The Indigenous fashion scene is ever-evolving, and while designers continue to develop their tribes’s traditional designs, there’s also an emphasis on innovation more than ever before. The latest category to get an unexpected Native twist? Streetwear. Emerging street-focused brands are using bold graphics and logo mania to draw awareness to their culture’s history, teachings, and adversities. These talents are using punchy clothes to reclaim their heritage—and given streetwear is often used for political, social, and cultural statements, it serves as a surprisingly effective medium.
A wide range of streetwear was on display at Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week last month. In addition to some of the most recognized Indigenous designers today such as Lesley Hampton, Sho Sho Esquiro, and Angela DeMontigny, the week’s buzziest stars were newcomer streetwear brands. Labels such as Mobilize and SRO (more on them below) showed graphic collections that paid homage to their respective communities while drawing awareness to their people’s stories. (SRO, for instance, showed a collection entirely dedicated to the tight-knit community in East Vancouver, where it is based.) These new talents are part of a bigger rise of Indigenous streetwear brands on the market, with established brands such as The NTVS, OXDX, and more gaining popularity on social media platforms.
Below, meet four Native American–owned streetwear labels to watch out for in 2020—and how their clothes empower the Indigenous communities that they come from.
Founders: Jared Yazzie, owner and lead designer (Diné/Navajo). Allie Stone, technical designer and textile artist.
Launched in: 2009
Based in: Tempe, Arizona
The story: “I grew up on a border town to the Navajo reservation, which helped balance my different identities as a Diné student in a non-Native-dominated society,” said Yazzie. “It wasn’t until I arrived in college that I found a passion for the arts. The world I was taking part in had a deep displacement of representation for Indigenous people. I wanted the clothing I was wearing to tell my stories. Native people are natural storytellers, we use oral traditions to share our culture to the next generations, and fashion became my outlet to share similar stories of young Indigenous people. I created my clothing label from my University of Arizona dorm room. I would create unique stencils and hand-painted tees as gifts for my early supporters and to auction off through my social media pages. I soon found demand in the tees I was making, which led me to develop skills in screen printing. I started selling at small art events, flea markets, and powwows; within the scope of a few years, I had OXDX pieces displayed in museums.”
On collaborations: “As a duty to my community, our bigger plan here at OXDX is to educate upcoming artists and entrepreneurs and to become stronger contenders with larger entities. We want people to know that Native artists exist, that Native designers kill it, and that we deserve the same opportunities as others. Collaborate with us.”
Signature look: “OXDX has always been a tribute to DIY culture, influenced by punk-rock music, anarchism, and street art. I’ve always loved to show the similarities between punk and anarchists and our existence as Indigenous people. How my ancestors opposed the government, and how our traditional and cultural practices left our people discriminated and outcasted. These views have molded OXDX designs to become personal statement pieces. We show color, over-pattern our pieces, write heavy statements, patch screen-printed patches, and hand-dye our garments. Our graphics are strong with Diné representation, and my personal favorite is to create art portraits with actual members of the Indigenous community.”
Launched in: 2019
Based in: East Vancouver, B.C., Canada
The story: “It’s all about the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver, and what it’s evolved to be,” said LeBlanc. “I’ve lived here for 20 years, so more than half of my life. We work out of Shop Wrong in the heart of East Vancouver. Our shop consists of many disciplines of art, including metalwork, graffiti, textile art, green thumbery, jewelry making, leatherwork. While Rob and I are the designers and construct the clothing and jewelry, we do have a tight-knit team of creatives that we share our time and space with at all times, who represent many nations as well as all four directions. East Van is somewhat of a zombie nation and, at the same time, a beautiful, strong community. It is all-inclusive, from the poorest to the wealthiest, the young and old. The streets hold the energy and tell a story.”
Signature look: “The look is fly, gritty East Van realness. Our clothing is all-inclusive and a reflection of the people. Every item is one of a kind. Our signature pieces are made of repurposed leather, denim, and hand-knits. Our new hoodies are all-new materials, made by us in the hood. All of our jewelry and accessories are also made by us in the hood.”
ᐊᐧᐢᑲᐃᐧᐃᐧᐣ (cree syllabics for “movement”)
Founder: Dusty LeGrande (Nehiyaw/Woodland Cree)
Launched in: 2018
Based in: Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
The motto: “Streetwear wit [sic] a Cree flair.”
The story: “Mobilize is storytelling through streetwear. Art to empower, educate, create identity, and to evolve perspective. I tell this story simply from my own perspective and pass teachings and knowledge through the clothing I create. I have always believed that clothing is much more; clothing is meant to be your voice when you feel silenced, to be an item that brings self-worth, and to act as an extension of your own story. As a father and a community member who has worked alongside our youth for most of my life, I feel a responsibility to create change for generations to come. We must tell our own stories! We must move forward in a good way with the land, the people, and our mother (the earth) being taken care of. We mobilize for the next generation, to empower the future ancestors, and to ensure that we create a conscious generation who will create the shift [that is] required.”
Signature look: “We do customized, remixed vintage pieces. As Indigenous people, we have always been resourceful with the things around us. I utilize furs, scarves, fabrics, and concepts that have been around for thousands of years to create a style that blends Indigenous culture, streetwear, and futurism. My inspiration flows from many sources; my children, the ancestors, Indigenous historical clothing styles, growth, and everything in my world that moves me. I feel art without substance has no point—my style is that of very important intention.”
Special pieces: “Our very first piece was a soft pink hoodie called ‘The Matriarch.’ I was lucky to learn from very powerful matriarchs, and as a father to three daughters, I felt it [was] important to begin the story with the honoring of our matriarchy. My oldest daughter, Lola, has also designed two hoodies, ‘Lola’ and ‘Leonardo,’ and those are personal favorites.”
Founder: Justin Louis (Nehiyaw/Plains Cree)
Launched in: 2016
Based in: Vancouver, B.C., Canada
The story: “Section 35 has always been about bringing Indigenous art, culture, and lifestyle into a streetwear brand that empowers and brings people together. Through our work, we strive to bring authentic representation to the streetwear world. Everything we do is based on the foundation of our truths as Indigenous people—it’s not always pretty, but it’s real. I feel that Indigenous people have a lot to offer the game. It’s important that the next generation of kids have something like that to witness and see what they are capable of doing. I want our people to be able to see themselves reflected in streetwear. And as we are able to do that, I want to continue to give back to the community.”
Signature look: “Our signature pieces are our jackets, whether it be the cut-and-sew jackets or the one-of-a-kind custom denim or leather jackets. I love building looks around a dope jacket! I draw a lot of my inspiration from sportswear and surf/skate/snow wear, as those are styles that speak to me. I also lived in California for more than 10 years during my college and young adult years, and that West Coast inspiration can be found in a lot of my work. But being from the North where it’s colder, it’s all about dope jackets, a hoodie, and a New Era fitted [cap] or a beanie, and you’ve got my vibe.”
Originally Appeared on Vogue