By the summer of 2016, I had already come up with the name GILDE-MANE for my collection of headbands, but there was still one last phase of metamorphosis. It started with a documentary by climate activist Josh Fox - "How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things That Climate Can't Change." I was already well aware of the threat posed by the fossil fuel industry, but I had never considered that the fashion industry could also be contributing to the climate emergency. There is a point in the film where Fox travels to Beijing and he demonstrates how the air is so polluted, that civilians check the air quality with the same frequency that we check the weather. That was the moment that I began to wonder about the ecological impact of large scale manufacturing. I fell into a research hole and discovered a whole new world of small brands that were making sustainability part of their business models. Utilizing the ancient techniques of indigenous artisans was one method, but I began to notice a trend where all the articles I found were only touting companies that were employing indigenous artisans from other countries. I couldn't help but wonder about our own indigenous population, Native Americans.
My research continued and I discovered that there was a museum exhibition called "Native Fashion Now," which was devoted to that exact topic, and would be travelling to the Smithsonian Museum in lower Manhattan in February of 2017. My timing turned out to be very synchronistic, as I was able to interview three of the designers just prior to the opening - Patricia Michaels, Jamie Okuma and Kristen Dorsey. I then wrote about their work for my blog Haute Mind.
I had a profound fascination with the topic for a few reasons. I realized that the destruction of indigenous cultures wasn't just a tragedy for the indigenous peoples themselves, but that the entire world was poorer for the loss. They were the original conservationists, and yet they were still fighting to hold on to what little remained of their sacred land, a struggle which was being played out in real time as the protest at Standing Rock had reached a fever pitch. I was also interested for personal reasons, as my mom has told me numerous times that we have some Cherokee ancestry on her side of the family. It is not a fact that I usually share, since we don't know very much about who they were and how they lived, so I appreciated the window into a cultural heritage that my family has lost. I also realized that most of what I know about my African and Native ancestry is filtered through the lens of colonialism, that you only need one drop to be considered Black, while Native Americans were encourage to assimilate, to give up their heritage. In our interview, Kristen Dorsey explained the concept of "Blood Quantum."
One of the topics that came up in my discussion with Jamie Okuma was cultural appropriation, so when I was looking to buy a pair of moccasins, I wanted to buy them from a Native designer. This is how I met LLoree Dawn Dickens, who is the owner, designer and artisan of LL Designs.
I ordered a pair of her Mocc Flats and before she started making them, LLoree reached out to let me know that the actual hide had come in a little darker than usual. After a brief e-mail exchange, I confirmed my order and LLoree was so wonderful that I went out on a limb to ask if she had any scraps she would be willing to sell me.
Back in my design studio, I had just transformed a leather jacket into a vest and used the leather from the sleeves to create my first Shield Necklace. I wanted to expand the concept but lacked the material and to my delight and surprise, LLoree was thrilled by the suggestion. I believe her exact words were "I have tons!" Shortly afterward, I received a huge box of irregular deerskin pieces in a variety of colors. It turned out to be the perfect material, it was sustainable, and it was the final catalyst that led to the abundance of design options that are available on my website today.