Tradition and “going to the roots” sounds a little bit old-fashioned and conservative, doesn’t it? But Native American designers from Native Fashion Now project proved that “indigenous”
equals “trendy” today and that minority nations are not minor in fashion industry.


Inspiration from the roots

Where do modern designers and artists get the inspiration from? The collections of the most famous fashion houses look quite futuristic. But Native Fashion Now team are revolutionizing fashion industry by focusing calling attention to their ancestors and their culture since 1950s. Celebrating Native American design as an important force in the world of contemporary fashion.


The travelling exhibition that represents the wave of contemporary indigenous design, is organized by Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts; and currently performed at the National Museum of American Indian in Washington. Native Fashion Now designers construct their items in silk, leather, woven cedar bark, and Mylar. The wearable pieces of art are decorated with natural fox fur, elk teeth, and screen printed graphics.

Native Fashion Now examines five themes—Pathbreakers, Revisitors, Activators, Provocateurs, and Motivators—reflecting how designers respond to ideas and trends in the world of Native fashion. Pathbreakers are groundbreaking designers, while Revisitors refresh, renew and expand on tradition. Activators embrace an everyday, personal style that engages with today’s trends and politics, while Provocateurs depart from conventional fashion to make works that are conceptually driven and experimental. Motivators are designers working within local companies to shift the business of fashion from Native-inspired to inspired Natives.

Who they are

The important thing that all the designers from the Native Fashion Now project have in common is that through their wearable masterpieces they express cultural identity, artistic agency and their unique perspective.
Back in 1950s native artists decided to enter the world of mainstream fashion. The first designer who was successful to create high-fashion brand was Cherokee designer Lloyd “Kiva” New, who sold his customized clothing and accessories to a specialized clientele across the nation, from boutiques on Fifth Avenue to Beverly Hills, and distributed his line through Neiman Marcus.

The current exhibition brings together high-profile Native designers such as Pat Pruitt, Jamie Okuma, Patricia Michaels, Bethany Yellowtail and others.

In the middle of 1990s a mechanical engineer Pat Pruitt (Laguna Pueblo) started to work with jewelry. Before he used to work in machine shops and in the body piercing industry. His materials are different from the familiar turquoise and silver of the Native American Southwest. He employed non-precious metals like titanium, stainless steel and zirconium, and used computer-aided technology alongside classic jeweler’s tools.

Jamie Okuma (Luiseño/Shoshone-Bannock) began beading when she was only 5, and at 22 became the youngest winner of Santa Fe Indian Market’s prestigious grand prize. For the latest work she spent hundreds of hours hand-stitching antique 1880s beads onto a pair of Christian Louboutin boots, repurposing them to make something beautiful that is her own. By the time she was finished, only the boots’ famous red soles remained exposed – the rest of the surfaces were covered with her stylized beadwork designs inspired by motifs common to Western tribal communities.

Patricia Michaels from Taos-Pueblo competed on the 11th season of Project Runway. Since the childhood she draws inspiration from nature and her Native roots. She named her company, PM Waterlily, after her Native name, vowing to keep her traditions alive through the interconnectedness of her fashions. In this respect, Patricia has become a forerunner in the fashion industry for practicing cultural sustainability.

Bethany Yellowtail, the Northern Cheyenne and Crow designer behind the fashion line B.Yellowtail. The brand initiative features art from 15+ Native American makers primarily from the Great Plains tribal regions. All pieces are handmade using time-honored techniques and traditional methods passed down from family generations. With tradition and culture the brand sets out to share more authentic indigenous art with the world while providing empowering, entrepreneurial initiatives for Native people.

Why Now?

Why this design is considered to be so innovative nowadays despite motifs root back to the antient time? Creative expression has always been important for Native American cultural survival. Today’s Native designers are expanding on this tradition, breaking creative boundaries with clothing and accessories that go beyond expectations of buckskin, fringe and feathers. However, Native American art and culture are often treated as phenomena of the past. But Native Fashion Now project made the indigenous culture a past of modernity. Contemporary Native fashion designers are radically changing familiar motifs, adopting new forms of expression and materials, and sharing their vision of Native culture and design with a global audience.

While considering Native Fashion Now experience were talking about creativeness and innovativeness in modern world of fashion. But the success of these talented designers also have shown us how inclusivity, particularly, bringing minor nations into the big fashion enriched the industry and made it more diverse.

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