How She Hustles has been bringing Canadian women together for an entire decade, creating a powerful network that has earned them extensive media coverage and a sit-down meeting with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. But that wasn’t the original plan.
“It was an accident. That’s the truth,” says founder, Emily Mills.
In 2010, Mills’ life was completely different than it is today. She wasn’t married and didn’t have kids. She had no plans of becoming an entrepreneur. In fact, she had just started a new job in communications at a non-profit in Toronto and was searching for a community of women who could relate to her experience. But despite multiple events that purported to be about inclusion and women’s empowerment, “I didn’t see women who could relate to my intersectional experience,” she says.
Late one night, Mills posted on Facebook looking to connect with other women who were hustling. The response was immediate and it lead to the first-ever How She Hustles event, bringing together 50 women at Toronto’s Globe Bistro.
“It really started from just wanting a space where I could feel a sense of community and connection and feel more reflected — and 10 years later, I don’t think that’s changed,” says Mills.
How She Hustles has since grown into a network of thousands of women, concentrated in Toronto but reaching as far as the Caribbean, Africa and Europe. Mills has hosted more than 20 events, ranging from an intimate roundtable with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to the celebration with CBC, attended by 400 people honouring the Black women who have impacted Canadian history.
Mills says no matter what occasion, How She Hustles is all about celebrating women from diverse backgrounds and experiences. With the help of her incredible team of freelancers and volunteers, that’s what she hopes to keep doing in the years to come. “We may have different lived experiences, passions and identities, but we also have common threads, wisdom to share and many reasons to come together. How She Hustles will keep making space for these connections.”
How She Hustles is hosting a free 10th anniversary Virtual Celebration with guest speaker Cityline host Tracy Moore, a dance demo with Carnival Spice, music trivia with DJ MelBoogie, a DIY drink lesson and more. RSVP at howshehustles.com/10years.
In anticipation, 10 women share how this network impacted their story.
Tanya Walker, lawyer
Tanya Walker has been part of How She Hustles since it began in 2010, and it’s a network that she holds dear. “As a young, Black female trial lawyer, my industry is primarily filled with older white men. I just don’t see a lot of women period, much less a lot of women who look like me in the field,” she says. For Walker, the How She Hustles network was a source of camaraderie and essential entrepreneurial advice when she set up her law firm.
How She Hustles has also given Walker once-in-a-lifetime opportunities to meet inspirational leaders like Michelle Obama and Justin Trudeau. The latter was particularly memorable because Walker met the prime minister mere days after giving birth to her son.
“I’ll never forget that Emily gave me that opportunity to attend the roundtable with the prime minister. She made it my choice and she didn’t judge me,” says Walker, adding that she lost out on other opportunities by those who assumed she wouldn’t or couldn’t participate in events so soon after having her child. According to Walker, that’s part of what makes Mills and How She Hustles special: “They let decisions become yours and they’re not going to put invisible barriers in front of you.”
Saf Haq and Lisa Brow, owners of Tart & Soul Café
Saf Haq and Lisa Brow almost didn’t apply for How She Hustles’ Startup & Slay digital video series last year. Haq originally worried that their business, Tart & Soul Café, was maybe not “big enough” or “successful enough” to get selected.
Fast forward a few months and not only was this Halifax eatery chosen for the series, sponsored by CIBC and produced in partnership with Futurpreneur Canada and Ryerson University, but it was a game-changing experience they cherished.
“Aside from the fact that we have this amazing and well-crafted video that perfectly encapsulates who we are as Tart & Soul, one of the most incredible parts of Startup & Slay was the people we met through the process and the confidence we now have in our business and what we’ve created,” says Haq.
Throughout filming and interviewing for the series, and later traveling to Toronto to meet the other featured entrepreneurs and attend the Startup & Slay event, what stood out to Haq was how comfortable she felt among the How She Hustles network. “There are few organizations that can balance professionalism and comfort and authenticity so well,” she says. “I have yet to see one that does it as well as How She Hustles.”
Sabine Daniel, TV host and producer
To Sabine Daniel, Emily Mills is a trailblazer who created something that was missing in 2010. “As a French speaking Black woman in Ontario, it was hard to connect with other like-minded women,” says Daniel, an award-winning bilingual TV host and producer. Attending How She Hustles events, Daniel felt at home because she was not only surrounded by a diverse group of women, but women who, like herself, were motivated to create change. She left each event feeling rejuvenated — and wanted others to benefit from these same experiences.
