After an extended delay of COVID, the Aboriginal Fashion Arts Festival lit up Toronto from June 9-12, showcasing some of the best Indigenous clothing, textiles and crafts in the world. “I’m very excited for the community,” said Dusty LeGrande, the creator of the Indigenous streetwear brand. Mobilize Waskawewin before the party. “To encourage all my cousins – a universal term of endearment – and see some of the most powerful native art and clothing! We are stronger when we move forward together.
This year, the IAF — under the assured leadership, among others, of Case friend Wise Paul – introduces something new. They partnered with Apple, which gave attendees iPhone 13 Pros to create mini docs to go along with their shows. “I chose to highlight my territory of origin, my family and the process of creating my creations”, said the designer Evan Ducharme, who interned at Eco Fashion Week in Vancouver years ago and has since presented a piece at the Met Costume Institute in New York. “My favorite shot was taken in 4K where my cousin was walking towards a frozen lake at sunset – the result was stunningly beautiful and crisp.”
Read on to meet four Indigenous designers who are transforming the world of fashion in Canada.
How would you describe your approach to design?
“This season has been an interesting process of coming back to my community after 11 years in Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh (Vancouver) territories, and has influenced the work in ways I never expected. When I first conceptualized [the project] Dominion I wanted to get carried away with the storytelling and world-building that is possible with fashion, things that I felt slipped away as the demands of business grew. Being home has helped me honor those early instincts I had as a youngster interested in making clothes and realize them fully with the knowledge I have since gained.
You are such a talented designer – your pleats, drapes and embroidery are so beautiful. Which creators do you admire the most and why?
“The first that come to mind are Madame Grès and Cristobal Balenciaga, both for the know-how and the technique and the singular point of view in their work. From a more contemporary perspective, I would say Olivier Theyskens and Christopher John Rogers, for their ability to create such wonderful worlds and possibilities with their clothes.
What were the highlights of your collaboration with Devery Jacobs?
“I had the chance to work with Devery on a custom look they wore to the Independent Spirit Awards last year. As we live in different cities, we worked remotely and met on Zoom to consultations and digital fittings A highlight would be the conversations we had early on about the importance of creating an orange look and what that meant to us individually, a truly meaningful process in creating a red carpet moment.
How would you describe your approach to design?
“My goal is to tell important stories through my designs about my ancestors and bring them to life. My ancestors wrote on buffalo robes – and through symbols they told stories of their accomplishments as a tribe, milestones, war victories, or directions like a map. My designs — appliqués, beadwork, and digital designs — do the same thing. They tell my stories, my interpretations of my culture, my people and my family.
Sweetgrass is a medicine that purifies and cleanses. I think that’s what has helped my people to be resilient, is to stay connected to traditional medicines and to practice them every day. I think it’s just something that speaks for itself as the most common medicine used by native people. It’s just something we use to feel grounded. It is a connection to Mother Earth.
What is the connection between creating and healing for you?
“It started when I took up sewing again, it was during a difficult time: my mum was battling cancer and I needed something to do while I sat next to her when she was bedridden. During this time, I reconnected to beading, sewing and designing to keep busy. After he passed away, I continued to create as part of a therapeutic healing process – it was like healing through the threads of my designs. Eventually, my designs took on a life of their own, evolving to the point where I started my business. This sparked a passion that was inside of me: infusing traditional designs with contemporary designs by putting emphasis on formal wear I like the idea of a traditional piece that is modern with an aboriginal touch and reflects my culture.
The way you play with colors and patterns is so unique and beautiful. What inspires you?
“My culture and the beauty of being First Nation. It’s not just about choosing colors – all colors mean something and have cultural and spiritual significance. The colors and patterns symbolize who I am as an individual and where I come from. Patterns tell stories: geometric or appliqué patterns can tell stories of myths and legends, for example. It is also a cultural education.
One of my designs is a beautiful green dress, where I wove sweetgrass into a belt, headpiece and earrings. Sweetgrass has helped my people to be resilient and strong; and it is with them every day. The dress has a bit of buckskin to represent the deer and horsehair to represent the horse as the horses graze in the field in the grass. It’s all a tribute to home, to the place where I live.
You are a self-taught designer. How did you fall in love with fashion?
“At a very young age, I fell in love with fashion and design. Design came later in life, but with just as much enthusiasm and a desire to create unique, earth-bound styles that I call home. I remember looking at magazines, having drawings on my wall, and a sketchbook that I often used to create my own ideas. I’m still so in love with fashion.
What was the inspiration for your IAF video?
“The inspiration for the video connects to my visions of women connected to the earth using their senses while being fully embraced and the earth revered. It is also about connecting to community, to each other and the relationships we we hold sacred.”
Why is fur work so important to you?
“It’s part of my upbringing and my lifestyle. For many years, my family and I have practiced trapping and harvesting with respect. My connection with the land and the animals is indescribable because it runs in my blood. The more I work with fur, the more I want to explore more technical aspects and rely on the knowledge shared with me.
I love working with fur so much, and in my video I explored its details with the macro function in a whole new way, which brought me closer to the earth and allowed me to have depth and clarity. I could see the individual hairs, how they grow in different ways, the colors. When I looked at the furs and beads together, I saw an interaction and connection that I had never seen at this level of detail before.
Your children inspired your video. How do they inspire you in life and in your design work?
“Being a father is one of life’s greatest gifts. My children are instrumental in everything I do, how I move, and the dreams I have. Throughout this brand, they have been the driving force behind the intention to create impactful stories through clothing. Many of the pieces are inspired by the colors of Lego, the toys, the funky outfits they play with or wear – they see the world through such a pure lens, and I’m constantly inspired by their perspective. At the time of shooting my video, I had just started working on my collection.
My children have also designed pieces for the brand themselves. Their most popular piece to date is the ‘Fart Against Racism’ t-shirt, which also featured a poop emoji, designed entirely by my 8, 5 and 4 year olds! »
What do you find exciting in streetwear now?
“Streetwear as a voice, as a tool for activism, and as loud clothing in general has always been the most exciting piece of street style for me. I see streetwear as present (in the moment), genderless and inspiring a very individual expression. The future of streetwear is the future of people, it must become more sustainable across all elements, it must speak to the changing earth and its people, and it must continue to be strong for the evolution of the inclusion and love in all spaces.
I would like to know more about the Next Generation Fellowship what you offer – what inspired you to start this?
“Throughout this design journey I have encountered far too many gatekeepers who were unwilling to share their knowledge with me, the intent of this scholarship was to break down those barriers and support the next generation of creatives. To create a portal for authentic sharing of knowledge, business, design and artistic practices. The reaction has been very positive so far with many contestants across Turtle Island. I hope to create more partnerships to amplify and grow this scholarship so that it can be offered as often as needed.
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