Build Your Business:

True to its Roots

Sarah Erasmus, co-founder of Erasmus Apparel, began her business in a living room, where T-shirts were designed and then sold from her car. Photo provided by Pat Kane Photo.

April 6, 2015

Yellowknife, Northwest Territorries — a town with a population of 20,000 situated on the North shore of Canada’s Great Slave Lake — is home to more than picturesque views and the Northern Lights. Sarah Erasmus, co-founder of Erasmus Apparel (EA), has made her dreams come true there, creating apparel for residents and visitors alike.

One-of-a-kind clothing that filled a niche for true Northerners was Erasmus’ objective. With co-owners Shannon and Warren McLeod, Erasmus’ aunt and uncle, that goal is being realized. “I absolutely love T-shirts,” Erasmus says.

“There was a niche missing in the North. Northerners are proud people who praise the unknown Arctic as one of the best places to live. We wanted to create clothing that represented that sense of pride people boast about.”

The business began in a living room, where the T-shirts were designed, and then sold from Erasmus’ car. The purchase of a manual M&R screen-printing press and the move into a garage happened quickly, followed by another move into a 1,000-square-foot house in downtown Yellowknife. EA’s first order was for 174 T-shirts four years ago. Since then, the company has sold more than 40,000 items.

EA has twice earned a local People’s Choice award, as well as the award for Best Aboriginal Economic Developer of the Year. The company prides itself on being a community-minded business, giving back to the city in any way possible. In only four years, it has donated more than $8,000 to organizations like KidSport, the Stanton Foundation, local athletes, and has made hundreds of donations in the forms of clothing and merchandise.

EA employs six people, adding part-time help during the summer months. Erasmus also functions as manager, while Shannon McLeod handles finance. Bryce Styan is production manager; Taylor Soloy handles sales; Allister McCreadie is in charge of production; and Mike Auge is assistant manager.

The shop includes a small storefront and a production/storage area in the back. EA operates a six-color M&R manual press; a singlehead Tajima embroidery machine for smaller jobs, hats and toques; and a heat press for those one-off shirt orders, as well as jersey names and numbers.

As a true sign of growth, EA soon will  purchase a direct-to-garment (DTG) machine to expand business. “We want to buy a DTG [printer] because of its capabilities,” Erasmus says. “It’s the latest and greatest thing out there, and it is right up our alley. This is within our range of what we can and want to put out in a day. And being able to do that in-house is big for us.”

Erasmus says DTG capabilities will result in continued business growth and expansion regardless of how long it takes the shop to see a return on its investment. “We don’t see a problem with keeping it busy,” she says.

Erasmus says the shop’s clients include a lot of locals, tourists and people sending gifts, and orders vary from five to more than 1,000 pieces. Depending on the size, orders can be delivered in a time range of just a few days to up to four weeks.

“The majority of the customers come to us because they like our style of design,” Erasmus says. “What sets us apart from other companies is that we connect with our customers and we are willing to work with them to find the best design and product just for them. Our new, unique eye and touch are what people want.”

The EA team stays busy creating new designs and finding different types of merchandise on which to embellish them.

“Yellowknife was founded on gold mines, and a lot of our designs reflect that history and seem to connect with the residents,” she says. “The stuff you find here is not your average tourist stuff. Customers come back again and again because they wear it all the time, and want and need more of it.”

As an aboriginal company, EA focuses on green initiatives at every turn, following the rule of the three Rs: reduce, reuse and recycle.

“At times it’s difficult to be as green as we’d like in an isolated place like Yellowknife, but we try to do anything we can to be green,” Erasmus says. “We don’t have paper/plastic bags in our store — only reusable bags for sale to help reduce waste. We minimize the packaging as much as possible on any orders that need to be shipped, and also try to reuse the packaging that we have received.”

Erasmus says social media is huge for the company. “Our main audience is found online via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and our online store,,” she says. “The fastest way to connect with our following is through Facebook, but Instagram also is a favorite of mine to use.”

The online store still is new and sales in that domain have been a little slow. Erasmus says most of the company’s online sales have been to friends, or those who know about EA and buy its products but no longer live in Yellowknife. The online business is expected to grow as more people become aware of EA’s online-ordering capability, and as the company makes more products available through its website. 

“As more Southerners order our products online, we will get more exposure, leading to even more orders and growth,” Erasmus says.

Staying ahead in the game of business takes thought and preparation. “There’s always that worry in business [that] you aren’t going to have customers or a daily income,” Erasmus says. “When those times arise, we start to push on social media that we are still here; assure we are coming out with new stuff; have set sales; and launch new things when we know it’s going to be a quieter time.”

The DTG machine purchase and moving into a bigger space are the next steps for EA. Erasmus says these new developments, in addition to the company’s existing production capabilities and services, will keep it positioned for success.

“There is no secret formula for succeeding in business; it takes hard work, long hours, and a willingness to take chances and make mistakes,” she says. “Being a small, aboriginal company, odds were against EA succeeding. We took it as a challenge, and a way to forge a path and make a difference. Dreams are meant to come alive, and this is exactly what Erasmus Apparel is doing.”

Jennifer A. Morrell is an award-winning writer who has written for a number of national consumer and trade publications. For more information or to comment on this article, email Jennifer at  

Erasmus Apparel At A Glance

Company Name: Erasmus Apparel Ltd.
Address: P.O. Box 2102 Yellowknife, NT, Canada  X1A 2P6
Year Founded: 2011
No. of Employees: 6 full-time (plus seasonal help)
Decorating Methods Offered: embroidery, screen printing, direct-to-garment printing
Company Website: