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On a sunny afternoon at the Artscape Daniels Launchpad, members from INFUSE had the incredible opportunity to attend the Values-Based Innovation Workshop for Indigenous Entrepreneurship. It was an intimate setting with windows that overlooked the snowy harbourfront. Set up across the front of the room, mannequins showcased striking designs.
This workshop was a supplementary event to Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, which took place this past summer.
Hosted by the enthusiastic Kerry Swanson and Sage Paul, this workshop was one of several that had been held throughout the week. Events such as these help Indigenous women to become more visible within the market and promote business skill development with integrity.
We heard first from Theresa Stevenson, a Saskatchewan based designer. She is the creator of Iskwew Rising Beadwork (translated to English, the name is “woman rising”). She explained how she came from a crafty family and learned beading from her grandmother and mother. Her body of work includes: intricate lip brooches, which feature markings similar to traditional Cree tattooing and peyote stitch lanyard necklaces. Stevenson is extremely ethically conscious and uses only seed beads. Her designs are truly one of a kind and the passion infused in them brings them to life.
Next to take the stage was Brianna Olson, owner of Briskool. By combining her traditional Anishinaabekwe values and her love of hip-hop music, Olson creates one of a kind beaded medallions that are arguably the “original bling.” She uses a variety of beads, bone and hide to make these medallions, which have become a coveted item in the DJ/producer scene. Her goal is to produce sustainable treasures that will be passed down through generations and kept in the family; thus, never ending up in a landfill. Olson also presented T-shirts associated with her brand; ten percent of the proceeds from these shirts go to enabling youth to access beading and other traditional craft workshops.
Evelyn Pakinewatik spoke about the Chinimiwin Collective, a group of artists based throughout Ontario who specialize in contemporary and traditional work. Pakinewatik explained how the group provides quillwork, feather work and beadwork workshops for youth and other family members. Through learning these traditions, culture is preserved, and the sense of community is strengthened. All the art objects are made exclusively by hand and some pieces (such as an eagle feather bustle) can take hundreds of hours to complete.
The evening continued with Jean Marshall. The inspiration for her beaded designs comes from her home and the surrounding community. She truly puts her spirit into her work. She believes that there is a purpose for everything and is conscious to use all-natural materials when creating mittens, moccasins, earrings and more. Marshall’s goal for the future is to open a craft shop in her community that sells high-quality items.
Skye Paul of Running Fox Beads also presented. She learned her beading technique from her aunt and loves the craft. The earrings and patches in her shop are stunning; colourful and contemporary, they are a must-have statement piece. In coordination with her sustainable practices, Paul also sells tote bags with “MAHSI CHO” boldly printed on the front.
A true jack of all trades, Gesik Isaac is a designer that specializes in everything from basket weaving to silversmithing. She emphasizes how she pays homage to her teachers through her work and is inspired by her connection to the land. Isaac works with many natural materials such as hides and salmon skin; she lights up when she says she “loves the process of the process.”
The last speaker of the evening was Lesley Hampton. Her resume includes brand owner, model, and mental health and body positivity activist. Hampton has always been inspired to break the boundaries of fashion and create wearable art. Many of her designs include hand beading. She loves to include diversity with her models and does not conform to typical standards. Her recent work includes an athleisure collection titled Robust and a leggings line.
The event came to an end and the positive energy in the room was tangible. Here we had seven incredibly talented Indigenous women, all designing with integrity, passion and sustainability in mind. All so unique, but connected by the fashion family. The designers want to keep tradition alive and embrace their heritage; all are involved in some way with teaching youth and giving back through educational programs.
Together, they contribute to the beautiful mosaic that is Canada and are well on their way to making a mark in the fashion world.
Want to see more from these designers? Find them here!
Theresa Stevenson: @iskwew.rising
Brianna Olson: @briskool
Evelyn Pakinewatik: @chinimiwin
Skye Paul: @runningfoxbeads
Lesley Hampton: @lesley_hampton
Written by Lindsay Kalliokoski