Jan 15, 2021

Rural Manitoba

Boreal Workshop

Story by Sarah Ivey Photo by Wayne Perkins

The experience of buying jewelry is often tactile—people want to touch it. When buying a ring, they slide it onto their finger and try it on for size. They hold earrings up to their face to see how they look and dangle. So how does a jeweller make sales during a pandemic?

“It has certainly impacted our operations, but we are committed to continuing to operate in a good way,” says Tanis Thomas, owner of Boreal Workshop. 

She uses creativity, careful investments in equipment, and most importantly—genuine care for her customers to drive sales of her hand-made creations. 

Boreal Workshop started out by attending artisan markets and offering in-person consultations for wedding and engagement rings, as well as custom work, says Tanis. In response to the pandemic, she invested in plastic ring sizers, which she mails to customers so they can size themselves from a safe distance. 

“It’s been challenging and interesting to find new ways to figure out what type of jewelry my customers want if we can’t meet in person,” says Tanis. As a former information technology teacher, she’s familiar with “instructing people through positive, encouraging language and troubleshooting,” she adds.

Tanis is currently working towards a Commerce degree online and in addition to managing the business, she collaborates on design and production with her husband. With a background in information technology, business, and art, the family business is well prepared to tell Boreal Workshop’s story and direct sales online as part of the new normal.

When Boreal Workshop started in 2015, the venture was part-time and sparked by the family’s interests in art, gemmology, and working with metal as a medium. Tanis has grown the business over the years, and while the pandemic has slowed the plan somewhat, it has marked the first year of full-time operation.

“2020 was to be my first year of running Boreal Workshop as a full-time business. The first two quarters were forecast to generate the revenue required to invest in tooling and materials for the holiday season and sales, but COVID happened and threw a wrench into things,” says Tanis.

Luckily, part of her business plan was to sell online.

“I wanted to be able to operate and carry out my business from anywhere with Internet access,” she says.

In 2016, Tanis and her family moved from Winnipeg to a scenic town on the shore of the Winnipeg River in Eastern Manitoba. She says she draws design inspiration from their natural surroundings and her Indigenous culture. 

“I’m Thunderbird Clan which is tied to copper, so naturally copper is a common element in Boreal Workshop designs,” Tanis explains.

Boreal Workshop also produces functional art objects such as ceremonial vessels and regalia. Tanis is a Nehiyaw/Anishinaabe/Metis Kwe (Cree/Ojibway/Metis woman) and a member of Fisher River Cree Nation, while her husband is Canadian of English and French ancestry.

“Boreal Workshop is an Indigenous-owned business, but not everything we create is Indigenous-made or reflected in the design. The collaboration aspect of our designs is important to who our family is and the beauty we want to create and share with our clients,” she says.

Boreal Workshop also makes cuffs, pendants and earrings with precious stones such as garnets, rubies and sapphires. 

While online interactions can be challenging, Tanis says selling online throughout COVID-19 has helped strengthen relationships with her customers.

“I think it’s because we’re all so separated that people want to connect with things that bring happy memories and feelings. And if Boreal Workshop can be part of that, then I’m all for it.” 
Shop Tanis’ hand-made creations at borealworkshop.com or view them on Instagram.

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