Updated: Mar 13, 2020
We have seen leatherwork, appliqué, beading and prints in the fashion industry for centuries. But often, the inspiration the inspiration comes from techniques that are practiced in a remote community in a part of the world, and there has hardly been any mention about it in the glamorous press-releases or collection notes.
The line between fashion and cultural appropriation is often blurred, and no one knows this better than the Indigenous communities who have been marginalized.But with the wave of understanding, cultural fashion and the eye to sustainability there are designers from these communities who have brought about a voice about their heritage and got it to the fashion forefront.
Bethany Yellowtail, one of the most prominent Indigenous designers working now, is fueling that energy. The women’s ready-to-wear designer who was involved in the Women’s March and Standing Rock protests last year, and starred in a six-part docu-series, titled Alter-Native, uses her platform to spotlight protest fashion. Drawing from that history, Yellowtail released a capsule collection in December that specifically looked at the activism work of her ancestors. It resulted in Yellowtail’s version of traditional wing dresses and skirts, all inspired by notable Crow and Northern Cheyenne women who have served in battle.
Keri Ataumbi is fusing the old with the new. Through her jewelry label, Ataumbi Metals, the designer combines her Kiowa culture’s organic materials with innovative, high-tech finishes to create modern collectables. She combines traditional indigenous elements, like quillwork or feather work, with traditional and contemporary gold smithing techniques, like computer-aided design and 3-D printing.
Jamie Okuma designs ready-to-wear and accessories, but her work is also considered to be art at the highest degree. Her fashion pieces, which double as artworks, is best known for her “Indigenous” take on luxury brands. Her hand-beaded Christian Louboutin shoes, which have been covered with intricate patterns of swallows, or embellished with porcupine quills and chicken feathers are one of the most astonishing pieces that she has created. It is artisanal, sustainable and luxury!