As colonial-era landmarks come toppling down worldwide and people reckon with the many ugly legacies of empire, embracing Indigenous businesses makes perfect sense. It always has.
Indigenous artists have historically been excluded from mainstream commerce and denied retail visibility, even as their unbeatable craftsmanship has been copied and fetishized relentlessly.
These businesses deserve first right of access to your wallet. Wearing Indigenous-made fashion can be both protest and personal reparation, a small overdue acknowledgment of erased histories and ongoing discrimination.
“Slow fashion” has been practiced by Indigenous communities for centuries. Painstaking beadwork, sewing and weaving, attention to material and detail, and small-batch production are consistent hallmarks. Indigenous fashion was artisanal before artisanal was a thing.
A common misconception is that Indigenous-made fashion isn’t for everyone. As this 2018 HuffPost Canada piece explains, it very much is. Reject the knockoff apparel and culturally inappropriate imagery common in mass retail. Reject disrespectful festival clothing and holiday costumes. Instead, buy directly from artists and makers, and you’ll be OK.
We’ve rounded up 23 Indigenous artists and businesses whose work will change the way you look at fashion.
Founder: Rainy Dawn Ortiz
Lineage: Muscogee (Creek), Acoma Pueblo
Ortiz’s beadwork is so implausibly refined that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at printed fabric. Her pieces are a study in restraint and harmony: She often takes just two or three colors and does glorious things with them. Invest in her work for the heirloom value alone. The cuffs and earrings are meant to be passed down. Ortiz also happens to be the daughter of the United States’ first Indigenous poet laureate, Joy Harjo.
Founder: Ahlazua Kemp
Lineage: Choctaw, Euchee-Mvskoke (Creek) and Diné
Ahlazua (ah-la-zu-wa) offers startlingly beautiful pieces in sterling silver and mother of pearl. Kemp sees herself foremost as a story-keeper. The materiality of her art is secondary to its purpose, which is continuing tradition. Naturally, this informs her process: Traditional methods like tufa casting and etching and traditional materials like mother of pearl and mussel shell define her brand. Through her work, Kemp seeks to revitalize and reimagine forgotten legends and imagery. It is no wonder that her work appears in two museums and is routinely feted at prestigious Indigenous art markets.
Founders: Denise Hottinger and the late Samuel Wallace
Lineage: Chugach Sugpiaq
Museums have exhibited Hottinger’s quietly magical work for years. The pieces are a triumph of form and function: Clever little hinges and clasps allow you to open them up so you can wear the elements separately. The maskette is a recurring theme, and she brings silver, gold, coral and fossilized walrus bone together into beautiful miniature studies of life in the Arctic.
Founder: Tiffany Vanderhoop
Lineage: Haida, Wampanoag
Vanderhoop is the queen of geometric design. She boasts serious weaving heritage on her mother’s side and learned how to weave traditional textile from her mother and sister. Identifiable by their contrasting colorways and formline detail, ancient textile patterns like Raven’s Tail and Naaxiin (Chilkat) come alive in her exquisite beadwork. Finished with just-right hints of gold, her jewelry wears best against monochrome outfits.
Founder: Krysta Furioso
Furioso’s command over color is intuitive and absolute. She has great range, and her bright statement pieces are as easy to love as her quieter ones. Sensual ombré arrangements are a hallmark. Her jewelry is perfect for wallflower and wild child alike.
6. Indi City
Founders: Alexandra Manitopyes and Angel Aubichon
Lineage: Muskowekwan First Nation (Manitopyes), Peepeekisis Cree Nation (Aubichon)
Unpack the brand’s sassy, cheery maximalism and you get an incisive take on tradition. Mirror-finish shoulder dusters that flirt with the light, cute oversize fruit that winks at your ears ― every piece is a nod to the tribal lived experience. This is immensely wearable jewelry that turns heads and makes a point. Aubichon gets her beading chops, her discipline and attention to detail from her Metis Chapan (great grandmother), who practiced her craft till she was 96 and blind. Manitopyes’ grounding in digital media brings an exciting element of experimentation to the table. Their vision, combined with Aubichon’s grasp of form and material, is why the brand’s dramatic laser-cut pieces are wildly popular.
Founder: Tashina Lee Emery
Lineage: Ojibwa of Keweenaw Bay
Emery’s poetic pieces remind us that nature is the ultimate adornment. Cruelty-free and respectfully sourced wild rice, porcupine quills, cedar leaves and shells are transformed into breathtaking works of art. She likes to celebrate imperfection: The raw materials are allowed full play in clear casings, giving them the timeless, poignant quality of amber fossils.
