How did your passion for fashion begin?
Well, I grew up making clothing, and it was just a part of some of the activities I did growing up with my community and my mom. It was a big part of my life, out of necessity but also out of love. My family took a lot of care and made sure that I knew my culture because they knew I would be surrounded by Western culture. So they took a lot of care and ensured that I knew the different classes and practices in our communities. That was just a part of my life growing up.
What actions need to be taken to ensure that Indigenous people are properly represented in the Canadian fashion industry?
I’ve seen a lot of change in the fashion industry over the last couple of years. But I know there are definitely some areas that need to be focused on for Indigenous people and people who are generally left out of the industry. The way to include that perspective in the industry is by creating access, by diversifying what’s available to consumers, and to audiences who are interested in witnessing fashion. Our communities bring many values to the industry, especially regarding things like sustainability. I was raised with many values that I think are universal but seem to ring true in my community: only taking what you need and not leaving anything behind. And I think that can change processes, like how people are treated or how we take from the earth and how we give back to the planet and each other.
What needs to be done to decolonize and Indigenize the fashion industry in Canada? How can the ethical fur trade play a role?
In terms of access, greater funding needs to be available. And knowing that most Indigenous people are not in urban centres, there’s a huge wealth of talent out there and people who are doing wonderful work that we don’t see. But it’s also because many people don’t live in big cities. And especially looking at places like Nunavut — geographically remote — it’s expensive to be shipping from there, and then on that point too, there are global trade laws. There are a lot of Indigenous communities that use materials that come from the land or that come from animals. And so much of that can’t be traded for whatever reasons. Seal, for example, is really hard to get across any borders. But it’s a livelihood of an entire nation of people. And so why is that not allowed to be traded around the world? And that prevents Indigenous people from actively being a part of the industry.
Meanwhile, some animals are being farmed to sell leather for shoes. I can go on and on about what action could be taken. And they’re really big things. These are not things that are going to happen overnight. Something like trade, it’s huge. There are so many things that go into deciding how things are traded.
If you could say one thing to top fashion executives, what would it be?
I would tell them to come to the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival (IFA) and listen and really take it in. I don’t want to sit here and tell them what they should do. But there’s already a lot of really great work being done. And if they just come and be a part of our space, I think that can inspire and influence change.
IFA is a multi-platform festival. We have hundreds of designers who attend, so it really is a fruitful place to go. There’s a lot to celebrate and experience, but there’s also a lot to learn, and it’s really about people listening. It’s like, “Stop thinking about the profits for a second and think about strategizing about what those next steps are and how you want that to look.” And if you’re living in a vacuum, change will never happen. So step outside of that box and visit other people who are doing it differently.