“It’s important when you know something is good for your community or your people to share it,” she says. That’s why Daniel regularly gathers groups of women in Ottawa and carpools to Toronto for How She Hustles events. Even though the commute isn’t easy — when travelling to participate in the HERstory in Black project, it took Daniel 10 hours due to bad weather — she says the destination is always worth it. “It’s the love, it’s the passion, you feel it,” says Daniel, describing the How She Hustles vibe that inspires her and keeps her coming back again and again. “You don’t only see it in Emily, you see it in the team, you see it across the room. That is something that’s so impactful.”
trey anthony, playwright, actor and screenwriter
Playwright and screenwriter trey anthony created her award-winning play and TV series da Kink in my hair out of a need to see her experiences authentically reflected on stage — and that same spirit is evident at How She Hustles events. anthony was first introduced to How She Hustles when she spoke at the Tribute to Our Mothers event in 2016. Seeing Emily’s commitment to diversity and including different voices attracted anthony to the group, and the following year, anthony joined How She Hustles again as one of 150 Black women featured in the digital photo series.
“A lot of times, especially as Black women or women of colour, you don’t get to tell your story or take up space,” says anthony, reflecting on how special the shoot day was. With that in mind, anthony notes it was especially powerful that all the women involved were being recognized for their contribution to Canadian history, “because a lot of times that doesn’t happen.”
Some of the women anthony met through How She Hustles have since helped spread the word about her work, such as her play “How Black Mothers Say I Love You.” Being part of How She Hustles, and specifically an event like HERstory in Black, was an opportunity to connect to a community and be seen. “It was really good to be a part of that and creating history,” says anthony.
Manjula Selvarajah, CBC radio journalist and Tamil Women Rising co-founder
As a journalist with CBC radio, Manjula Selvarajah frequents speaking and networking events in Toronto. “They help me get a sense of the pulse of the city, meet interesting people and some times, if I am lucky, be inspired by an impressive speaker. But time and time again, I would look up at the stage or around me, and not see many women of colour,” says Selvarajah. “At some point, I came across of series of photos from a past How She Hustles event and it was sight to behold. A whole room of people I didn’t see in other places?! So I decided to try one out.”
At her first How She Hustles event in downtown Toronto, Selvarajah was struck by the inclusive atmosphere, where it was easy to meet new people and leave inspired. She’s attended multiple events since, including joining the How She Hustles table for President Barack Obama’s Toronto speaking event in 2019.
“For my work as a journalist, How She Hustles events are a great source of experts for interviews, new voices that reflect different communities in Toronto,” she says. “Personally, it’s a place of comfort and belonging.”
Inspired by How She Hustles, Selvarajah’s co-founded a network for the Canadian Tamil community, Tamil Women Rising, and says Emily Mills and the How She Hustles team have supported her with everything from finding speakers to providing advice. That’s why How She Hustles means so much to her; it is “in turns a cheering squad, a group of commiserators, a family and a party of friends.”
Amanda Hamer, owner of EdibleBliss11
How She Hustles helped Amanda Hamer get the encouragement she needed to turn her side hustle of cooking and catering, into her main hustle.
“I remember thinking years ago that being my own boss would be so stressful. I didn’t know where to start or what to do,” says Hamer. “Going to the How She Hustles events and getting insights from this phenomenal group of women who have done it, or were going through it, or were about to embark on being an entrepreneur themselves gave me the courage to say that I can do it too!”
Hamer was featured in How She Hustle’s all-female pop up shop in November 2015. In 2018, she made her catering company EdibleBliss11 her full-time job and last year, she provided desserts for the How She Hustles roundtable event with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
It’s been a journey, and Hamer says that that’s what How She Hustles is all about. “To me, How She Hustles symbolizes that we are all a work in progress. That there is no timeline for great success. That there are many stages to a hustle. And it does not matter how we get there, as long as we continue to elevate and become better versions of ourselves.”
