(Courtesy Niio Perkins)
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In May, Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) joined forces with Canadian fashion retailer Simons, to launch a limited capsule collection highlighting designs by Indigenous artists from across the country.
Kanien’kehá:ka designer from Akwesasne Niio Perkins joined seven other Indigenous designers, including Evan Ducharme and Tracy Toulouse, to create organic cotton and linen garments that showcase printed graphics, embroidery, natural dye, appliqué and beadwork.
“In July 2019, I received a call from Sage Paul, the founding director at IFWTO,” said Perkins. “Sage informed me that IFWTO and Simons department store were teaming up for a collaboration, and they were choosing eight Indigenous designers/artists for the project. I was one of them. Obviously, I said yes,” she said.
The collection, released in June, includes 30 unique pieces that honour Indigenous fashion and can be purchased online on the Simons’ website.
“I guess Sage was on a panel with people from the fashion industry (a representative from Simons was also present). She spoke about the appropriation that happens in the industry to Native people. Simons listened and asked, ‘how can we fix this?’ That is essentially how the project was born,” said Perkins.
Perkins met Paul at IFWTO when she was the participating designer in the fashion show.
“I guess she had enough faith in me to present my work to Simons,” she said.
The designer started her beading career about 14 years ago by participating in Native arts and crafts markets in the US.
A few years later, she opened a store where she, and her mother Elizabeth Perkins – who is seamstress – create and sell traditional clothing and traditional-related items.
“Since my mother is a seamstress, sewing has also been a part of my world,” said Perkins.
In 2018, she started developing her own fabric that was reflective of her beadwork and traditional Iroquois designs.
“It was with the intent of making mainstream clothing for our Haudenosaunee people to wear to places and events other than ceremony. I now have a collection of made to order clothing on my website,” she said.
Perkins explained that “made to order” means zero-waste.
“I learned to bead at a young age. I am self-taught in the raised beadwork technique. I did take a few classes (millinery, accessory design) at the Richard Robinson Academy in Ottawa,” said Perkins.
“I do attribute my skills to our ancestors. When you look at any of the work that was created in the 1800s with the little resources that they had, you will push yourself because they did,” she said.
The collection carries four different styles, including boxy tops, high-waisted trousers, and both A-line and V-line dresses. Perkins said that the designers had full creative control over their designs.
“The collaboration really speaks volumes for all of us designers, it’s ground-breaking. We (Indigenous People) are finally being recognized for our work. And the artists are able to properly and authentically represent our Nations/Tribes. I can’t tell you how much pride this brings to us,” said Perkins.
The designer has also been working on a few other projects with other mainstream companies that will soon be released, she said.
“These projects are exciting because it’s a bigger platform for our voices to be heard. And an opportunity to bring other upcoming designers to the forefront,” she said.