May 19, 2024


Specialists in fashion

15 Indigenous Designers on What Sustainable Fashion Is Missing

Jared Yazzie (Diné), owner, OXDX

“[Low waste] teachings have been passed down [for] generations, and you can still [see] zero-waste efforts in many forms of Indigenous-made art. At OXDX, we have created an upcycling program for our monthly releases: Shoppers and treasure hunters bring the best, forgotten, unloved clothing for us to customize in-house. Another initiative we’ve implemented is opening the doors to our screen-printing shop and encouraging people to bring their own clothing to screen-print rotating OXDX designs [on to].”

Erik Brodt (Ojibwe), cofounder, Ginew

“Indigenous design in a precolonial context was sustainable, as it followed form and function closely, while maximizing the utility and extending the life of a textile. However, it remains difficult to see how Indigenous designers in a contemporary context can rid themselves entirely of the current global fashion system: Despite our efforts to push back, we are participants.

We believe the fashion industry will drift toward sustainability out of necessity in the next five years: focusing on form, function, upcycling, and locally designed and produced garments. The Ginew collection is designed in a way which honors our traditional teachings and raw materials, and uplifts each participant along our production chain. We intend to reduce environmental impact by making small runs (sometimes preorder only) of carefully hunted and curated raw materials, partnering with small, domestic factories, and creating garments that will last a lifetime.”

Lauren Good Day (Arikara, Hidatsa, Blackfeet and Plains Cree), artist

“When I create, I find myself saving the fabric scraps and ribbons to create smaller projects, as my grandmother did. I create many original art pieces—beadwork, moccasins, dresses—using repurposed materials. Producing small, limited runs helps eliminate waste that often comes with the fashion industry, and the ready-to-wear I create are considered collector’s pieces versus fast fashion.

It’s great to see the widespread awareness of environmental issues brought to the forefront. The first step is acknowledgement, and to see brands taking initiative is good. I see many direct-to-consumer brands coming to the forefront, especially in the Native community. Indigenous fashion designers are bringing their style, cultures, and values with them, including those of sustainability and thoughtfulness toward the land and ecosystems.”

Korina Emmerich (Puyallup), designer

“Indigenous designers are innately more sustainable because we were raised to have a stronger connection to the earth and what it provides. Most of my items are made from upcycled, recycled, or all natural materials, and I am always trying to find ways to reinvent scrap material. We inherently created the idea of ‘no waste’ in common traditional practices like hunting and fishing.

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