Founder: Jamie Gentry
Lineage: Da’naxda’xw of the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation
Leaves and vines curling up buttery leather, a fit like a hug for your feet ― Gentry’s standout moccasins raise the bar on fashionable, meaningful footwear. Her pieces age beautifully and her dedication to process shines through in the subtle embellishments, glowing raw materials and small personal touches. The beadwork alone takes anywhere between 10 to 30 hours; she stitches each bead herself. She also takes great care to source responsibly and likes helping clients arrive at a design that has personal significance to them.
2. John Murie
Founder: John Murie
Murie cut his teeth in the pow wow circuit beading his own regalia. He got his start making moccasins for a colleague, and then went on to craft an oversize custom pair for a major museum exhibit. A John Murie moc is typically beaded all over and sports clean, fresh design inspired by nature, the seasons and the cosmos. The fadework is impeccable and topped off with a neat contrast piping, a signature element. Murie’s devotion to getting every pair right is evident in his journal-style posts on Instagram.
Founder: Shauna White Bear
Lineage: Arikara/Hidatsa Nation
White Bear does stunning custom pieces that embody comfy chic and feel like a second skin. She turns the idea of mocs being a niche, offbeat accessory on its head: These shoes are for everyone. Pad about the house in them or wear them outdoors. Pair them with dresses or jeans or even a bodysuit. White Bear learned to make moccasins at a 25-year-old cobbler shop called Carter’s Boots and Repair, where she now rents a workshop. Her leather is sustainably sourced and responsibly tanned, and she offers variations on six classic styles, from an ankle-length slipper to a tall boot.
Founder: Hollis Chitto
Lineage: Mississippi Choctaw, Laguna Pueblo, Isleta Pueblo
Chitto’s masterpieces belong in a period film featuring languid seductresses in opera gloves and shimmering flapper dresses. His work is unmatched in decadence and compositional fidelity. Chitto has been beading since he was 10, so pushing himself on technique is a big part of his creative discipline. Amazingly, spontaneity is too; he doesn’t give much thought to things like palette when conceptualizing. That sense of wonder and discovery communicates beautifully in his work.
Founder: Sydelle Harrison
Lineage: Cayuse, Walla Walla, Yakama and Korean American
A Kanaine (ka-nine-ee) bag is a celebration of color and movement. Harrison, who has worked many years in cultural resources protection, makes her bags with blankets from the Oregon-based Pendleton Woolen Mills. The medium is a natural fit: She grew up in Pendleton, and the blankets are a treasured part of local cultural practices. Harrison is a nerd about material and design. In her launch videos on Instagram, she obsesses over leather, over giving fringe detail the right kind of heft, over space and structure and proportion. Her unmistakable erudition and her love for her people form the heart of her brand.
Founder: Gabriel Frey
Lineage: Passamaquoddy from Sipayik (Wabanaki Confederacy)
A Gabriel Frey basket is an investment and a cultural keepsake. In 2018, Frey was awarded the prestigious United States Artists Fellowship for his contribution to the national heritage of Wabanaki basketry. He is a 12th-generation basket maker who has been weaving black ash baskets for two decades. His grandfather, his first real teacher, continues to guide his artistic vision through the basketwork he left behind. Frey personally locates, harvests and hand-dyes weave-worthy wood; he selects only the best leather and hardware. His functional, sophisticated pieces go surprisingly well with city living. Carry your work essentials in one of his roomier bags adapted from the pack baskets historically used for fishing and trapping, or travel light with his smaller styles.
4. Sandra Okuma
Founder: Sandra Okuma
Lineage: Shoshone/Bannock, Luiseño, Wailaki
You don’t so much admire a Sandra Okuma piece as gawk at it. She paints with beads, achieving a tapestry-like richness and tonal complexity that defies even the HD-attuned eye. Okuma worked as a graphic designer in the entertainment industry for many years, and that experience shows in the dazzling theatricality of her work. Her daughter Jamie is a celebrated artist too, and both mother and daughter push their art in exciting directions independent of each other.
Founders: Amanda and Erik
Lineage: Oneida & Stockbridge-Munsee of the Turtle clan (Amanda), Ojibwe of the Pine Marten clan (Erik)
Denim from Ginew (gih-noo) is statement utilitarianism at its finest. Their dark wash jean is a must-have; cuff the leg and wear with a strappy heel or bright jewel-toned mocs for best results. With their storied longevity and classic cuts, these garments, especially the outerwear, pay homage to the working class roots of their forefathers. In its imagery, its details, its choice of material, even the people it chooses to collaborate with, the brand is an unflinching confrontation of the erasure of Indigenous peoples. It reframes jeans ― a staple of nostalgic white Americana ― as a garment at the heart of Indigenous working-class pride.
