Homegrown fashion designers are gaining recognition on international runways.

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Melrene Saloy’s love for fashion began at a young age, when her grandmother and aunts taught her to sew, making clothes for her dolls.

Today, Saloi runs her own business, Native Diva Creations, which makes traditional First Nations jewelry and accessories. In September, she’s taking her dollar jewelry and accessories collection to Paris Fashion Week.

“Everyone who works with me there is indigenous. So my hair, makeup, models, photographers, everyone is indigenous,” she said.

Saloi, a Blackfoot designer from the Kainai Nation, began her career eight years ago.

After going on maternity leave, she decided she didn’t want to go back to work in retail management. So, she founded Native Diva Innovations and never looked back.

A hat by Saloi that appeared on the runway at New York Fashion Week last year. (Provided by Melrene Saloy)

Saloi She held her first fashion show in Santa Fe, NM in 2015, and last year, models wore her designs on the runway during New York Fashion Week (NYFW).

“I was literally crying the whole time,” Saloi said of her experience at NYFW.

“It was very difficult for me to just sit there, because “Look at my culture. Look at all this happening.”

Saloi is one of the many indigenous fashion designers who showcase their work on national and international runways. She was recruited to bring her designs to Paris by the non-profit International Indigenous Fashion Week Inc. (IIFW).

The organization helps indigenous designers break into the mainstream fashion industry and connect with each other.

Finally under the spotlight

IIFW founder and executive director Chelsa Racette says she started the organization to ensure indigenous designers are noticed and not marginalized at fashion shows.

“I’ve been doing a lot of fashion shows in the United States and Canada, and they only show one or two indigenous designers. So I thought we need our own,” she said.

Saloi jewelry made jewelry. The fashion designer said many non-indigenous artists have taken on indigenous cultures without permission, and it is only now that indigenous designers are being recognized for their work. (Terry Trembaz/CBC)

In the year Since its inception in 2012, IIFW has taken indigenous designers to fashion shows across the country and globally, including New York, Paris and London.

Resette, who is Cree from the Naquenet First Nation in Saskatchewan, said one of her main goals with IIFW is to bring Indigenous designers into mainstream fashion circles and network with other designers from around the world.

“There have been indigenous designers for a long time, and now I think people are just catching on,” she says.

We’re just beads and feathers….we’re not just what you see in the gift shop. We are very, very many.– Melrene Saloy, Blackfoot fashion designer

Saloi agrees. She said many non-indigenous designers have historically taken indigenous designs without permission. It is time for indigenous designers to be recognized for their own work.

“Hey, look, we’re here, we’ve been here, we’ve been here a long time, we have a good point where we have enough artists to say we have a lot to show,” she said.

“We’re not just beads and feathers. We’re not just a powwow. We’re not just what you see in the gift shop. We’re much, much more.”

‘Healing in a Thread’

Livia Manywounds, a member of the Tsuut’ina Nation, brought her couture gown to the Toronto Native Fashion Arts Festival in June. The experience was one to remember.

It was one of those moments where I was like, “Oh my God, I’m really here with all these top, indigenous designers. How did I get to be here, right?”

“And then I think back on my story, I’m like, ‘Wow, I put in the work, the hours. It wasn’t easy to be one person to create all these beautiful clothes.’

She says she thinks of her journey into fashion design as “healing through the threads.” Her father He passed away in 2016, and on the same day her mother was diagnosed with cancer.

Livia Manyunds, a member of the Tsuut’ina Nation, says her journey into fashion design is ‘healing in the thread’. After her mother was diagnosed with cancer, several bruises returned to the bead sitting at her mother’s bedside. (Terry Trembaz/CBC)

As she sat by her mother’s bed, several wounds returned to the bead. After her mother died, she continued her art as a form of healing.

Many wounds said that her work started to become popular online on social media and she started receiving more orders. She credits those who supported and bought her early designs with helping her get to where she is today.

Indigenous designers showing their designs on the runway is important for historical reasons, Manywounds says, especially after the residential school system tried to rob Indigenous communities of their culture, language, traditions and beliefs.

“It’s not a costume because it has a meaning behind it. It’s something more special than that. It has a purpose and a story.”

Many wound said that now many influential indigenous designers are entering the mainstream and getting their designs on the red carpets. She hopes that one day the same will happen for her work and that more opportunities will open up for indigenous designers, models and artists.

As for Salloy, she hopes attending Paris Fashion Week will help get her name out to international buyers, but also start a larger conversation about homegrown designers.

“I want to open those doors for other artists to get out there, to see more indigenous people.”



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