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Native American Designers


Many native designers are now using the power of the Internet to distribute their own work. They are using platforms such as Instagram and expanding their audiences domestically and internationally.

A few years ago, it was hard for most people even in the United States to find clothing, jewelry and accessories that are made by Native American designers. At certain points you could find a big label that worked with native designers for a while and sometimes department stores could carry a native design line, but it was never consistent.

See article Native American Fashion Appropriation

Today though there are many native designers that are using the power of the Internet and are able to distribute their work themselves. They can use platforms like Instagram and connect with audiences internationally. There is a site called Beyond Buckskin which is a fashion blog curated by a University of Arizona professor Jessica R Metcalfe that now has its own online shop. Here are five native creator designers to watch:

Nanibaa Beck (Navajo)

This individual is a jewelry designer from Pinon in the Navajo nation in Arizona. The name of the website is NotABove.com and comes from the many times that someone has misheard her name. At some point a friend in Phoenix asked of her name was Not Above?

This 32-year-old, worked mostly with sterling silver and uses Navajo and indigenous languages in her jewelry. Since she doesn't speak Navajo very well it's an opportunity for her to speak the language more often.

Much of our work is available at annual artwork it's which usually take place in the Southwest and the costs range from $75-$100. Most of her clients are non-natives and many times they requested the name Bilagaana which means white person in Navajo.

Virgil Ortiz (Cochiti Pueblo)

In 2002, Donna Karan contacted Virgil and asked if they would be interested in working in the fashion line together. Next thing he was in New York City and his career as a fashion designer and artist has landed him around the world since then.

Ortiz is 45 and was born in Santa Fe and grew up in Cochiti Pueblo. He still keeps a studio in the Pueblo although he does work in Los Angeles and New York. His high prices of his leather tote bag runs for $1500, which reflects the high quality of his materials. All the buckles, zippers and leather is made in the states under the label" made in the native America".

Cochiti Pueblo Springs is best known for storytelling and social commentary filled pottery. His mother's side of the family were all potters in his father's side were all drum makers so he was born into art. It took a while to get into it because he had no idea it was artwork until he was 15. At that point he found out that people were going to galleries having shows and selling the artwork.

For Ortiz, fashion is a part of his work as an artist and he incorporates a story of the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 where Pueblo Indians led by the Pope revolted against Spanish colonizers and occupiers and drove them out of their land successfully. He has interpreted his own family Sicilians to convey the message of a crucial part of his people's history.

See article Buying Native American Arts and Crafts

Bethany Yellowtail (Crow and Northern Cheyenne)

The corporate fashion world is usually tougher abutting designer and one needs to put in thankless long hours into acquiring the knowledge needed to launch a brand. This is part of Bethany's story whose pieces range between hundred and $170 and $700 and cater to native young professionals.

Yellowtail grew up in Crow Nation and she is part of the Northern Cheyenne nation. She now lives and works in Los Angeles. She has been designing clothing since she was a child and started in the eighth grade with a home economics teacher who taught her how to sew and create her own patterns.

Now at 26 she looks back to high school when she was invited to join Girls State, leadership program that included a trip to the state capital where all the participants were expected to wear business attire. She had watched Beyonce's "check on it" music video where she were was wearing a pink so she made herself a business suit from the video and rocked it. That was me in a nutshell growing up on the Rez.

She graduated from the fashion Institute of design and merchandising in 2009 and worked in corporate fashion for BC BG Max Azria. She launched her own brand this past January. It's more than just putting some friends and ethnic things on a mood board for inspiration because as indigenous people we believe these things have a much deeper meaning, says Yellowtail.

Jared Yazzie ( Navajo)

Not every designer starts out of fashion school. Jared was an engineering student to begin with. He spent a lot of time in class drawing what he wanted to see on T-shirts and he eventually switch majors to focus on what he loves to do.

He grew up in Holbroke, Arizona just outside the Navajo Nation. He lives in Phoenix where he works at a local screen-printing shop and takes design classes and works on his products. He loves to think about design and usually sketches late at night.

T-shirts run for $20 and long sleeves are $25. His hoodies are $60. The business is up and down because he doesn't have a big amount of capital. Keeping up with stock is difficult so we only print 75 of one print at a time and makes about a dozen of each size.

Yazzie hopes to own his own studio in Phoenix and has developed a strong art scene. He likes to have a design headquarters with his own space, which offer services to anyone, including tribes and you can even hold workshops.

See article Native Designers Fashion Show

Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo)

Two years ago Patricia was the first Native American to compete in Project Runway. She made it to the final season earning second place. This reality television show made her a household name and she's been designing close and she was in the second grade.

She would change her Barbie dolls skin color and hair color and clothing. She would take food coloring and mix it with lotion so it would stick. She then made beadwork, buckskin dresses, mantis and friend clothing for all of her dolls and this one her a creativity prize in a fourth grade science fair.

She grew up in Santa Fe New Mexico on Canyon Road where most of the owners were Anglo and Spanish. She had to fight for her identity and now at 48 she maintains a studio and home in Taos Pueblo. It's never been easy for her because she's a Native American woman.

Her work is available at a wide range of prices and her clients ages range from 6 to 102. She does a fashion week circuit as well as the Santa Fe Indian market. She is building a new home and studio, which includes space for workshops. Her work is often featured in art galleries and museums and she is proud to be a trendsetter in the field.


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