Emma and Claire Laukitis are two Alaskan-bred sisters who had anything but a traditional upbringing. Growing up in the westernmost part of North America, these two sisters spent their summers on commercial fishing boats in the Bering Sea and winters living on a homestead on the Aleutian Islands of Alaska.
They decided to launch their business, Salmon Sisters, in order to promote the role of wild sustainable seafood in our food chain. Salmon Sisters is a two front business that sells both original designs inspired by the wilderness of Alaska and the sustainable fisheries of the North Pacific, as well as freshly caught and easy to prepare seafood boxes such as Halibut and Sockeye Salmon boxes.
Between successfully working together as sisters who emphasize each others strengths and balancing their lives full of fishing, apparel design and running a business, the Salmon Sisters perfectly embody what it means to be an Achiever. I had the wonderful opportunity to be able to interview Emma and Claire about what it means to make your dreams a reality in the business world and also what it’s like to take on such a large endeavor with a family member.
Darling Magazine: The first question on everyone’s mind is what was it like growing up on a homestead on the Aleutian Islands, off the western coast of Alaska?
Emma and Claire: Our upbringing was wild. Wild, in the sense that brown bears walked the tundra around our homestead, food came from our salmon nets, the beach at low tide, berry bushes, and our greenhouse. Wild, because our home was situated amongst the Pacific Ring of Fire and upon the Bering Sea, near a small Aleut village but far from any city or grocery store or hospital. And wild, because of the pristine wilderness and abundance of the Aleutian Islands that supported our family and allowed us to make a living from the land. We were constantly working together year-round to catch and grow our food, keep our homestead maintained, and to stay safe and thriving despite the unpredictability of the often harsh weather and natural cycles that dictate daily life in the Aleutians.
DM: I loved hearing about how the two of you spent every summer working on your family’s commercial fishing boat when you were younger. Can either of you remember a specific moment during one of those summers when you knew working with the Alaskan fishing community was something you wanted to do for the rest of your life?
Emma and Claire: It has always been the feeling of pride to be working together as a family long into the night during fishing trips, when the deck lights come on after the sun finally sets well after midnight and our exhausted bodies would rather be nowhere else but beside these people, your tribe, hauling in beautiful big, healthy fish we’re proud to feed the world. Fishing is tremendously physical work and at some point in the season we’re also pushed up against a mental wall where we have to find ways to maintain sanity against repetitive work. This process is often more graceful when you have a sister to daydream on the back deck with, about cute things, showering, and business goals.
DM: It sounds like the two of you really compliment each other skill wise. Was Salmon Sisters the first real project you have truly worked on together as sisters?
Emma and Claire: Because our homestead was so remote, we really just had each other as companions for the majority of our childhood. There were a few other kids in the village, but they could only be reached by boat on fair weather days, so we played together on the beach and the tundra near our house. We started working together as crew on our family’s boat when we were ten and eleven, and developed different skills that complimented each others’. The boat is where we really learned about trust and work ethic and thinking resourcefully to get a job done.
The boat is where we really learned about trust and work ethic and thinking resourcefully to get a job done.
In middle and high school we started spending our winters in a larger town, Homer, to attend school. We were just a year apart and were on the same sports teams, so we were always training together and working towards a common goal. Salmon Sisters is our first real business venture together, but because of the way our interests and skills have developed since graduating from college, we compliment each other nicely as business partners. We have the same work ethic, and we push each other to a greater place because we are sisters and have very high expectations of each other.
DM: In addition to designing and selling a nautical-inspired clothing line on your website, people can also purchase a variety of freshly caught Alaskan fish, including salmon. What is your favorite way to prepare salmon?
Emma and Claire: We grew up on fresh king and sockeye salmon grilled on a little Webber grill on our front porch with rice and salad, fresh from our mom’s garden. Fresh salmon is our favorite food in the world, but it’s the people sitting on the porch with you, smelling like wood smoke, watching the tide come in and the boats go by, telling fishing stories, sharing a meal together that makes a delicious meal an incredibly special thing.
DM: It is incredible how much the two of you have accomplished at such a young age. Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs looking to make an impact?
Emma and Claire: One of the most important pieces of our success has been having mentors that think about the big picture while we’re both trying to juggle everything on an everyday level. It’s easy for us to get so busy with everyday logistics that the real designing and thinking can end up taking a backseat. We have some super smart people looking out for us, who can laugh with us about mistakes, and push us to dream smarter and bigger.
Our communities in Alaska have been incredibly supportive since we began Salmon Sisters, and we are always listening to them to try to make better products and make our customers proud. Salmon Sisters is a big part of our days now, but we also juggle other commitments like spending our summers fishing and winters in graduate school. We used our investment in commercial fishing to fund Salmon Sisters initially, and we continue to invest in our education to keep learning and growing. We couldn’t do it all without the help of our family and our fishing community.
DM: What do you see for the future of Salmon Sisters as a company?
Emma and Claire: We’re excited to put our heads together on the boat this summer and develop our next line of designs for the fall with another year of experience under our belts. We look forward to working with talented artists and makers to create unique and specialty products that will continue to celebrate our lifestyle as fishermen and delight our customers.
As Salmon Sisters grows, we’re able to do more good in our community and want to devote more time to develop programs and events that raise awareness for sustainable fisheries and help people better understand the importance of eating wild Alaska seafood. This month we began a one-to-one program that matches every item purchased from Salmon Sisters with a can of wild Alaska salmon sent to the Alaska Food Bank to support the communities that have supported us.
For more info on Emma and Claire, check out their shop, as well as find them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
Images via Scott Dickerson