There’s a new mask maker in town. Invermere entrepreneur Sue-Rose Read recently pivoted her Oneberrie business of baby bath-time products to now include a line of reusable adult-use masks. “Being small has its advantages,” said Read who moved her business into a new space beside Invermere’s Backdoor Wine Cellar earlier this summer. “It allows us to be nimble and proactive to respond to the changing needs of our customers. With the onset of COVID-19, pivoting to fill a gap of quality mask production went a long way to sustaining my business through this challenging time.”
Oneberrie masks have an inner and outer layer made with a viscose bamboo spandex terry and cotton flannel materials respectively. “There was a steep curve this spring to redirect my team’s efforts toward sewing masks, but we were ready for it, had the inventory, and pounced on the opportunity,” said Read. Oneberrie began selling masks in March. Most businesses who pivoted didn’t launch their lines until May.
Read started Oneberrie seven years ago while on maternity leave as a hobby. “I was looking to do something and get busy,” she said. “While I was bathing my four month old, I just knew there had to be a better way.” As anyone who has bathed a baby knows, it is a slippery, hot-potato like juggling act fraught with safety risk. “At the time, one directional aprons did exist, but not good enough for what I needed.” said Read, a P. Eng-designated engineer by training. Before taking the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship, she worked in Alberta’s oil and gas sector in sales and reservoir engineering roles. Eight years ago, she met her husband, local entrepreneur David Read of Valley Hawk Security, moved to the Columbia Valley and started a family. The Reads now have three children together aged 7, 5, and 2.
“I always had side hustles and ideas for businesses and with Oneberrie, finally I had one that stuck,” she said. Oneberrie now offers towels, robes, accessories, and is soon adding a ladies collection. “[Oneberrie] is still a single director company. The ethos is to empower women, give them financial freedom and flexible work options. All of my seamstresses are women and I also aim for Oneberrie to be a minimal waste manufacturing business.”
Read’s business was quickly gaining momentum before the pandemic hit. She received U.S. and Canada patents for her Hands Free towel innovation, and inked national retail deals for her products in retailers such as Indigo, and West Coast Kids. Independent boutiques across Canada carry Oneberrie products. “I was fortunate to be accepted in Canada’s Futurpreneur program,” she said of Oneberrie’s impressive growth trajectory. “Futurpreneur provides really great resources such as cash flow management spreadsheets, business planning tools, and they also matched us with more experienced entrepreneurs willing to provide their mentorship.”
How big is the market she’s chasing? In 2018, close to 400,000 babies were born in Canada,” said Read. “On average, parents purchase or receive four towels per baby. My goal is for Oneberrie to be one of those four towels.” She also has her sights set on the U.S. “Obtaining the U.S. Patent for Oneberrie is a huge step in the right direction for gaining access to that market,” she said.
There’s a Tony Robbins quote Read is particularly fond of. “It’s not the lack of resources, it’s your lack of resourcefulness” Recently, FedEx Canada announced the recipients of the company’s #SupportSmall grant initiative, a program that awards $5,000 to 30 Canadian small businesses affected by COVID-19. Of the 30 winners – 15 small businesses are based in Ontario, six in BC, four from Alberta, three in Quebec, and two from New Brunswick. Oneberrie was one of the recipients. “The financial support is great, but the marketing FedEx provided my business by announcing the winners was even better,” said Read. “They did a sponsored social media campaign that featured my business.”
“Over the last four months, we’ve seen the habits of Canadians and consumers more broadly shift and evolve,” said Lisa Lisson, president of FedEx Express Canada. “To keep up with the rapidly changing situation, small business owners across Canada have had to digitize overnight – building new and expanding existing e-commerce platforms in order to both survive and also satisfy evolving consumer shopping preferences. We are proud to do our part and provide some additional support to a few of the many deserving businesses across the country as part of our #SupportSmall program.”
Read has also received generous support from the Columbia Basin Trust’s School Works Program. The program provides wage subsidies to employers to help them hire full-time students on a part-time basis throughout the school year. It’s meant to provide opportunities for students to gain career-related work experience in the basin. “I applied and got it,” said Read. “Now I’m hiring for a 35-week local student intern to help with marketing.”
While Canadian businesses at large have been fortunate to be on the receiving end of federal wage subsidy programs, small, entrepreneurial outfits such as Oneberrie sometimes don’t fit their criteria. “The support of FedEx and the Columbia Basin Trust (CBT) have been huge for me because my business is at a phase where it can be difficult to receive more traditional support from the government,” said Read. Oneberrie seamstresses are in both Invermere and Pincher Creek, Alberta.
“It takes a tonne of stress off my shoulders, it keeps my seamstresses working, and lets me think about what I can do to grow my business here in Invermere. I feel so blessed to call this valley home,” said Read.