Fashion Revolution: Indigenous Designers Shatter Stereotypes and Reclaim Narratives


A Resurgence of Native Expression: Native Fashion Week in Santa Fe Unites Culture and Creativity

Santa Fe, New Mexico, May 2024

Amidst the rich history and vibrant Southwest landscape of Santa Fe, Indigenous creatives descended upon the city for the inaugural Native Fashion Week. The four-day event, spearheaded by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), was a resounding celebration of Native culture, artistry, and the power of self-expression.

Honoring Traditions, Uniting Culture

The runway was a captivating fusion of tradition and modernity. Comanche singer Marla Nauni opened the show with a heartfelt blessing song, setting the tone for a harmonious blend of ceremony and fashion. Models draped in indigenous-inspired designs twirled alongside dancers adorned in vibrant Native regalia.

Peshawn Bread, the mastermind behind House of Sutai, kick-started her disco-influenced collection with a bell-bottomed model gliding on roller skates. Bread’s creations juxtaposed elements of the 70s with the resilience of indigenous history, reflecting the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978.

Navajo designer Carrie Wood used her platform to address the disparities faced by indigenous communities, echoing the struggles of Native Americans and Palestinians. Her final masterpiece showcased a fusion of Navajo and Palestinian styles, harnessing the common thread of cultural expression and identity.

Reclaiming Narratives, Redefining Identities

Native Fashion Week is more than just a fashion showcase; it’s a declaration of indigenous empowerment. Artists are reclaiming the narrative surrounding Native experiences, challenging stereotypes and showcasing the complexities of their cultures.

Amber-Dawn Bear Rope, part of the Siksika nation in Canada and the visionary behind SWAIA, envisions the event as a catalyst for indigenous creatives. “This is a space for us to create our own world of fashion and design,” she says, emphasizing the importance of cultural independence.

Bridging Gaps, Embracing Diversity

The growing mainstream interest in Native culture is influencing the work of indigenous designers. Films like “Killers of the Flower Moon” and TV series like “Reservation Dogs” are highlighting Native stories and sparking a deeper appreciation for indigenous art.

Celebrities like Lily Gladstone and Quannah Chasinghorse are adorning Native-made pieces on red carpets, inspiring a wider audience. Native fashion is breaking free from stereotypical confines and entering the mainstream, embracing diversity and challenging fashion norms.

Hollywood’s Embrace, Indigenous Progress

The presence of Native creatives in Hollywood as directors, writers, and producers is empowering the authentic representation of indigenous culture. Designer Jhane Myers believes this Hollywood convergence will translate into lasting opportunities for Native fashion.

“This time,” she asserts, “is different. Indigenous creatives are shaping the narratives, influencing fashion houses and brands to collaborate ethically.”

The doors are opening for emerging Native designers like Naomi Glasses, who has partnered with Ralph Lauren, setting the stage for future collaborations and the elevation of Native voices in the wider fashion industry.

3D Printing and Sustainability

Amidst the vibrant creativity, sustainability remains a guiding principle for many indigenous designers. Heather Bouchier of Canada’s Cree Nation utilizes 3D printing to create dentalium shells, a traditional adornment used for centuries. By employing this innovative technique, Bouchier preserves the rare material while showcasing the adaptability of Native ingenuity.

The indigenous designers showcased at Native Fashion Week are more than just artists; they are cultural innovators, storytellers, and advocates. Their work weaves together history, resilience, and the promise of a future where Native perspectives and artistry are celebrated in all their multifaceted glory.

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