Indian Market 100: Indigenous Fashion Forward


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This year, the immensely popular Santa Fe Indian Market Indigenous Fashion Show will be a two-part event.

It’s one of the hottest tickets at the Indian Market. This year the SWAIA Indigenous Fashion Show is Saturday-Sunday, August 20-21.

More than a dozen designers will participate, including Catherine Blackburn (Dene, European, English River First Nation), Jamie Okuma (Luiseno, Shoshone-Bannock, Wailaki, Okinawan, La Jolla), Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), Lesley Hampton (Anishinaabe ), Orlando Dugi (Navajo), Sho Sho Esquiro (Kaska Dene Aboriginal, Cree, Scottish), and Cody Sanderson (Navajo). We chatted with fashion show producer Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Siksika/Blackfoot) about what to expect.

Wes Studi modeling for Cody Sanderson

Cowboys & Indians: How will this year’s show be different?

Amber Dawn Bear Robe: It’s going to be bigger by expanding over two days, with different designers for each, followed by a trunk soirée. The goal is to grow the fashion programming into a SWAIA Fashion Week.

C&I: How has the show evolved and what does it take to pull it off?

Bear Robe: Blood, sweat, and tears! [Laughs.] The first SWAIA runway was outdoors in Cathedral Park. I put it together with virtually no resources in 2013.

C&I: What will we see this year?

Bear Robe: Couture, ready-to-wear, and wearable art. The vibe and energy will differ. Saturday night will be more lounge-y with a “chill” vibe. I’m encouraging guests to have fun, get dressed up to the nines with bling, sparkle, and glam. The Saturday show will be luxurious, a highly social evening. Sunday is more of a traditional runway style. Both will be at the Santa Fe Convention Center with wine and nibbles.

C&I: How do you prepare?

Bear Robe: It’s a huge production, and I wear many fashionable hats, from model manager, artistic director, administration, liaison, and the list is endless. Ideally, I would have a team overseeing each department in executing the show, but that takes resources. Getting the lighting for the runway is challenging and expensive! Lighting, of course, can make a show, from good photos, filmography, presenting each designer in a visual manner that highlights the collections and models. The day of the show, the models are getting their hair and makeup done, designers are doing final fittings and adjustments. When you’re booking 100 models, there will always be some no-shows or last-minute cancellations. It’s last-minute controlled chaos, and it keeps me on my toes. The Supernaturals Indigenous modeling agency in Canada are coming here again. They bring a great eclectic energy to Santa Fe and the runway.

Patricia Michaels. © image courtesy of the designer.

C&I: Anything else new?

Bear Robe: Last year we experimented with designer trunk shows and it proved to be exceedingly popular. This component is being planned for 2022 with more room for structure. People can meet the designers and models and buy or custom-order directly from the designer.

C&I: Great idea! What trends are you seeing in Indigenous fashion?

Bear Robe: There are different pockets of trends in Native fashion. Streetwear. Ready-to-wear. High-end. Ready-to-wear based on Indigenous couture is in high demand. Another trend in fashion, across the fashion board, is representing all body sizes, ages, genres, and traditional industry expectations — to be diverse in size, color, shape, form, and gender.

C&I: How is the fashion industry progressing with diversity, specifically inclusion of Indigenous designers?

Bear Robe: In America, the representation of Native designers is much more minimal in comparison with the Indigenous fashion and art scene in Canada. I don’t see any true, long-term commitments by apparel and larger fashion houses to Native designers. I’ve seen huge changes happen in Canada, such as Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, Toronto Indigenous Fashion Week, now titled Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival, magazine covers, news and media coverage outside the niche Native bubble.

C&I: What don’t people realize about Indigenous fashion?

Bear Robe: If I can get one thing across, it’s that Native people are extremely diverse in their expression, art, and design. One Native designer, artist, or model does not speak for or represent all Native North Americans. It’s ridiculous [to think] that one region can stand in for the richness of creativity in Canada and the United States. There is not a single sentence, word, or box that can answer, “What is Native fashion?”, which I am asked repeatedly. That’s like asking, “What is American fashion?” One could witness at the Met Gala’s recent theme of American fashion how it presents itself in many ways and manifestations. In fact, indigenous design is central to American fashion. Most people do not realize this underpinning of design in the United States. We need to get away from this Pan-Indian idea of ​​Indigenous North Americans. Native fashion can be fun, serious, political, conceptual, historical, and futuristic.

C&I: What about the upcoming market?

Bear Robe: I love SWAIA Market time. It is a place for people of all regions to unite in celebration of Indigenous arts in all of its diversity. We get together with old and new friends and family. People put on their Native bling, from Okuma dresses, statement jewelry, power footwear and strut their stuff. SWAIA fashion shows are a unique experience that you’re not going to get anywhere else in America.

Patricia Michaels runway image courtesy of SWAIA.


Living nowadays in a condo in New Westminster, British Columbia, fashion designer Sho Sho Esquiro grew up in Canada’s remote Yukon.

“It’s quite drastic and extreme. It’s just a beautiful place to be from. I’m a proud Yukon-er,” she says.

On the two-day drive she often makes from Vancouver back home to the Yukon, she might see bears, moose, foxes, a herd of caribou, beavers, porcupines, eagles, owls, and magpies.

“It’s always a blessing when animals present themselves to you,” she says.

And it’s a long, three-day drive for Esquiro, 41, from Vancouver to Santa Fe, with her car loaded with her fashion garments. She specializes in Indigenous couture streetwear and Native luxury, using recycled furs and different leathers. She shows in museums and on runways, including fashion shows in Paris and New York Fashion Week. Sociopolitical statements appear on her recent garments. A wool ombre cashmere dress contains the statement “Kill the Indian, Save the Man,” which is beaded backwards so it looks almost abstract.

“That’s a quote from Richard Pratt, who was responsible for opening the boarding schools in the US,” she says.

A bustier top made of 24-karat gold, seal skin, wool, and mother of pearl says “Worth Our Wait in Gold.”

The spelling is, of course, intentional: “As if we’re waiting for justice for the murder of missing Indigenous women,” Esquiro says. “I live on a river, and a great big eagle sat on a tree outside the entire two months I was making the piece. There were times I would be crying, beading.”

At her SWAIA trunk show, she’ll be selling one-of-a-kind, upcycled jean jackets.

“[Indian Market has] been everything for my career,” she says. “I’ve made incredible friendships. There’s been networking and opportunities and pushing myself as an artist.”

Market only recently began admitting First Nations artists, and for Esquiro, it’s an opportunity to represent Canadians, First Nations, Kaska, and the Yukon.

“I’ve mentored up-and-coming Yukon artists,” she says, “so not only has SWAIA helped me, but indirectly others.”


Design by Sho Sho Esquiro; SWAIA Fashion Show 2018

Design by Sho Sho Esquiro; SWAIA Fashion Show 2018

Design by Sho Sho Esquiro; modeled by Joleen Mitton; SWAIA Fashion Show 2018



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