Natasha ‘Courage’ Bacchus, Deaf artist, athlete and model
Natasha (Courage) Bacchus is no stranger to being in front of a crowd. As a Deaflympics track star, she was a regular on the podium and now, Bacchus is using her talents to bridge the gap between the Deaf and hearing communities. That’s what brought her to How She Hustles, as a speaker at the 2019 Summer Social. “I wanted to see how my community could be involved [in How She Hustles] and how I could empower Deaf women,” says Bacchus, noting that she was pleased with how accessible the How She Hustles event was and that it was “a really good experience.”
On stage, Bacchus shared her story, with the help of American Sign Language interpreters, in the hopes that attendees would start thinking how to be more inclusive of the Deaf community. For instance, she explained that ASL is her first language, so having accessibility to ASL interpreters, rather than closed captioning, is essential.
“Emily basically opened a door for me, so I can see things and experience things that are very interesting, that I had no exposure to before,” says Bacchus. In turn, she hopes to help How She Hustles become more inclusive of the Deaf community, so “we’ll be able to bridge this more.”
Nina Zetchus, owner of Luna Float
When Nina Zetchus found out that she had been selected as one of the entrepreneurs being featured in How She Hustles Startup & Slay, she thought she was dreaming. It turned out to be a dream come true.
“Participating in How She Hustles’ Startup & Slay project was an amazing, surreal, opportunity that I will not soon forget,” says Zetchus, indegenous entrepreneur and founder of therapeutic floating business, Luna Float, in Chilliwack, B.C. “It was empowering, and uplifting and truly perfect timing – to be seen by these strong, successful business women. They heard me and they amplified my story.”
Zetchus was one of six business owners highlighted by the digital video series sponsored by CIBC and produced in partnership with Futurpreneur Canada and Ryerson University. Though the companies featured ranged from a Halifax bakery and to a Toronto fashion boutique, Zetchus found “many levels of understanding and shared experience” among her fellow honourees.
The experience not only provided her with the opportunity to meet and network with entrepreneurs across Canada, but also helped her overcome her “imposter syndrome” and boost her confidence. “Putting myself out of my comfort zone, speaking authentically about my experiences was a hugely cathartic process and I feel like the whole trip made me a better entrepreneur and I grew as an individual,” she says.
Startup & Slay took place last year, but How She Hustles is still a source of inspiration for Zetchus. “I think back to this event when I need to re-energize and remind myself that I AM a bad ass business owner and I can do amazing things!”
Hedy Afsharian, director of business banking, CIBC
To Hedy Afsharian, How She Hustles is all about “unity in diversity.” Afsharian, the director of business banking at CIBC, attended the Startup & Slay event hosted at CIBC’s Toronto office in 2019. “The stories of courage and positivity of the group really resonated with me as someone who works to support female entrepreneurs,” says Afsharian.
Afsharian says partnering with How She Hustles was a natural fit, because CIBC has common goals of helping to foster and support diverse small businesses. “What made the Startup & Slay digital series so special is that it told the unique experiences of diverse entrepreneurs scaling their businesses – a perspective and voice that is not often heard in the startup ecosystem,” says Afsharian.
She adds that it has been particularly inspiring to see How She Hustles stand by its community, even during the COVID-19 pandemic and quarantine. “Through the use of digital platforms to host this series, How She Hustles is leading by example that female business owners are innovating when in-person connection is not possible.” Afsharian was one of the featured speakers for the network’s Virtual Series in March.
Eva Wong, co-founder and COO of Borrowell
Sometimes networking events can seem superficial, but Eva Wong says “that definitely wasn’t the case with How She Hustles.” After meeting Emily Mills during a panel discussion for Lean In Canada, Wong was invited to speak at the inaugural Startup & Slay event in 2018 . “With a title like that, it was hard to turn down!” says Wong, who shared expertise alongside entrepreneurs like She Native’s Devon Fiddler and Kiana ‘Rookz’ Eastmond of Sandbox Studios.
At Startup & Slay, Wong says the level of openness, sharing and engagement from fellow speakers and attendees felt “revolutionary,” and really showed the impact of this network.
“How She Hustles is such an important movement because it’s made entrepreneurship accessible and achievable to a more diverse group of people,” says Wong. “So often, we need to ‘See it to be it.’ How She Hustles gives a platform, voice and support to entrepreneurs from historically underrepresented groups. And we need more diverse entrepreneurs because they’re going to be building the world we all live in!”