These Indigenous Brands Are Shaking Up the Fashion World
Indigenous voices are notoriously some of the most overlooked and underrated in the fashion world. More than this, sacred motifs and prints have all too frequently been appropriated by larger brands, seeking to capitalize on beloved and long-protected cultural traditions, without bothering to respect their deeply-rooted origins. However, today, there are several indigenous designers and brands carving out a distinct and special place for themselves in the industry. By simultaneously fusing mainstream or contemporary styles with those of their own heritage, they are giving a voice to the indigenous community in the fashion world. Here’s a look at ust a few of the many indigenous brands changing the fashion game right now:
Warren Steven Scott
Although it might be cliché to describe Warren Steven Scott as the “jack of all trades,” it’s true. A member of the the Nlaka’pamux Nation, whose territory is located in British Columbia, Scott is a multi-talented contemporary accessory designer, fashion designer, tailor, and craftsperson. Now based in Toronto, he founded his beloved label in 2019. Initially, Scott focused on designing and creating his signature statement earrings, which have now become renowned the world over. Featuring vibrant colors and sculptural shapes cut out of acrylic, each pair presents a contemporary interpretation of the carvings of the Salish peoples of the Pacific Northwest. However, just in the last year, Scott has expanded his label to include clothing, presenting his first ready-to-wear collection this past fall. The collection, entitled Cedar in Sec-he Sky, is as bold and retina-shocking as his earrings, as it features billowing garments in a wide range of bright hues. Aside from the color palette, with his clothing, Scott sought to honor his own ancestral traditions. Each of his garments pays homage to both the basket weaving and woven cedar clothing found in the Pacific Northwest. Thus, in referencing his heritage and through a contemporary design medium, Scott’s brand is as historic and is as modern.
Click here to explore Warren Steven Scott
Since 2015, visual artist and designer Jamie Okuma had been crafting both one-of-a-kind pieces and ready to wear collections from on La Jolla Indian Reservation in Southern California where she lives and works. The self-taught, multi-platform talent is Luiseno, Shoshone-Bannock, Wailaki, and Okinawan and began experimenting with fashion design and art at the age of 18. Since then, her work has been showcased the world over, in Germany, Australia, France and the United States, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Okuma founded her eponymous label in 2015, which has become best known for its “indigenized” interpretations of luxury brands. Perhaps her most publicized work is a pair of hand-beaded Christian Louboutin heels, covered with incredibly detailed nature-inspired patterns and designs.Her ready-to-wear collections are similarly mesmerizing, featuring garments embellished with traditional patterns and animal motifs. Each piece is as wearable as it is artistic, showcasing both Okuma’s natural artistic talent and her commitment to representing her heritage through fashion design.
Click here to explore Jamie Okuma
Having been raised on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, Kiowa artist and jewelry designer Keri Ataumbi was simultaneously exposed to both traditional Indigenous aesthetics and contemporary art theory and practice for much of her life. Now based in Cerrillos Hills, New Mexico, Ataumbi previously studied at both the Rhode Island School of Design and the Institute of American Indian Arts before founding a brand of her own in 2014. With a commitment to both producing pieces that could be classified as “wearable art” and honoring her heritage, she has since created a line that is founded on a conceptual narrative. Fusing the past with the present, Ataumbi uses traditional Kiowa imagery and materials in a contemporary fashion. The results themselves are stunning, intricately crafted wearable sculptures that are incredibly dynamic in form. Needless to say, Ataumbi’s pieces are a perfect representation of her own identity, as they tap into both current visual art movements and her personal heritage and background in the most exquisite way possible.
Click here to explore Ataumbi Metals
Based in Vancouver, British Columbia, on the ancestral, traditional, and unceded territories of the Musqueam, Tsleil Waututh, and Squamish peoples, Evan Ducharme bringing his own unique narrative to the made-to-order revolution in fashion. A Métis artist with ancestral ties to the Cree, Ojibwe, and Saulteauz peoples, Ducharme hails from the historic Metis community of St. Ambroise, Manitoba, just north of Winnipeg. After moving to Vancouver in 2010 to study at the Visual College of Art and Design, he founded his eponymous label just two years later. Since then, he has been crafting made-to-order separates, outerwear, and eveningwear for his clientele that feature his signature look, which he refers to as, “heightened utilitarianism.” This means that all of his pieces are of a simple, yet effective construction and feature a largely neutral color palette. The made-to-order model has allowed him to not only tap into a current popular movement in the world of fashion design for curating a custom wardrobe, but also construct garments in an environmentally conscious way. Further, Ducharme is keen to incorporate Métis iconography into each piece to explore the greater Métis identity and create a new, contemporary image of Indigenous fashion. Although the online store is closed for the time being, as Ducharme is focusing on working with private clients and looking to re-open the site in the spring.
