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How these Indigenous fashion designers are taking a modern approach to traditional designs

CBC News | June 18, 2023

Categories: news

Show was a part of the International Indigenous Fashion Week

Louise BigEagle · CBC News · Posted: Jun 18, 2023 6:00 AM EDT | Last Updated: June 19

During the Indigenous International Fashion Week in Regina, Indigenous Fashion Designers bring out their best designs to showcase on the runway.
Chelsea Nokusis, Tanya Straighnose and Tracey George Heese were among the designers at the International Indigenous Fashion Week (IIFW) show at the Mamaweyatitan Centre in Regina on June 3. (Louise BigEagle/CBC)

Indigenous fashion designers got a chance to show off their work as part of International Indigenous Fashion Week (IIFW) in Regina.

IIFW partnered with the Buffalo People Arts Institute for a fashion show at the Mamaweyatitan Centre on June 3.

Eight designers showcased their Indigenous-fused clothing and bags to an eager audience, while vendors offered local handmade items and food.

Chelsea Cree-ations and Indigenously Beaded Hat Designs have been on the fashion show road.
Chelsea's Cree-ations and Indigenously Beaded Hat Designs collaborated at the show. (Submitted by Chelsea Nokusis)

Chelsea Nokusis is a fashion designer from Peepeekisis First Nation in Saskatchewan. She meshes current trends with Indigenous cultural clothing for her brand Chelsea's Cree-ations.

Nokusis is a mother to four children. Her oldest daughter, 16-year-old Rain, is often one of her models.

Model wears Chelsea's Cree-ation's dress and a Indigenously Beaded Hat Design by CEO Tanya Straightnose
One of the dresses from Chelsea's Cree-ations is a take on a ribbon skirt that adds a top. (Louise BigEagle/CBC)

Nokusis started designing during the COVID pandemic. Although it was an uncertain time, Nokusis focused on creativity.

She makes starblankets, grad dresses, ribbon skirts and most recently a wedding dress, all incorporating Indigenous cultural designs.

"Growing up, I never seen any of this and I really wanted to bring that into our culture, into fashion, so that way our people can wear it to grads, to galas, anything like that," said Nokusis.

She balances being a fashion designer and a mother with the help of support from her family.

"Their father, my spouse of 16 years, always has my back and is there to help," said Nokusis

CEO and creator Tanya Straightnose makes beaded felt hats for men and women.
Tanya Straightnose says felt hats like this one take hours to bead. (Submitted by Tanya Straightnose)

Tanya Straightnose, from Keeseekoose First Nation, is the creator of Indigenously Beaded Hat Designs.

Straightnose is a self-taught beader and has been doing it for two years. She originally ordered herself a beaded hat from another designer, but decided to take a try at it herself.

"Usually for fashion shows it will take me a day, because I'll push myself. Other than that I give myself two days to do [a hat]," said Straightnose.

She brought her niece along to see her at work a designer job entails at fashion show.
Tanya Straightnose, right, creator of Indigenously Beaded Hat Designs brought her niece Jaydan Severightt to the fashion show to help out and watch her work. (Tanya Straightnose/Facebook)

Its also a family affair for Straightnose, who brings her niece Jaydan Severight along to her shows. Severight helps with photos and videos, but Straightnose also wants her niece to see her work as a fashion designer.

CEO and President of Sweet Sage Woman Designs.
President and CEO of Sweet Sage Woman, Yolanda OldDwarf. (Louise BigEagle/CBC)

Yolanda OldDwarf came all the way from Billings, Mont., to show off her brand Sweet Sage Woman. She made the trip, her first to Canada in 22 years, to show her contemporary spin on traditional designs.

OldDwarf is a member of the Apsaalooke Nation and a mother to four children. She opened the show with her MMIW-inspired self hand-printed dress.

She said her designs each carry meaning. For instance, the flowers on one of her dresses symbolize gratitude. 

"This is the orchid cactus. It's a flower that demonstrates patience, because some of them only bloom once a year for one day," OldDwarf said as she flipped through a rack showing off some of her designs.

"I also have the stars, the mountains and the horses. My tribes are horse people, so we train our horses and we need a lot of patience to train."

The designer came all the way from Billings, Montana to attend the fashion show.
Sweet Sage Womans hourglass designs represent the passing of time. (Joseph Cassiel Photography)

OldDwarf said she started designing clothing because she wanted to empower and encourage Indigenous women and men, as all her designs are for anyone to wear.

The Indigenous Fashion Show also included arts vendors, food and traditional dancing. It was attended by people of all ages, from babies to elders.

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