Don’t give in to cultural appropriation! Buy from these ethical fashion brands by indigenous people instead
By Alexandria Beyer
Ethical fashion brands by indigenous people are something new commercially, but not traditionally.
Historically, Native American clothing has varied greatly from tribe to tribe, based on the materials that were most available to the different tribes on the continent. Those materials always came from nature, and were sourced with the utmost respect. Tribes were (and still are) easily recognised by what they wore and how their garments were embellished.
In the past, Native American clothing was heavily reliant on animal products, but from Alaska down through to Mexico and Guatemala, woven plant-based products were also often worn from head to toe. Hats, capes, dresses and even shoes were all made from eco-friendly materials, and today, this is still the case. And no wonder: eco-friendliness is built in to the mentality of indigenous people, as this quote beautifully illustrates:
“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”
–Chief Seattle, leader of the Suquamish and Duwamish Native American tribes
Many mainstream designers have recognised the beauty of native fashion, and have tried to use it in their own work. For example, Isabel Marant notoriously used an indigenous Mexican embroidery pattern on the sleeves of one of her blouses, which sold for hundreds. She paid zero to the original creators of the design, and consequently, there was a huge outcry against her label on social media.
Ethical fashion brands by indigenous people not only suffer from others ripping off their designs, but also from knock-offs of the quality pieces they create. Real Native American turquoise and silver jewellery, for example, should cost hundreds of dollars, at least. But sadly, many cheap knock-offs are made from plastic ‘turquoise’ or plated silver that may look the part, but won’t last.
The sartorial history of indigenous peoples throughout the Americas is diverse and interesting. Luckily, it is being kept alive today by several indigenous-owned fashion labels. Purchasing from these brands not only helps employ people from native communities, but also keeps their artisanal traditions alive.
Here are some of the most fabulous ethical fashion brands by indigenous people that I strongly believe we should support!
8 Ethical Fashion Brands By Indigenous People
Jared Yazzie launched OXDX in 2009 after he realised ‘the world I was taking part in had a deep displacement of representation for Indigenous people.’ He wanted to create a clothing label that would tell the story of his people (Diné/Navajo) and the challenges they face.
He started selling at small art events, flea markets, and powwows, and after just a few years, the brand took off. In fact, there are even now OXDX pieces displayed in museums!
This Métis Fashion House empowers women and inspires pride. If you don’t know who the Métis are, it’s an ethnic group that is half French and half Native American. Unsurprisingly, Voila’s styles combine French style with Native American prints to make a unique statement.
They are strong believers in the slow fashion movement and continue to grow their company using only sustainable practices. They make organic cotton jersey designs, but their core value remains“buy less, buy better”.
Trickster is another one of the ethical fashion brands by indigenous people that comes from the North West Coat. It promotes innovative indigenous design in everything from basketballs to tee shirts!
Through fashion and design, they explore themes and issues within Native cultures and support civic engagement, too. Trickster celebrates the Northwest Coast culture as it lives today. The company offers a wide range of products including apparel, jewelry, home goods, skateboards, fine art, and even paper products.
The name Hiptipico came from the Spanish word, “tipico,” which is the traditional clothing worn by the indigenous Maya people in Guatemala. Today, Hiptipico is dedicated to preserving indigenous culture throughout Guatemala and creating dignified job opportunities through the promotion of the traditional art form of weaving and embroidery. The brand is also unique in that you can learn all about the exact weaver who created your product before you buy it.
This is an extremely stylish Native American owned fashion and accessories brand that uses wearable art as a means of storytelling. Everything is created using traditional methods passed down from generation to generation with the intention that each product will last and be cherished as if it were an heirloom.
Indigenous peoples design all of the textiles and clothing while all of the accessories are handmade by a collective of Native American artisans from Tribal Nations and First Nations communities. You can meet every artisan on their website, too.
This brand creates Native American made clothing, jewelry and accessories for real; it’s not “native inspired,” in mass production. The company offers consumers the opportunity to genuinely support over 40 indigenous Native American Artists and their traditional craftsmanship.
Their work is incredibly unique and all aspects of every piece are connected to the land where they were made – North Dakota, by artisans from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa tribe. Visit their site and you can find everything from hand woven baskets, beading, prints, jackets, and more.
7. Orenda Tribe
This is one of the most gorgeous ethical fashion brands by indigenous people that we know of! Orenda Tribe creates modern fashion designs with a Native twist.
Founder Amy Yeung aims to pay homage to her own indigenous history through fashion. Her brand is created by a small community of artisans who are fairly paid to make Orenda Tribe’s clothing using upcycling and other eco-friendly techniques.
The sale of the brand’s stylish, Boho shirts, hats, trousers and more benefit indigenous artists who live on Navajo reservations.
This may be the most eco-friendly brand on the list! Indigenous family owned and operated company, since 2015, the majority of their products are constructed from natural materials and are made with authentic Haida and Kwakwa’kwakw designs from the Northwest Coast.
Whether you choose unique jewellery, clothing printed with traditionally made designs, or decorative items for the home, you’ll make a clear statement with Totem House Designs – a statement that says you support the native people of North America.