Swirling Wind Designs on the runway, Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival. Image Credit: Nadya Kwandibens, Red Works Photography
WHITE Milano brought seven Indigenous designers to Milan for Milan 2023 Fashion Week. The designers included Lesley Hampton, Evan Ducharme, Niio Perkins, Robyn McLeod, Section 35, and She Was A Free Spirit with mentee Dorathy Wright. The goal was to increase visibility of Indigenous artists. These inventive artists continue to revitalize Indigenous-made apparel in the fashion industry within the Canadian and international landscape. Following in their footsteps, upcoming Indigenous artists anticipate to make their mark in the fashion industry, which they have been doing evidently well. The 7 Canadian Indigenous designers to watch for are:
Edie and Jacquelyn Assinewe are twin sisters, born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, and are members of the Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation. Assinewe Jewelry was a natural career path for the full-time students who combine their business and fashion studies. This hand-made business has soared since its establishment in 2020 and have had the honor of their work to be featured in Elle, Fashion Magazine, Toronto Life, Flare Magazine, The Kit and CityLine to add to their ever-increasing notoriety.
Edie Assinewe (She/Her) graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University in 2021 from the Retail Management Bachelor of Commerce program. Edie creates all the beadwork for Assinewe Jewelry having learned how to bead by community members in Toronto in 2018. Passionate about incorporating traditional Ojibwe motifs and techniques into her designs, her elegantly made work features custom beaded florals to cloud and heart fringes.
Jacquelyn Assinewe (She/Her) is a full-time student in the Fashion Management Bachelor of Commerce program at Humber College. As a self-taught artist, Jacquelyn focusses on designing all the clay jewelry. Each of her clay pieces connect to Indigenous culture. One example is the 4 Directions stud pack which integrates her Ojibway Anishnabae language to name the jewelry pieces such as, the Wiingashk stud, made of sweetgrass mixed with polymer clay.
Chelsee Pettit is an Anishinaabe member of Aamjiwnaang First Nations and the founder of aaniin retail inc.
aaniin started out as a streetwear brand in June 2021. It has grown rapidly with the collaborating designs of other Indigenous artists. Chelsee’s inclusion of the use of syllabics in the designs, mostly the Ojibway syllabics, is a rarity as it is a defining historical period in residential school era and a recognition of the perseverance of language and culture. Her initial inspiration was when she was walking in downtown Tkaronto and took notice of unique symbols on a person’s shirt. From afar, Chelsee thought the symbols were Anishinaabe syllabics but, instead it was a triangle. This was the catalyst for the brand. Aaniin is dedicated to supporting Indigenous creators by stocking and displaying their products and ensuring that 100% of profits end up in Indigenous brands, creators, and artists. Chelsee’s vision is to celebrate where an Indigenous person can feel proud, heard, and represented through Indigenous languages in North America.
Rebecca is of Kwakiuł and Sḵwx̱wú7mesh ancestry. Rebecca apprenticed in fashion design under established Indigenous designer and artist, Himikalas Pam Baker. Recently, Rebecca has shown her latest collection at New York Fashion Week 2022 and Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week 2022. There is an intimate ancestral connection with the art that Rebecca creates, representative of her lineage as an Indigenous woman.
Rebecca holds a BA from the University of British Columbia with a Major in the First Nations and Indigenous Studies Program. As a pow-wow dancer for twenty years, Rebecca is a member of the Dancers of Damelahamid since 2015. At the tender age of 11, she began her foray into fashion design by sewing and beading regalia. Her first commission came at 16 years old. Rebecca’s handcrafted regalia and designs continue to be presented on national and international stages.
Victoria’s Arctic Fashion
Victoria Kakuktinniq is the creator of Victoria’s Arctic Fashion established in 2014. She is an Inuk woman, born and raised in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut. The garments melds two ideations in mind with traditional wear and accessories from the Arctic complemented by contemporary designs. Her traditional Inuit parka designs focus on sustainability with the use of traditional fabrics, furs, and skins from her northern Arctic homeland. She grew up surrounded by seamstresses and raised by a strong line of Inuit women including her grandmother, mother, and sister. Their eye-catching handmade traditional garments caught the attention of Canada Goose. They were invited to collaborate on uniquely Inuit designs, a favourite in the north and throughout Canada. Victoria Arctic Fashion revolutionized the modernization of the Inuit traditional parka.
Indeed, the diversity of Indigenous languages and cultures across Canada are a testament to the creativity and the appeal to a wider customer base.
Swirling Wind Designs
Tracy Toulouse is the visionary behind Swirling Wind, she is a member of Sagamok Anishnawbek of the Ojibway Nation. She fuses traditional Anishinaabe designs and storytelling with contemporary pieces of hats, jackets, handbags, skirts, pants, and accessories. Tracy also incorporates the use of applique, beads, quills, antler bone, ribbon work, and fur.
Angel and Alex are the Indigiqueer co-founders of Indi City. In 2017 they became the first global Indigenous Designers to incorporate wearable technology into traditional regalia. Their famous Medicine Florals earrings were worn to the 2022 Emmy’s by FX Productions, Reservation Dog’s actress Devery Jacobs with the exquisite earrings was made with laser cut acrylic for the tremendous event. Together, they design and create fashion accessories according to the current indigenization of Turtle Island in contact with their ancestral roots. Indi City has grown from a small business on Instagram to a newly launched online store with products also found in shops and boutiques across the country. Indi City is also an in-house multi-media production company, they work to curate a 100% Indigenous made brand through visual marketing and storytelling.
Warren Steven Scott
Steven Scott is a Toronto-based fashion designer that is from White Rock, British Columbia and is a member of Nlaka’pamux Nation, whose territory is in the interior of present-day British Columbia, with Sts’ailes and British ancestry. Scott debuted his collection Sissy in 2018 at the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival in Toronto. Scott’s work bridges the Western concept of luxury fashion with his ancestral worldview on ethics, craft, and aesthetic sensibility.
Working within this duality of tradition and modernity, Scott has quickly become known for his acrylic jewellery that incorporates elements of his Nlaka’pamux heritage into its design through shapes such as ovoid’s, crescents, and other Coast Salish forms. Scott’s work has been profiled by VOGUE.com, Fashion Magazine, and CBC The National, and garnered a nomination for the Swarovski Award for Emerging Talent (Accessories) at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards in 2019.