inspirations: stories from indigenous brand owners

illustration by marina difranco

Oct. 11 marks Indigenous Peoples Day (previously known as Columbus Day). With more atrocities against Indigenous peoples in recent news including the massacres that occurred at residential schools and a lack of action taken to find missing Indigenous women, it’s more important now than ever to educate yourself.

We must prevent the erasure of Indigenous peoples’ culture and stories. An easy and effective way to support this community is to support Indigenous-owned brands and businesses, so here are a few of my favorites and a little bit about the amazing people behind them.

Amy Denet Deal & 4KINSHIP

Amy Denet Deal (formerly Amy Yeung) is the founder of the extremely successful brand 4KINSHIP, formerly known as Orenda Tribe. Denet Deal was adopted as a child and was raised aware of her Diné, or Navajo, heritage, but felt disconnected from it while living with her non-Native adoptive family.

She studied fashion in college and had an extremely successful career designing for prominent activewear companies. Sustainability is always something that has been close to her heart, so Denet Deal decided to leave the corporate world behind and start an upcycled fashion brand called Orenda Tribe while living in California.

Throughout this time in her life, she still felt disconnected from her heritage, despite the fact that she was trying to learn more about where she came from and connect with her culture. A major turning point in her relationship with her Indigenous identity was when she became a frequent protester and vocal advocate against fracking near Navajo Nation in New Mexico in 2018.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it disproportionately impacted Indigenous peoples who were already disenfranchised after centuries of abuse. Denet Deal decided to take action and raised over $835,000 for PPE, food, women’s shelters and schools on reservations.

Denet Deal’s non-Indigenous upbringing left her vulnerable to misappropriation regarding certain Indigenous terms and sacred symbols, specifically her usage of the term “Orenda,” which is a sacred Mohawk aspect of spirituality. The brand also was accused of being inaccessible to Indigenous peoples in both pricing and size ranges.

This led Denet Deal to sit back and reevaluate the brand, starting with the name. She educated herself on the history and culture around the term “Orenda” and apologized and changed the brand’s name to 4KINSHIP, based on a Diné word meaning family. Denet Deal acknowledges that she still has learning to do, but is looking forward to raising money and awareness for both Navajo and Mohawk communities.

You can support her efforts to give back to the Indigenous community by purchasing from her fashion brand that features bright colors, impactful silhouettes and one-of-a-kind upcycled pieces.

Bethany Yellowtail & B.Yellowtail

B.Yellowtail was started by Bethany Yellowtail, a proud member of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and the Crow Nation. She studied at Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM) in California and went on to have a very successful pattern-making career, working with several large, well-known brands. She then decided to create her own brand as well as act as an online marketplace for other Indigenous artists and artisans.

She became inspired to start the collective after a trip onto her reservation where she encountered many people selling things like jewelry and art for so much less than they are actually worth and now she sells the work of over 15 different artisans on her website, allowing them to sell their work to a larger audience.

When asked by Forbes what inspired the collective, Yellowtail said, “Pricing reflects how we value our creativity and ourselves, particularly as people of color. And the thing is, people want this art. It is valuable, and the pricing should reflect that, even if we’re unsure initially of what people might be willing to spend.”

From accessories to apparel to beauty products, there are so many treasures to find while shopping at B.Yellowtail. Immerse yourself in earth-toned, intricate prints and support an amazing brand. 

Warren Steven Scott

Warren Steven Scott and his brand of the same name, boomed to success during the COVID-19 pandemic. As a member of the Nlaka’pamux Nation in Canada, Scott was inspired by the shapes in traditional Salish art and translated that into his signature earrings. 

As a child, Scott was enchanted by high fashion and haute couture and later graduated from Ryerson University with a Bachelor of Design in Fashion. Today, Scott lives in Toronto and recently launched his first clothing line inspired by “gathering” in a post-COVID world as well as physically in the garments. The gathered details on the garments also reference his background, inspired by cedar baskets made by his ancestors. 

You can find amazing colors, unique shapes and beautiful artwork all for purchase on Scott’s website.

Something tells me that Denet Deal, Yellowtail and Scott will keep breaking down barriers and fostering change for the Indigenous community. This is just the beginning for these groundbreaking brands. Please consider supporting these and other BIPOC brands this Indigenous Peoples Day.

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