You've seen it at Urban Outfitters, on Etsy, and just about anywhere else that banks on trends: Native American-inspired designs surging to fashion's forefront. And often, those who dub their wares Native or give them a name associated with a tribe (see Urban's "Navajo" undies) do so in direct violation of the Native American Arts and Crafts Act.
Academic and Beyond Buckskin Native fashion blogger Dr. Jessica R. Metcalfe got fed up with the continuing misappropriation.
Her solution? Metcalfe (who's Turtle Mountain Chippewa) created a new platform that would connect Native designers with potential customers. With 12 artists who make items including jewelry, clothing, scarves, and handbags ranging in price from $20 to more than $2,000, she launched Beyond Buckskin Boutique a little more than a week ago.
"The idea is that we'll have the Native artists participate in this trend that's part of the culture but they're excluded from," Metcalfe says of her aim to create a Native Etsy. "I wanted to create something that one-ups that -- something that's more of a boutique with high end pieces and art."
Metcalfe is already looking to expand the shop -- with three new designers being added to the roster this week (including one from New York and another from Canada) -- and she has her eye on some big, big gets.
In addition to more artists and items in the boutique she'd like to start putting on collective events at the Heard Museum and across the country, getting visibility for the designers in casinos, doing pop-up shops and, eventually, showcasing at New York and Paris Fashion weeks.
"You don't really think of Native people as fashion forward, but, as we continue, there are options to shake up that idea," she says. "Aim high and we'll see where we fall."
Would she consider working with Native offender Urban Outfitters?
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"I don't think that Urban Outfitters would ever work with Native artists. I don't think it would occur to them. I really don't see them as ever trying to right their wrongs, but as far as collaborations I'd absolutely advocate that," she says, mentioning that designers like Ralph Lauren and Anna Sui could benefit from working with Native creatives since they already draw inspiration from Native culture.
For now, though, Metcalfe is focused on building what success she's seen in a matter of days. "What i do every day is a learning experience and I'm constantly adapting," she says. "I ask a lot of questions and take a lot of advice. I don't need to reinvent the wheel -- just make a better wheel."