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Sisters not afraid to rewrite the rules of business

Introducing Kim Sedgwick, the co-owner ofRed Tent Sisters, online resource for info and education about natural birth control, women's health and sexuality.

This is the latest entry in a series called Who Owns That? We ask readers on our LinkedIn group to identify their favourite small businesses from across Canada, and we track down the owners so they can tell us their stories.

Introducing Kim Sedgwick, the co-owner of Red Tent Sisters, an online resource for information and education about natural birth control, women's health and sexuality.

1. Let's start with the basics. Can you briefly describe your business, including when it was founded, what it does, and where you operate?

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If you were to walk into the Red Tent Sisters' office today, you'd find a giant plush uterus cushion, a vulva puppet, and a poster that reads "Good Vibes Only." These three objects sum up the essence of Red Tent Sisters – cozy, playful, and educational. We opened Red Tent Sisters in 2007. Back then it was a brick and mortar store at Pape and Danforth (in Toronto) where we offered everything from baby sign language classes to fertility yoga, as well as sex toys, menstrual cups, and books. Over the years we've narrowed our focus and moved fully online, but our philosophy remains the same – to offer a safe space for women to come together to share their stories and talk about the things we're not supposed to talk about. Now we primarily offer online programs on natural birth control, holistic fertility, and sexual empowerment, as well as eco-friendly products through our online store,

2. What inspired you to be an entrepreneur and to branch out on your own with this idea?

The idea for Red Tent Sisters came when Amy had a horrible experience with the birth control pill. To make a long story short, it prevented her from being able to breastfeed her daughter and she went in search of a natural alternative. Around this time, Kim happened to be at a Women's Studies conference where she learned about the Justisse Method of Fertility Management, which she thought might be of help. Her experience learning how to chart her cycle using the Justisse Method was so powerful she decided to become a certified holistic reproductive health practitioner in order to help other women gain the health benefits of natural cycling. Kim had long been the "go to" resource for sex advice among her friends and had worked retail most of her life.

One day we got chatting and realized our passions had a lot of crossover. We started daydreaming about the kind of place that would support women through the different phases of womanhood and help them avoid some of the pitfalls we had experienced in our own lives. We've always been very close as sisters and were excited by the prospect of spending even more time together.

3. Who are your typical customers, and how do they find you?

When we had our Danforth storefront, many of our customers were folks from the neighbourhood – mostly women and couples, but we'd also get men coming in on their own to shop for their partners or friends. There were also those who would go out of their way to visit our shop after seeing us on TV or reading about us in the newspaper. Someone once told Kim she talks about vibrators like she's talking about a toothbrush, so we also became a destination for those who might not be comfortable shopping at a traditional sex shop.

Since Red Tent Sisters moved fully online our customers now include women from around the world. Many of them find us through our blog, Facebook and YouTube channel, while others continue to find us through references to our work in print and online media. We're also fortunate to have a number of devoted fans who enjoy talking us up, so many of our customers and clients come through word of mouth.

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4. What is your role in the business? Do you have any employees?

When you're an entrepreneur you end up wearing a lot of hats. We're lucky that while we share many of the same passions – we both love writing, teaching, and making stuff look pretty – we each have our own strengths, too. Amy is a big picture planner who's never happier than when she's surrounded by giant charts of colour-coded goals while Kim is more of a details, nose-to-the-grindstone kind of lady. We take turns doing the 'less fun tasks' and often swap with each other if we get stuck on something.

When it comes to private clients, our work naturally divides itself according to our areas of expertise – with Kim providing sexual education and coaching, and Amy offering instruction and counselling to women seeking natural fertility support. Right now we have three amazing women working for us – a holistic nutritionist who offers counselling to members of our eco-contraception program, a client care sister who manages day-to-day client services, and a media sister who provides tech support for our Youtube channel. We often have interns who need work experience as part of a specific training program, or who are looking for mentorship as they begin their own entrepreneurial journey. We've learned a ton about business in the past seven years and enjoy the reciprocity inherent in these arrangements. It definitely feels like a "Red Tent" approach to running a business.

5. You've been identified by one of our readers as a standout business. What do you consider the key element of your success?

We'd have to say our authenticity. We're honest to a fault (we've been known to talk customers out of buying something we suspect they don't actually need) and only offer products and programs we truly believe in. We're also not afraid to be vulnerable and share our most intimate and painful life experiences. For women who don't have that honest-yet-loving-sisterly-vibe in their lives, we provide that.

Whether it's sharing embarrassingly candid photos with our community, collaborating with our "competitors," or adapting the 9-to-5 schedule to suit our natural rhythms, we're not afraid to be ourselves and rewrite the rules about how you're "supposed" to run a business.

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