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Indigenous designers inspired by tradition

Natalia Fedosieieva The Eastern Door

Traditional elements in a new modern look will keep Indigenous cultural values alive, according to Indigenous designers who presented their clothing collections last Friday at the Fashion Exhibition Kahnawake 2023.

Using contemporary style, seven Onkwehón:we designers from three communities – Kahnawake, Kanesatake, and Akwesasne – incorporated traditional symbols, colours, ribbons, and beadwork into dresses, tops, pants, cardigans, hats, bags, and shoes. 

Kahnawa’kehró:non designer Thomasina Phillips, who took part in a fashion show for the first time, was excited to interpret cultural elements in her own vision “to really tell a story of our women and how they are getting strong. My collection was sort of my own twist on traditional regalia,” she said.

Phillips was proud to represent her collection with a bridal look and showcase her beadwork with a raised weaving of ribbons.

“Everybody has a different style,” said Kahnawa’kehró:non designer and event curator Karoniénhawe Diabo. “I know there is an interest in our community about fashion, and it is important to show our talents in hair, fashion, and makeup.”

The show also included a segment of traditional childrenswear.

“It is just a really fun event for everybody to see the talent that we have,” she said.  “It is absolutely amazing.”

The fashion show presented Auntie Vibes, Skye Sister Creations, Thompson Designs, Designs by Thomasina, Queena Ribbon Designs with Beadwork by Waves, and Diabo’s own line, She Holds The Sky Designs.

Outfits were modeled by men and women from the communities.

Wearing a traditional bright red skirt with a white top and dangling earrings, Kanehsata’kehró:non model Joelle Perron was excited to walk for Thomasina Phillips’ collection. 

“Indigenous fashion is how we describe ourselves, how we show ourselves in this world. It is a mix of the past, and it is about how we adapt to the present,” said Perron.

She believes fashion exhibitions are events where people can share the same interests, the same culture, and traditional inspirations.

Kanehsata’kehró:non Briana Etienne, who modeled for Thomasina Phillips and She Holds The Sky Designs, believes such a mix of styles brings a new aspect to the culture.

“It is not that old stuff is bad … these are just things that happen as we move on,” she said.

“It is important to show more artists from the communities and to hopefully make them really big companies in the future,” she added.

Kahnawa’kehró:non Wahatehontsathsén:ri Delormier, who modeled for Thomasina Phillips and She Holds The Sky Designs, believes Indigenous culture is starting to get recognition in the industry. 

“It is great for our communities to have the potential to see us in a career path,” he said. “Indigenous representation in mainstream fashion is important.”

Also, this event brings communities together. It is great for everybody to enjoy and have a good time, he said.

Ahkhwesahsró:non designer Tisha Thompson came to the fashion show with her first-ever collection, which seemed very modern at first glance, but a closer look revealed it incorporated many traditional details.

“I like contemporary looks and I like to add beadwork and some leather,” she said. “I have 10 collections in my head that I want to bring to life.”

Thompson believes it is important to promote Indigenous people and their work. “It is our time. We are finally out there and doing these types of events.” 

A plus-size collection was presented by Kahnawa’kehró:non designer Sydney Skye, who participated for the first time, and who was glad all the artists had a place to showcase their work.

“For two or three years, I’ve been trying to make plus-size as much as possible for adults and children, because I never had that opportunity to have that traditional clothing with beadwork elements that is done in plus-size clothing,” she said. 

Aliyah Deer, who attended the show, was impressed with the designers’ work and thought all the models were beautiful and confident.

“The beadwork was fabulous,” she said. “They did a great job with the ribbon skirts. I think the way they incorporated Indigenous design was done very well. They did a phenomenal job so far.”

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