These Indigenous Fashion Designers Should Be On Your Radar

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Photo courtesy of Korina Emmerich

How did you feel presenting your work at the Aboriginal Fashion Arts Festival?
I feel incredibly honored to be included in the Aboriginal Fashion Arts Festival. Having the opportunity to show my new collection among so many talented Indigenous artists and designers brings a feeling greater than gratitude, but a feeling of resilience and pride. Sage Paul’s dedication to creating a space for Indigenous artists to thrive and showcase their work across multiple platforms is so encouraging.

What’s it like to be an Indigenous designer in the fashion industry?
Although I try to work outside the restrictive nature of ‘industry’, my art is multidisciplinary and my medium is textiles, although I often have to work within the parameters of industry. Being an Indigenous designer can always feel like “other” in an industry that has only recently spotlighted our work. This is why festivals like IFAF are so important to Indigenous artists and designers. We share a space to celebrate everyone’s work on this vast, diverse and inclusive platform. We are so often marginalized in the fashion industry, being seen as a ‘niche’ or ‘novelty’, which can constantly remind us that we don’t share the same platforms as well-known fashion houses.

I love working alongside great minds in our communities so I can give voice and support to Indigenous high fashion and art without the pressure of “outside” approval. To prove that sometimes it’s not about sitting at “their” table, but about having the confidence and the will to build our own tables with the endless rows of seats we serve each other. I look forward to seeing the continued strength and support that strengthens our communities and truly celebrates our work in art and fashion.

Where did you draw inspiration for your latest collection?
This collection titled: Mishapen Chaos of Well Seeming Forms is an exploration of visual symbols in media over the past few years. It is a discussion of the illusion of freedom and the complex divisions of society as a whole. It’s a story of recovery through our own well-being, shutting down the noise and taking responsibility for life.

It is a reflection of my personal process of healing through my work and coming to terms with my own mental health. Allow me to build something out of it rather than let it rot inside me. The toll on our collective sanity over the past few years has been pervasive with the constant deluge of information filtered through the media as we try to understand and process a constant state of chaos. I find myself best able to deal with my mental health issues through my work and my culture. Knowing that the more connected I am to my art and my people, I will be guided towards good in my life and fulfill my responsibility.

What does your design process look like?
With this collection, I really wanted to focus on my strengths as a designer, incorporating sewing and weaving. I am greatly inspired by color and music and can see a complete collection in my mind before I begin the physical process of making it. Because I often work on swatches alone, it can be tedious, but I enjoy spending time with each garment, acknowledging that my energy goes into the fabrics I work with while creating embellishments born out of my thoughts. Capturing the energy of my work was easy with the iPhone 13 Pro, which can take everything from the smallest details of my textile work to the energy of my runway. Using this technology allows me to translate and share my work seamlessly through an exemplary lens.

I work best within limits with a focus on sustainability, which is why I focus on working with wool and recycled materials. The woolen fabrics I use have been Cradle to Cradle certified by MBDC. Wool is an environmentally friendly and naturally renewable fiber that can be recycled or composted as a healthy soil additive. Circularity is always part of my design process as I focus on how my work, holistically, will impact the future.

How have you incorporated your Indigenous history into your work?
The piece that got the biggest reaction was undoubtedly a coat I made in the Hudson’s Bay print that was chaotically wrapped in strands of red wool, limiting the model’s arms and ability to move (Scott Wabano ). This piece is a nod to the set I currently have on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which explores my own family ties to HBC as an Indigenous person.

My four-time great-grandfather worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company as a canoe middleman from 1826 to 1842, until his retirement in [Washington] State where their children were raised. My family has resided in the same area since then, where my great-grandmother Rose Juanita McLeod (Puyallup/Nisqually) survived Cushman Residential School (also known as Puyallup Indian School) until her eighth grade. My recovery of HBC fabrics gives a voice to my family and draws attention to colonial violence and exploitation perpetrated by the Hudson’s Bay Company against Indigenous peoples. I want to tell our stories and highlight the multi-generational strength I carry through the resilience of my ancestors, despite enduring decades of violence. We are always here.

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