A local woman-owned and run business is selling eco-friendly hair bars (even pet shampoo!) and growing its audience with a nationwide pitch contest.
Over the past two years, Vanessa Marshall has learned the meaning of “follow your heart,” and it’s paying off in ways she never imagined. From expanding a woman-owned and run beauty and wellness business (launched during the pandemic, no less) to participating in Pow Wow Pitch (which supports Indigenous entrepreneurship), the Edmontonian 49-year-old is thriving.
An avid risk-taker, Marshall didn’t always dream of starting her own business. Growing up in northern Alberta in a business-minded Métis family, Marshall’s life took a different path, raising two children and working as a dental assistant. Although she’s been doing this for decades, the feisty Marshall says she wanted to be happier.
“I know life is short and I knew I didn’t want to be chained to a desk,” said Marshall, whose company Jack59 is growing through online and retail sales across the country. “Starting in a basement kitchen in 2015, with no packaging for our products, was a huge learning curve. But I know what I do well: product creation, networking, innovation, and I also recognize the strengths of others. . I have an amazing team of women who are growing the business with me.”
Jack59 (named by Marshall’s daughter for the stray dog she discovered when the family lived in Faust, Alberta) includes a line of plastic, sulfate, and silicone-free hair products (even vegan and gluten-free options) that are all focused on sustainability. Since its inception, Jack59 has kept over 500,000 plastic bottles out of the landfill.
There are 11 varieties of shampoo and conditioner bars for every hair type, as well as dry shampoos, leave-in conditioners, a shaving/body wash bar for men, and a detangling bar for kids. A dog shampoo bar, Marshall says, is “going crazy” with pet owners.
Marshall’s operations team, which includes her sister Cynthia (COO) and right-winger Dorothy Goodale, is becoming a force among women entrepreneurs, advocating (and leading by example) for fair wages (for a workforce of 13 women) and using the environment and socially responsible ingredients to create products and packaging. In addition, all staff have a say in business decisions and participate in weekly meetings.
“Instead of being competitive, we network – we do things differently. And we uplift those whose lives we impact,” she said. “It is paramount for me to stay true to my integrity.”
And now, Jack59’s efforts are going even further to include a scholarship for Indigenous youth undertaking post-secondary environmental studies, which Marshall says will help “bridge the gap for rural Indigenous youth moving to urban areas.” .
Marshall says Pow Wow Pitch (powwowpitch.org) creates wonderful networking opportunities with other Indigenous women entrepreneurs, whether she wins or loses. But her run with the organization so far is impressive, reaching the semi-finals in the mainstream beauty and wellness category. Of 2,400 applicants across the entire pitch program this year, less than 100 advanced, sharing their products and vision in one-minute recorded pitches for a panel of judges.
“There’s a reader’s choice portion, with voting open until September 19,” she said. “There are cash prizes, which would be great, but the real benefit is engaging with other Indigenous entrepreneurs.”
Jack59 has production and retail space in south Edmonton and participates in pop-up events and regular spots at farmers markets (Old Strathcona, Bountiful). You’ll find Jack59 at the Butterdome Christmas sale and in stores like Healthy Planet and Hudson Bay Co. too.
“We achieved over $1 million in sales in 2021 and also aim to break into the US market soon,” Marshall said, noting that the products are now available on amazon.ca and jack59hairco.com. “It sounds like a big responsibility, but we’re confident in the brand and the timing. Our products are great for travel (bars aren’t restricted the same way liquids are at airports) and are an easy change for those who want to reduce their carbon footprint.”
Visit powwowpitch.org to vote for Reader’s Choice and learn more about Jack59.