This year, the wildly popular Santa Fe Indian Market Indigenous Fashion Show will be a two-part event.
It is one of the hottest tickets in the Indian market. This year’s SWAIA Indigenous Fashion Show is Saturday-Sunday August 20 – 21.
More than a dozen designers will be participating, including Catherine Blackburn (Dene, European, English River First Nation), Jamie Okuma (Louiseno, Shoshone-Bannock, Wailaki, Okinawan, La Jolla), Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), Leslie Hampton (Anishinaabe), Orlando Dougie (Navajo), Sho Sho Eskiro (Kaska Dene Aboriginal, Cree, Scottish) and Cody Sanderson (Navajo). We chatted with fashion show producer Amber-Down Bear Robe (Siksika/Blackfoot) about what to expect.
Wes Studi modeling for Cody Sanderson
Cowboys & Indians: How will this year’s show be different?
Amber Dawn Bear Dress: Expanding in two days will be big, for each different designers, then the trunk soiree. The goal is to develop fashion programs into SWAIA Fashion Week.
C&I: How did the show evolve and what did it take to pull it off?
Bear RobeBlood, sweat and tears! [Laughs.] The first SWAIA runway was outdoors in Cathedral Park. In the year I put it together in 2013 with almost no input.
C&I: What will we see this year?
Bear dress Couture, ready-to-wear and wearable art. Power and energy are different. Saturday night will be more lounge with a “chill” vibe. I’m encouraging guests to have fun, dress up to the nines with sparkle, glitter and glam. Saturday’s show will be a luxurious, high social night. Sunday is a more traditional runway. Both will be at the Santa Fe Convention Center with wine and nibbles.
C&I: How do you prepare?
Bear dress It’s a huge production, and I wear many fashionable hats, from model manager, art director, management, communications, and the list is endless. Ideally, I’d have a team overseeing each episode to execute the show, but that would take resources. Getting lighting for the airport is challenging and expensive! Illumination, with good photos, filmography, presents each designer’s collections and models in a visual way. The day of the event, the models are getting their hair and makeup, the designers are doing the final fittings and adjustments. When booking 100 models there will always be some no shows or last minute cancellations. It’s last-minute controlled chaos, and it keeps me on my toes. The Supernatural Native Modeling Agency in Canada is coming here again. They bring great dynamic energy to Santa Fe and to the runway.
Patricia Michael. ©Image courtesy of designer.
C&I: Anything else new?
Bear dress We tried it last year at designer trunk shows and it turned out to be very popular. This body is planned for 2022 with additional space for construction. People can find designers and models and buy or order directly from the designer.
C&I: Great idea! What trends are you seeing in indigenous fashion?
Bear dress There are pockets of different trends in native fashion. Street clothes. Ready to wear. High-end. Ready-to-wear based on indigenous couture is in high demand. Another fashion trend, across the fashion board, represents the expectations of all body sizes, ages, genres and traditional industries – varying in size, colour, shape, form and gender.
C&I: How is the fashion industry doing with diversity, especially with the inclusion of indigenous designers?
Bear dress In America, Indigenous designers are underrepresented compared to Canada’s Indigenous fashion and art scene. I don’t see any real, long-term commitment to native designers by clothing and big fashion houses. I’ve seen big changes happening in Canada, like Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, Toronto Indigenous Fashion Week, now the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival, magazine covers, news and media coverage outside of the local Indigenous bubble.
C&I: What’s something people don’t realize about indigenous fashion?
Bear dress If I can find one thing, it’s that indigenous peoples are extremely diverse in terms of expression, art and design. A Native designer, artist, or model does not speak for or represent all Native Americans. It’s so funny. [to think] A region can stand for creative prosperity in Canada and the United States. “What is native fashion?” There is no single sentence, word or box that answers. That “What is American fashion?” It’s like asking. At the latest American fashion theme at the Met Gala, one can witness how it presents itself in many ways and manifestations. In fact, Native American design is central to American fashion. Most people in the United States don’t realize this foundation of design. We need to get away from this idea of pan-Indian North American people. Native fashion can be fun, serious, political, conceptual, historical and futuristic.
C&I: What about the upcoming market?
Bear dress I love the SWAIA shopping season. It is a place where the people of all the regions are celebrated together for the indigenous arts in their diversity. We gather with old and new friends and family. People are wearing okuma dresses, jewelry, power shoes and accessories. SWAIA’s fashion shows are a unique experience you won’t get anywhere else in America.
Patricia Michael Station Image courtesy of SWAIA.
Sho Sho ESQUIRO
Fashion designer Sho Sho Eskiro, who currently lives in a condo in New Westminster, British Columbia, grew up in Canada’s remote Yukon.
“It’s very serious and extreme. It’s just a beautiful place to come from. I am a proud Yukon Air,” she said.
A two-day driver can often see bears, moose, foxes, herds of caribou, beavers, porcupines, vultures, owls and magpies on her way home from Vancouver to the Yukon.
“It’s always a blessing when animals offer themselves to you,” she says.
And for 41-year-old Esquiro, it was a long three-day drive from Vancouver to Santa Fe, where her car was loaded with her fashion clothes. She creates indigenous couture streetwear and indigenous luxury goods using recycled furs and various leathers. She exhibits in museums and runways, including fashion shows in Paris and New York Fashion Week. Sociopolitical statements can be seen on her recent clothes. A woolen ombre cashmere dress bears the slogan “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” which is draped back and appears to be subtle.
According to Richard Pratt, who was responsible for opening boarding schools in the US,” she said.
Made of 24-carat gold, seal leather, wool and mother-of-pearl, the heavily-crowded top says, “We wait in gold.”
The wording is certainly intentional: “It’s as if we’re waiting for justice for the murders of the disappeared natives,” says Esquiro. “I live on a river, and within two months of making the piece, a huge eagle perched on a tree. There were times when I cried, when I screamed.
At her SWAIA trunk show, she sells one-of-a-kind, upcycled jean jackets.
“[Indian Market has] It was everything to my career,” she says. “I’ve made incredible friendships. There was networking and opportunities and I was pushing myself as an artist.
Market has only recently begun accepting First Nations artists, and for Esquiro, it’s an opportunity to represent Canadians, First Nations, Kaska, and Yukon.
“I mentored Yukon artists,” she says.
Design by Sho Sho Esquiro; SWAIA Fashion Show 2018
Design by Sho Sho Esquiro; SWAIA Fashion Show 2018
Design by Sho Sho Esquiro; Modeled by Jolene Mitton; SWAIA Fashion Show 2018