Emma Teal and Claire grew up on a homestead in the Aleutian Islands of Alaska and have worked on their family’s commercial fishing boat in the Bering Sea since they were kids. What started as a way to fill the long winter off-season, the sisters' quickly realized there was a strong demand for products that represented the fisherman community. Read about who the Salmon Sisters are and why they started their business, what does community mean for them and how they are constantly inspired by their surroundings.
"We are endlessly inspired by our workplace - the sea, wilderness of Alaska, and our heritage as fishermen. We make designs of the fish we catch, the plants we harvest, the animals that we live alongside, and traditions we celebrate as a fishing community."
Who are the Salmon Sisters?
Our names are Emma and Claire. We are sisters who grew up commercial fishing in Alaska. We were raised on a remote homestead in the Aleutian Islands and have fished for salmon and halibut on our family’s boats every summer since we were kids. During college we started our company Salmon Sisters, a clothing and seafood brand that celebrates our lifestyle as fishermen and the sustainable fisheries of the North Pacific. We still spend our summers on the water fishing with our family in Prince William Sound and the Bering Sea and run our business year-round from Alaska.
What does a day in the life on the boat look like?
We wake up at 5, pick the anchor, check the weather and look for fish. We set our net, haul it back, pick the fish out of the net, and repeat - all day - until we deliver our fish at night to a tender boat that takes them to land. We are usually finished for the day around 11pm or midnight. Throughout the day we take turns making meals in the galley, make sure we stay active with backdeck workouts and stretching, and keep the coffee pot full for our dad, the captain.
What does it mean to be a fisherwoman?
We are proud to be women in Alaska’s commercial fishing industry. We are definitely outnumbered by men, but our contributions are mighty. There is a strong group of ladies running boats, skiffs, being superstar crew and raising families out on the water. Girls who grow up in fishing families do the same work the boys do, so we don’t think of ourselves much differently - it’s just fun to have a strong community to work alongside and great female role models in the fleet.
How did Salmon Sisters start?
We’ve always had complementary skills and our family has always worked together on the boat, so it was a natural fit to start a business together. Claire studied business in college and I studied art and design, and after graduating we wanted to find a way to keep fishing in the summers which meant we needed to find something flexible enough to allow us to be at sea for 4 months of the year. We started screen printing fish designs on shirts, designs inspired by the creatures we caught while working on the water, and eventually opened an Etsy shop, which grew into a fully-fledged e-commerce site and wholesale business.
How are your designs inspired by the ocean and fishing?
We are endlessly inspired by our workplace - the sea, wilderness of Alaska, and our heritage as fishermen. We make designs of the fish we catch, the plants we harvest, the animals that we live alongside, and traditions we celebrate as a fishing community. Our way of life as fishermen is unique because our work is a lifestyle. It runs in our blood. Even in the months we’re not fishing, we’re thinking about fishing or planning for fishing or working on our boats or nets or getting involved in conservation or legislation. Our clothing gives fishermen something to wear that represents this unique way of life, that they can be proud of.
What is the biggest challenge of owning our business?
Our biggest challenge is running our business while we’re fishing for 4 months of the year. A lot of the time we fish where there is no cell service or WiFi, so communication with our team can be challenging sometimes. Luckily, we have amazing on-shore support who understand that fishing is what we live for and inspires our business year-round, which allows us to be present on the water and think about catching fish.
What does giving back mean to you? How does Salmon Sisters give back?
For every product we sell, we donate a can of Wild Alaska salmon to the Food Bank of Alaska. The salmon is caught by our community of fishermen and helps feed delicious and healthy superfood to those who need it most. We try to get wild salmon in the hands and mouths of as many people as possible, and our Give Fish Project has been doing just that. We have donated over 85,000 cans over the past two years, which are dispersed to communities throughout Alaska.
Growing up in a small community, what does community mean to you?
Our fishing community shares a common language. Knowledge of the tides, the weather, the salmon’s life cycle, how to tie knots, fillet fish, and craft good stories. Our community passes down this knowledge to the younger generations who learn it and use it proudly. Community has always been about harvest and heritage for us. We come together to catch fish, and we come together to eat them. We gather wild blueberries together in the summer and we bake them into pies to enjoy together in the wintertime. Community is sharing, respecting, and having gratitude for the wild abundance of Alaska.
What does the future hold for Salmon Sisters?
Emma just finished her Master’s in Design from the University of Washington, and is excited to focus her energy on making exceptional products for life at sea. We opened two shops this summer in Alaska - in Homer and Seward - and we’re excited to keep working on designing that experience for our customers. We teamed up with Wylder Goods this fall on a field trip to Alaska to give people a taste of our home - we will be exploring the local ecology, hiking, fishing and learning about marine conservation.
Why did Salmon Sisters choose to partner with MiiR?
While in grad school, Emma often worked at the MiiR Flagship and got to know the brand by experiencing the space, the people who worked there, and all the happy customers wandering in and out. We were really drawn to MiiR as a company because of the way it gives back, the clean water projects the business supports and the clean, functional, beautiful products it makes. The products suit our lifestyle fishing, especially the insulated food canisters and drinkware. They have been the perfect addition to our product line and we look forward to growing together.