Designers Pamela Baker and Yolanda Skelton ruled the runways as Toronto and Vancouver’s Indigenous Fashion Weeks partnered with the American organization.
On August 21, the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) Fashion Show — the highly acclaimed and largest Indigenous North American fashion event — celebrated its eighth year at the Santa Fe Indian Market. Produced by Canadian curator and art historian Amber-Dawn Bear Robe from the Siksika Nation, the occasion marked the first partnership between Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO), Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week (VIFW) and the newly established Supernaturals Modelling Agency, the all-Indigenous talent organization based in British Columbia.
SWAIA has been supporting Indigenous artists since the Santa Fe Indian Market launched in 1922. Ninety-nine years later, the outdoor bazaar and accompanying fashion show have received international recognition, making it a go-to destination for style, creativity and culture.
Among the artisanal array of pottery, paintings, textiles, sculpture, and jewellery at the market, Indigenous fashion designers have been increasingly in the spotlight. The first runway show— which this year included Vancouver’s Pamela Baker — was so popular that curator Amber-Dawn Bear Robe introduced a secondary show, the SWAIA Gala, featuring Canadian talent Yolanda Skelton.
Indigenous fashion designers have historically not received their due recognition within the often Western-centric fashion industry. Things are changing in recent years, thanks in part to advocates like Sage Paul, founding member and artistic director of IFWTO, and designers such as Lesley Hampton and Warren Steven Scott, who channel their cultural past into pieces that honour their history while maintaining a contemporary aesthetic.
VIFW’s mission captures the unique perspective Indigenous fashion brings to the fashion landscape succinctly: “Contemporary Indigenous fashion mixes the legacy of Indigenous artistry with modern-day high regalia and street styles: it goes beyond surface beauty and highlights how worn identity can build a connection with Indigenous values, wisdom, empowerment and history.”
Featuring looks from Jamie Okuma (Luiseño, Shoshone-Bannock), Orlando Dugi (Diné), Canadians Pamela Baker (Squamish/Kwakwaka), Yolanda Skelton (Gitxsan Nation and the House of Hax-be-gwoo-txw of the Fireweed Clan) and Lauren Good Day (Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet and Plains Cree), orange was the unofficial runway theme in honour of the Indigenous children killed at residential schools in the U.S. and Canada. The colour came to life in the form of capes, ornate blouses, and elaborate prints, as a cast of all-Indigenous models walked the runway.
Here are a few highlights from the SWAIA Fashion Show.