Click here to explore Evan Ducharme
With Ginew, husband and wife team Erik Brodt and Amanda Bruegl have made a special place for themselves in the world of fashion. As the only Native American-owned denim line in the world, they incorporate elements of their Ojibwe, Oneida, & Mohican heritage into each piece they create to give a voice to contemporary indigenous design. Based in Portland, Oregon, they are committed to using only ethically and meticulously sourced materials to create their apparel and accessories, including Selvedge denim, wax canvas, and Pendleton wool blanket fabric. The duo launched their denim line in 2011 and, since then, have been designing and creating thoughtful collections of jeans, jackets, vests, and more in the spirit of what they refer to as “Native Americana.” Simply put, this signature aesthetic sees them fusing traditional designs and patterns from their respective tribes with the classic American workwear style. With Ginew, both Brodt and Bruegl embody contemporary Native American design, as they seamlessly craft garments that both feature modern silhouettes and pay homage to their cultural heritage.
Click here to explore Ginew
Founded in 2015 by Diné designer Amy Denet Deal, 4KINSHIP is a brand equally committed to both sustainability and indigenous representation. Each garment produced by this New Mexican-based brand is, quite literally, one-of-a-kind, as they only use restored, repurposed and upcycled materials to craft their diverse array of artisanal and small batch products. Inspired by the varied and stunning landscape of the Southwest, each piece is as vibrant as it is referential. Pastel hand dyed sweats are a favorite and classic Southwestern patterns and motifs feature heavily in the upcycled garments. The shop also offers a thoughtfully curated collection of vintage pieces that meld seamlessly with the brand’s own pieces and aesthetic. By fusing American vintage clothing with traditional Native American prints and styles, Deal makes a bold and stylish statement about the necessity and prevalence of Native American culture in America today. However, beyond its sustainability efforts, 4KINSHIP is also a brand dedicated to giving back. Currently, it is leading fundraising efforts for the Diné Skate Garden Project, which is dedicated to supporting the community of Two Grey Hills on Navajo Nation by providing a transformative space for Diné youth in this rural area.
Click here to explore 4KINSHIP
Thunder Voice Hat Co.
Thunder Voice Hat Co. does more than just make hats. Since its founding in 2017 by Navajo painter and designer Lehi Thundervoice Eagle, the label has been committed to honoring and carrying on the lineage of Native American fashion. Specifically, the iconic Navajo Brim hat, which has its roots deep in Navajo history, is the foundational style of the brand. Aside from its dedication to embracing and perpetuating traditional indigenous aesthetics, Thunder Voice Hat Co. is also adamant about sustainability. Each of their hats is sourced from vintage or second-hand origins, including leather stores, garage sales, antique stores, and pawn shops. This means that the team behind the brand meticulously seeks out materials for every hat from the most unlikely and far-flung sources. Simply put, Thunder Voice Hat Co. is committed to not just honoring Native American heritage, but also respecting and helping to preserve future health of the planet.
Click here to explore Thunder Voice Hat Co.
Based in Edmon, Alberta, Mobilize is a label dedicated to representing indigenous culture through the specific medium of streetwear. Launched in 2018 by Nehiyaw/Woodland Cree designer Dusty LeGrande, the brand epitomizes contemporary indigenous fashion. However, its mission extends further than merely the construction of garments. With Mobilize, LeGrande aims to honor the traditions of the Nehiyaw people of using clothing as a mechanism for storytelling. Using vintage fabrics, the label creates upcycled and vintage garments that are inspired by a unique fusion Indigenous culture and hip-hop. This results in a particularly special collection of pieces, including tie-dye logo-emblazoned sweats, patchwork denim jackets, and leather and wood printed handbags. With its distinct streetwear designs, Mobilize proves itself to be a brand dedicated to representation, empowerment, and education at its core.
Click here to explore Mobilize