5 Indigenous Fashion Designers You Need to Know
These designers are creating a future of fashion where the clothes are medicine, and the medicine is for everyone.
by : Nikki Sanchez- Jan 11th, 2023
Nabidu Taylor (Debra Sparrow), Alana Paterson (Jason Baerg), Nabidu Taylor (Rebecca Baker-Grenier)
It’s 2023 and Indigenous Fashion is back and it is here to stay. This is a massive cause for celebration; not only because it means that all Canadians now have access to stunning, distinct, and diverse fashions that are truly an invitation for deeper intercultural understanding and a pathway to uphold and respect the original peoples of what is now known as Canada- with its over 630 distinct First Nations communities from coast to coast. This is a celebration because it signifies the dawning of a new era for decolonization and collective healing in our country: what many Canadians may not know is that up until the late 1960s it was illegal for Indigenous people to wear their traditional clothing, as well as their ceremonial regalia. For this reason, many of the forms of beading, weaving, land-based harvesting of textiles and dyes and every other necessary practice to allow for the use of day-to-day functional clothing had to go underground in order for Indigenous people to not be criminalized for simply existing as a people. However, following the awe-inspiring success of Indigenous designers at 2022’s New York Fashion Week the world has its eye fixed on Indigenous fashion and its many rising stars.
Last month, Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, founded by Joleen Mitton and supported by the mentorship of Himikalas Pam Baker, ushered in this new era with world class designs rooted in an ideology of fashion as a pathway for collective healing and cultural appreciation that every Canadian should be inspired by.
VIFW is Canada’s first Indigenous fashion week and featured exclusively Indigenous models from Supernaturals Modelling (a first of its kind modeling agency committed to mentorship, capacity building and culturally grounded wellness for Indigenous youth). VIFW closed out 2022 with its third edition embodying to the full extent the love, wealth, resilience, and innovation of Indigenous Fashion; which is neither a trending genre nor a cultural repository to be appropriated from; but is in and of itself is an inherently distinct vision for the future of the fashion industry- based on relational accountability, thriving ecology, mutual liberation, and cross-cultural understanding. The designers highlighted below each emphasized that their work is rooted in carrying forward the wisdom of a millennia of cultural heritage, their love for their land, teachings, and their people. Every designer featured below extended an enthusiastic invitation for people of all cultural lineages to connect with, wear, share and learn from their designs.
Photo courtesy of Nabidu Taylor
A Musqueam weaver, artist and knowledge keeper, Sparrow oozes a wealth of wisdom in every art form she creates. She understands her work as a personal responsibility to the wisdom passed down to her from her ancestors, who as she puts it “are never to be forgotten”. Her textiles weave together “their beauty, their integrity, their education, their amazing life”, which she strives to bring back into this world; not only for her own people but for all who view them. As she puts it, “ It’s not just about the textiles, it’s about the threads that come to us from the universe back here to wrap us in our history again, and then go ahead and unravel it and create a new way of thinking”. Beholding her models grace the runaway it is clear to see that the threads that adorn them are far beyond the exquisitely intricate weavings, her work blankets them in a tangible interconnection of love, wisdom and a legacy of survival.
Photo courtesy of Nabidu Taylor
Squamish and Kwakiutl designer Rebecca Baker-Grenier began designing her first piece of ceremonial regalia at 11 years old. Her meteoric rise has been nothing short of awe-inspiring, the young artist premiered her first collection at New York Fashion week in 2022. Speaking with Rebecca about what drives and inspires her work she speaks with a depth of knowledge of the “inner ancestral” self that resides within us all. Her designs are an enactment of her love and respect for the meaning of cultural regalia- which she explains as a representation of who you are, where you come from, the lands that nourish you and your ancestral lineage- which she believes should be present in our everyday clothing; and she has made the mission of her pieces to be exactly that.
Photo courtesy of Margaret Benson
A textile artist from the Gitxsan Nation and the House of Hax-be-gwoo-txw of the Fireweed Clan, the theme of Skelton’s work is “to be like water” and teach in a gentle way. A lifelong educator, Yolonda has shifted her medium of educational pedagogy from the classroom into a living medium on the runway. Her bold looks are simultaneously futuristic and powerfully rooted in tradition. When speaking of her work, she explains her belief that fashion and clothing should be a medium for education; “gentle, fun, a conduit to learn”. For anyone who aspires to deeper understand, uphold and celebrate Indigenous wisdom; look no further, Skelton is the teacher the fashion world has been waiting for.
Photo courtesy of Alana Paterson
A leading Metis futurist, witnessing the designs of Jason Baerg move down the runway sets the spirit and imagination on fire. As a designer his objective is to encode in each of his pieces a vision for a future that embodies ethics, ceremony, connection and medicine into our everyday lives. Witnessing his work is a visceral ignition of the senses and the imagination; which is apropos since each piece embodies the elements of ceremony from his cultural lineage which includes a stunning breadth of considerations from the molten core of the earth to the four directions of our globe. Just to behold his designs is a feeling of spiritual ascension.
Photo courtesy of Nabidu Taylor
Co-producer of this year’s event, Himikalas (Hi-mi-ka-las) Pam Baker is not only a multi-hyphenate in the fashion world, with accolades including: designer/artist/entrepreneur and mentor of Indigenous youth for over 35 years. Himikalis also a proud member of the Squamish/Kwakiutl/Tlingit/Haida nations, her breathtaking designs are a testament of to the depth of her connection and pride in the cumulative wisdom of her combined lineages- each of her pieces embody elements from each of her nations. One look at her work incites recognition of her profound spiritual connection to the lands and ancestors who guide her work. Raised with by grandmothers and great grandmothers her commitment through her designs to uplift the spirits of others as well as that of her nations.
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