourself

My title is Ladyboss at 7 Leagues Leather. I’m attuned to social enterprise and keen on business models successful not just on a commercial level but also designed to enhance the well-being of individuals, communities, and the environment. When my nest emptied, after years as a single, widowed parent, I was finally free to seek challenges more aligned with my abilities. After an initial stint working overseas in value-added agriculture, I returned home to create my own profit-earning business model to accomplish goals often either ignored by business or sloughed off to the perennially precarious and dependent non-profit sector.

At that time, I encountered a group of artists teaching themselves small-batch fish leather tanning and immediately identified its commercial potential. I spent that year researching the market, training at a tannery in Europe, and even attending shoe school in Toronto to make a proof-of-concept pair of fish leather boots to test out the material. By the end of the year, I knew that this was a viable opportunity and incorporated 7 Leagues Leather. Building a new type of manufacturing business that will blaze a way forward (re)using local, sustainable resources is what gets me up in the morning.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

It is no small matter to revive a lost industry. Working with sectors (forestry, fisheries) that are not temperamentally prone to change can be challenging. Doing all of this during the pandemic is particularly difficult. I am pleased to have developed some great collaborations and win-win partnerships along the way, with FPInnovations being the most notable in this regard. I am jubilant to have found a fully-trained, newly immigrated, bright young Spanish tanner looking for work just when we really needed that skillset. I also faced a steep learning curve (and unexpected increased costs) dealing with shipping to import machinery from Europe – but I persevered, and it is here.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

Manufacturing is an expensive industry to enter, and the supports/loans/grants that do exist are generally only for scaling up, not for establishing a manufacturing business. The system therefore tends to perpetuate business as usual conducted by the usual suspects, rather than making room for fresh approaches and categories of ownership. Because the goal of 7 Leagues includes sustainable social hiring and local production - not a quick scale-up followed by a sell-off for profit-taking and a move to overseas cheap labour - we are not looking for venture capital but instead, for a patient, impact investment. Finding the right kind of financing and the right partners is difficult, and I have invested myself substantially too.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. There will always be parts of the business that you know and parts you will have to learn. Remember to enjoy lifelong learning!
  2. That said, some things will either require higher competence than you can develop or not be worth your time to sort out on your own. When that is the case, find the right help.
  3. Know your own company, your market niche, and your reason-for-being. Keep your eye on that and ensure you evaluate external advice with solid critical analysis and only take on what makes sense for your business.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

A lot of start-up advice is based on the tech sector and the Silicon Valley model. If you aren't a Bay Area technology start-up and/or you aim to achieve something different with your business, you will need to find other sources of guidance and support - and you may need to build/create/locate them yourself. There is a great article in the Harvard Business Review called "Start-ups, It's Time to Think Like Camels — Not Unicorns." Moving over difficult terrain, using resources sparingly, and sustaining over the long term is camel behaviour. We could use more camels in the business world.

Where can people find you and your business?

Website: https://www.7leagues.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/7LeaguesLeather/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/7leaguesleather/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/7_leagues
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/7leaguesleather/


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email community@subkit.com; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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