Western entrepreneurs are in full swing for the holiday season. Shop purple this year by supporting businesses run by Western students, faculty and alumni.
From soaps to candles to chocolates, they have the perfect offerings for everyone on your list.
Western News has compiled a holiday gift guide with ideas for every age and stage to make your shopping easy this season.
These Western students are balancing academics with entrepreneurial journeys, learning how to run small businesses while also concentrating on their studies. Many are aided by the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship, Powered by Ivey, which offers resources, programs and training for founders and those looking to take a business to the next level.
For the loved one on your list who has everything, NatureGemz by Megan Brown delivers just the answer – a handmade makeup bag to keep your favourite products safe while you travel or visit the gym. Complete with a zip-top and with designs to suit a range of different personalities, the handmade bags can be used in a whole host of ways, from a pencil case to keeping small items organized in the depths of your purse.
Brown, a second-year student in the media, information and technoculture (MIT) program at Western, sews the products with some help from her grandmother – they each produce half her inventory – in a variety of fun and eye-catching prints. She sources the material from specialty fabric shops and on Etsy.
“I love the creativity,” Brown said. “It’s fun to design stuff.”
Brown has been running her business for four years, starting with jewelry before she moved into makeup bags earlier this year. She’s part of Morrissette’s Founders Program, which provides mentorship, education and resources for entrepreneurs on campus.
She’s even built a TikTok following of more than 200,000 showcasing her product with funny videos and clips that detail the sewing process.
Brown also wants to focus on sustainability, donating a portion of her proceeds to plant trees.
Nicholas Tibollo started his business creating hand-poured, coconut-soy wax candles in his parents’ kitchen as part of a high school class project.
“My mom wasn’t the biggest fan. I ended up getting wax everywhere and she said ‘no more,’” Tibollo recalled.
This fall, he’s producing the perfect holiday candle that smells of gingerbread and cinnamon spice to sell for the London Bridges community service club at Western, with which he volunteers as vice-president of events. Proceeds from the ‘Give and Give Back’ effort will go to the London Food Bank.
Last year, Tibollo and the club raised almost $1,000 for charity at the Morrissette winter holiday market.
“We sold out all the candles in last year’s holiday candle fundraiser. I was able to go down to the food bank and see the massive line at 1 p.m. in the afternoon. I see myself as extremely fortunate, not just getting a great education at Western, but having food on my plate every morning. I had the feeling that I had to give back,” he said.
The third-year political science and first-year HBA student at Western now runs Ethereal Actions out of a small Toronto kitchen. He’s a one-man show, pouring the candles, designing the labels and marketing his business. A family friend helped teach him tricks of the trade.
“I’ve always loved candles and had an interest in arts and crafts,” Tibollo said.
Xinyue Zhang designs press-on nails for every mood, from glamorous glitter sets to specialty pop culture characters. Moodswings Nails are secured by her specially developed adhesive. The strong stickers make each set of nails reusable and safe, preventing the kind of damage that can be typical after frequent salon nail sets.
“I’m a crazy nail lover. Ever since high school I’d been going to the salon to get a refill every two to three weeks. Then COVID-19 hit, and I realized how much money was being spent,” she said.
Zhang is close to graduating from her accounting program, finishing her final class this term, and dedicating most of her time to growing her business through Morrissette. Part of the intensive Western Accelerator program, Zhang said the support and resources have helped her learn how to pitch and plan for the future.
She described the intensive, daily program as a “smaller MBA,” with crucial learnings and connections. She’s sold more than 1,000 nail sets since she started the business.
“Before, I was just exploring; it wasn’t as professional,” Zhang said.
“At first, I didn’t even make back my vendor fee (when selling at markets). Now I have experience and way more designs.”
She recently had one of her very first customers return to replace one of the nails in a 10-piece set. The reusable nature means the sets can last through many uses. It also makes nail art accessible to food workers and others who work in industries where nail polish is not allowed, or those who have never tried press-on or artificial nails before, Zhang said.
“What I’m trying to do is not take from an existing market, but open up a whole new market.”
From faculty members to alumni, here are some perfect holiday presents produced by members of the Western community that are versatile and easy to gift to almost anyone in your life. Check out the alumni gift directory for even more ideas and some exclusive discounts!
Omi & Cookie
Are you looking for a luxurious self-care product that’s also good for the environment? You won’t have to look any further than Omi & Cookie, the “guilt-free luxury” brand of soaps built on sea minerals and shipped without plastic.
The company was co-founded by Wayne Downes and Dr. Michelle Welch, a professor in the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, after a cancer diagnosis prompted her to re-examine all the products in her home. The luxury soaps come in a wide range of scents and each bar is free from parabens, petroleum and palm oil. Omi & Cookie is part of Morrissette’s four-month intensive Western Accelerator program to help develop the business. These beautiful products make the perfect gift – who doesn’t need soap and a dose of self-care?
It’s easy to create restaurant and bar-quality cocktails and mocktails with premium products from Symply Syrups.
Even better, both founders are Western grads! Colten Roberts and Andrew Gray worked at a Richmond Row bar while studying at Western, jobs that prompted their love of mixology. Now the duo is bringing the art of the cocktail across the country, offering flavours like citrus, cinnamon and basil.
Rheo Thompson Candies
These smooth, mint chocolate truffles are a holiday classic. Rheo Thompson is a Southwestern Ontario staple, serving up all kinds of chocolate beyond their famous mint smoothies.
Established in 1969, the iconic brand based in Stratford, Ont. was purchased by Kristene Steed, BA’94, and Marc Johnstone in 2003. Its headquarters is known to draw crowds during peak chocolate seasons. You can order boxes and gift packages of all sizes online. You’ll never regret gifting these luscious chocolates.
OUT AND ABOUT IN LONDON
Western grads are all over the city running wonderful shops and offering gift cards or certificates for that person on your list who hasn’t asked for anything! No one can resist a visit to a new café or free breakfast downtown.
Owned by Jeremy Glied-Beliak, BA’21, this bagel shop offers food and beverages for any time of day, with late-night hours until 2:30 a.m. Thursday through Saturday. The mission at Buzz Bagels is all about forming community, welcoming people from all walks of life and offering a cozy home away from home. The bagels are vegan and they also offer gluten-free treats. The downtown location can’t be beat, on Dundas Street right at the corner of Richmond Street.
This neighbourhood hub is a great stop for quality coffee and other hot and cold drinks, baked goods and a dose of connection. The business is owned by two alumni. Richie Bloomfield, HBA’14, MBA’20, and Mano Majumdar, MBA’16, keep this comfy café running on direct-trade coffee, inventive snacks – think bagel bombs and vegan cream cheese – and conversation. The coffee shop has two locations, one in the quirky Wortley Village, and the other in the downtown core on King Street.
Winter Holiday Market
Morrissette is hosting its holiday winter market in the University Community Centre on Dec. 6 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Find many of the businesses from this guide, as well as other entrepreneurs, selling handmade items or products perfect for gifting this holiday season. Support hard-working Western business owners by perusing the market – we know you’ll find some treasures to take home.
Need a toque or a bucket hat? The perfect stocking stuffers for mom and dad? Head to the Western Bookstore. There’s even a holiday guide to help you out. Outfit your biggest supporters in “Western mom” shirts or sweaters and find hats, mittens and all sorts of attractive and warm seasonal items. There’s an endless supply of merchandise to help embrace your Western pride – everything from hoodies to teddy bears to hats – and you can even buy online if you’re not on campus.