Indigenous designers, emerging and established, are using the runway to express their truths. They aren't only wowing us with aesthetic beauty - they're delivering a powerful and political message.
Fashion has always been a medium for social movements, transforming society and creating social change from the turn of the century in Paris. From Coco Chanel’s desire to liberating women from corsets in the 1900s, to Dior bringing femininity back to women after the Second World War, fashion has been a platform for social movements throughout history.
The reconciliation movement in Canada has been gaining momentum since the Truth & Reconciliation Commission published their Calls to Action in 2015. Both Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians who are engaged with and sincere about the histories of colonization, the Indian Act, and the multi-generational impact of residential schools agree that there is a a great need for the restoration of relationships, understanding culturally important ideas, and direct, ethical consumerism of Indigenous designs from Indigenous brands.
Fashion is a powerful way to address our legacy of broken promises. It can help to build and rebuild relationships between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada. Here’s how you can participate:
1. Support Indigenous designers by buying from them! Conversely, avoid fast fashion that is exploiting Indigenous designs. Feeling fierce? Write a letter to the marketing department of those stores, let them know you refuse to buy appropriated fashion, and connect them with your favourite Indigenous designers in Canada!
2. Be an economic reconciliation activist! Behind every designer is a community and workforce ready to grow. Fashion is a creative and valid career for young Indigenous Canadians living on- and off-reserve. You’re nourishing entrepreneurial mindset and the creative spirit of youth who may, for the first time, see themselves as designers, venture leaders, and social enterprise gurus.
3. Share and celebrate authenticity! It doesn’t take much to think of iconic Canadian fashion and recognize that it is Indigenous. Parkas, winter boots and mittens...guess who first designed them and made them technically sound?
4. Investigate the barriers to trade for today's Indigenous communities! Problematic barriers to trade, first authored by The Indian Act in 1876 still exist today. By purchasing authentic Indigenous fashion, you recognize and value Indigenous ways of knowing, and the transmission of the craft, culture and heritage of our 760+ First Nations, Metis and Inuit communities in Canada. Share the knowledge with others.
5. Get involved in a great community project! Awesome initiatives abound, and Otahpiaaki is just one of them. As an example, Otahpiaaki is a direct response to reconciliation. It addresses the TRC's Call-to-Action #83 “Supporting strategies for Indigenous and non-indigenous artists who undertake collaborative projects and produce work that contribute to the reconciliation process.”
Otahpiaaki emphasizes explorations of deep beauty, bold Nation-to-Nation exchange, enhanced industrial design laws, and new routes to global markets for Indigenous designers. We are in search of wise practices and excellence. Our challenge to you is to join the movement!
Also check out:
Coco Chanel- A Designer Ahead of Her Time
For more information on current perspectives of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians on reconciliation please visit: http://reconciliationcanada.ca/resources/national-narrative-report-on-reconciliation/
Mosaic image: Derek Jagodzinsky