ORALEE & SELAH BARRETT
Notes from the North in Stowe, Vermont
Meet Oralee (15) and Selah (17) Barrett, the teenage sibling entrepreneurs behind Notes from the North. Started in March of 2020, their ecommerce site offers farm fresh culinary goods, home wares and body care products sourced from sustainable farmers and makers from all over the world. From their website:
Notes From the North is a Black women owned and operated collective. We share with you the passion and commitment we’ve fostered over the years to organic, sustainable and environmentally responsible values and practices. We’ve traveled over the river and through the woods to discover and celebrate the most special and dedicated artisans and makers. Notes From the North offers curated collections packed in recycled materials with the option to customize with add-ons and à la carte selections.
Oralee and Selah had the idea for Notes from the North for several years before they acted on it. It took a big pre-order nudge from a family friend to launch their business.
"We had been thinking about Notes from the North for years and we just didn’t have the resources to start it. Our dear friend, Vanessa Diserio had been encouraging us to finally make it happen so she ordered 10 boxes from us in March so we had to start."
The Barrett sisters initially started with a few curated boxes filled with culinary delights and have now expanded to offer a myriad of high-quality products from farmers and artisans. Sourcing products and meeting the people who make them is one of the highlights of their business.
"We love meeting all the makers and visiting the farms, orchards and work spaces. Where else can you cuddle with goats and pick the best goat cheeses!"
The entrepreneurial spirit was instilled in Oralee and Selah at a young age. Their mother has always run her own businesses and taught her five children to follow their dreams and create something on their own.
"My mom always encouraged us to do our own work so we can have freedom and choices! She has always worked for herself and we want to follow in that vibration."
While starting an online business during Covid hasn't been easy, they have gained some early traction and begun building a loyal customer base. That said, it hasn't been without its challenges, especially when it comes to being taken seriously as young entrepreneurs.
"The most challenging aspect has been getting the bigger companies to believe in two Black girls coming from a small town in Vermont. Sometimes we have to push and remind people that their Instagram statements don’t align with their practices. We find it very discouraging the small number of Black-owned businesses in Vermont and want to help change that in our own impactful way."
Raised in the Quaker faith, Oralee and Selah (and their three siblings) have been committed to activism and helping others from a very young age. Their mother introduced them to the World Food Program in 2008 and they have been fundraising for the organization ever since. Notes from the North has a philanthropic component built in. They are partnering with Blue Leopard in Zambia to produce face masks, scrunchies, home goods and linens that will be sold on their website. 100% of the profits from these products will go directly to the World Food Organization.
"Our Quaker values and practices have been a guiding light in our lives, we believe that a life of service is the life to live. We definitely seek out makers who align with our values. We carefully consider each addition to our offerings."
The sisters are committed to building a business that makes it easy for people to source ethically made and sustainable products. They are worried about what the future could look like if more isn't done to fix our over consumption and harmful production practices.
"I am so scared for this planet, we cannot glue together the glaciers, we are going down an irreversible road and I just don’t know how we can fix it especially when there are so many people who just don’t believe there is a problem. I love animals so much and it’s just not fair to them!"
Thank you Oralee and Selah for sharing your inspiring story of young rural entrepreneurship with us! We wish you much success with Notes from the North.
ORALEE & SELAH'S FULL INTERVIEW
What do you appreciate more about your community here in Vermont and living in a rural area? We have always lived in a rural community and we love Vermont so so so much. It’s like a dream living here. To be able to live in nature and walk in the woods every single day is a blessing.
Do you grow food or raise animals? We have a small garden and will continue to add to it. Next summer we hope to start canning our vegetables.
How do you go about finding the products you sell? We drive around Vermont and Maine looking in shops. The other day we stopped at a coffee shop in Hardwick, VT and we found the most beautiful baskets from Dirt Floor studios, many times is a serendipitous discovery, which is the best! We also see beautiful things online. Additionally, we get referrals from many of our vendors, it’s been a beautiful thing. We got turned down by one producer and that opened the door to three new amazing makers.
Notes from the North has a philanthropic component - can you talk a little bit about your commitment to food security and equity and how you are working towards that mission as you grow? Since 2008 we have been working with and supporting the United Nations World Food Programme. My mom started us on this journey and it’s been very fulfilling and upsetting at the same time. It’s very painful to know that a child dies of hunger every 10 seconds, but you cannot let the sadness conquer you, we have to keep fighting for these children. We will always fight hunger and create new ways to engage people to solve this problem. How are you able to juggle the demands of high school with running this business with your sister? I am doing a virtual program now so for me it is quite easy, Selah is a senior at Groton so she is away, but we always talk and make sure we share responsibilities the best we can. Do you have dreams of moving to the city when you get older or do you envision yourself staying in the country? We love to visit cities, we appreciate all a city has to offer, especially NYC, but I definitely will remain in the country. I need to live in nature. How have you been weathering this scary and uncertain time? We have been driving around a lot but we don’t go into stores or restaurants at all. We have not able to see our friends so that is very hard but we try to remain positive. What hopes do you have for the future of our country? We hope this country can heal, it’s very very sad now what is going on and it’s not fair. In some ways I am glad it’s all coming out because it has to change. We cannot live in a world where access is granted only to people with money and power. What future plans and goals for the coming year? We want to add cosmetics, jewelry and home goods to our offerings, it’s been hard to get bigger companies on board but we will keep trying! We are very excited to add many more products produced in Zambia by Blue Leopard to benefit WFP. We are working closely with Nora at Blue Leopard to build a very beautiful collection of home goods, linens and scrunchies.