2. Makwa Studio
Founder: Maggie Thompson
Lineage: Fond Du Lac Ojibwe and German-Irish
Textile artist and designer Thompson brings soul and intentionality to knitwear.
As she comes from mixed heritage, her work outside the knitting studio has mostly been about processing the fraught identity question and challenging the colonial invalidation of Native experiences. While some Native artists do this by drawing solely on tradition, Thompson chooses to make art that is informed by heritage yet culturally contemporaneous. Her polished machine-knit creations (all hand-loomed, all wool) subtly reference her roots yet are aesthetically secular. There is serenity and restraint to her design. The repeating patterns in variations of black and white infused selectively with pops of bright, earthy color are especially lovely.
Founder: Niio Perkins
Lineage: Mohawk from the Haudenosaunee Confederacy
Perkins’ easy silhouettes sport prints inspired by Iroquois beadwork and pottery. Her accessible stylings challenge the idea that Native sensibilities can’t go mainstream. Throw her autumnal longline cardigan over jeans and some boots, or practice your asanas in her ’Gram-worthy workout sets. Perkins is a true design polymath; she is also a formidable beadwork artist. Her jewelry and embroidery come from a place of scholarship, deliberation and evident love. Her statement necklaces, bowties and pack baskets with gorgeous hand-embellished straps (some done in collaboration with other artists) are a collector’s dream.
Founders: Dakota Bear and Casey Desjarlais
Lineage: Nehiyaw and Saulteaux from Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 territories
You could say that protestwear has come into its own with recent events, or you could argue that garments that shout their politics needn’t wait for an occasion ― extant structures of oppression are a perfectly good reason to wear them on the daily. Decolonial Clothing Co. gets that sporting anti-colonialist sentiments on your sleeve is important. Emblazoned with punchy fonts, the brand’s cozy hoodies and tees will help you find your flock.
5. Orenda Tribe
Founder: Amy Yeung
Yeung’s upcycled gender-neutral offerings are a cerebral yet playful rebuttal to fast fashion. Her meditative, painterly treatments transform vintage garments into works of art. Look fly as hell while running errands in her rainbow tie-die athleisure sets, dip-dyed military jackets and slouchy boiler suits that redefine streetwear.
6. Winston Paul
Founder: Calandra Etsitty
Lineage: Diné (Navajo)
Winston Paul’s dreamy skirts are all the rage on Instagram. Wear them with a plain black or white tee and you’re set. Big pleats, extravagant tiers, structured ruffles, flirty hand-cut fringes that move with a life of their own ― this is fun, memorable fashion. Her vibrant Pavlovo Posad-print flat bags are popular too ― they double up as clutches and makeup storage.
Founder: Mya Beaudry
Nine-year-old entrepreneur Mya Beaudry drops a limited edition scrunchie every Sunday. She kicked off her business in 2019 with a plan to do something nice for her pow wow community. (Beaudry has been attending their events since she was little.) For the 2020 Summer Solstice pow wow, Ottawa’s grandest, Mya planned to host a Special ― an event that involves performances and giveaways ― to give back to other little girls. Hosting a Special is an honor and a big responsibility, and there’s lots of planning involved. Mya decided that she would gift her peers with handmade scrunchies. Today, each scrunchie is named after a role model or someone special in Mya’s life, and they are the perfect #wfh accessory to brighten your day.
Founder: Candace Bell
Lineage: Metis from Saskatchewan
Bell does the sexiest beaded sunglasses. Her beadwork adds character to all the classic shapes, and she does only one of each design unless a custom repeat is requested. She’s rated very highly on her Etsy store, where customers typically gush about owning more than one pair. Wear these with just about any outfit for instant oomph.
Founder: Heather Dickson
Lineage: Tlingit from Carcross Tagish First Nation
Dickson was so determined to learn traditional sewing that she forced her way into local grannies’ and aunties’ sewing circles. Traditional sewing and beadwork are a form of cultural gatekeeping for Native communities but they don’t exactly make for a lucrative career. Dickson decided she wanted to change that ― for herself and for those pouring literal sweat into keeping custom alive. Her beaded fabric headbands were initially dismissed for being too “granny” and then caught on so quickly she now works with other artists to meet demand. Today she’s sold out within minutes of uploading new designs. Her bright, festive pieces need no occasion.