Indigenizing Fashion – Ryerson Graduate Student Riley Kucheran
Fashion is continuing to use clothing as
a weapon; colonization is ongoing. People have been trying to erase our culture for so long – okay now we need to look at how do we bring it back? What does cultural resurgence look like? There are a lot of before-and-after photos of children going to and coming from residential schools. And in the before photo we see kids wearing their traditional garments. So they’re in a buckskin or their regalia, traditional beadwork, quill work but then often the photos were actually manipulated so kids weren’t wearing shoes for example or they’re holding a gun. And then in the after photo they’re more upright they’re wearing suits, they’re wearing corsets, they’re in Western clothing that was meant to symbolize Western civilization – that they had been civilized in the schools. So it was used as propaganda for the Canadian public. People hear Indigenous fashion design and they think feather and fringe and turquoise. Fashion can seem very elitist and if you’re not a part of that system it’s hard to break into it. The biggest question on my mind right now is do we want to participate in the fashion industry? Or do we want to exist in our own worlds and create our own worlds? It’s kind of a large philosophical question: how do you exist outside of capitalism? How do you not participate in that industrialized globalized fashion system? The first time I identified as an Indigenous person was actually at a community consultation for Ryerson’s response to the TRC, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. They asked us like what could we be doing better? And I thought of the business school here at Ryerson and outside of the business school there’s this really amazing artist who makes moccasins and he does paintings, and in that moment I just thought of him being outside of the school and these business students just feet away being inside of this institution having so many more opportunities to launch their own businesses but why can’t this man who has such a skill? Why doesn’t he have the same support? I actually broke down in that meeting, in that consultation, because I just felt such pain for this person and the elder who is on hand – Joanne Dallaire, she actually called that blood memory. That all the trauma that my ancestors went through was actually manifesting in that moment and I was seeing it in the present. And it was a transformative experience, it really changed my research and my life. And I thought “OK this is what I need to do,” I need to support people like that who have these skills who have just been ignored. Angela de Montigny is a Cree-Métis fashion designer who works in Hamilton. I love her brand because it’s really a better kind of luxury. So she sells really high-end garments but they’re inherently sustainable. Environmentally and socially she knows where everything’s coming from, she knows who’s making it, she has one-on-one relationships with clients. It’s all very human. So I was doing my master’s research and I need a participant to study. I really wanted to look at better kinds of luxury. And I was in Hamilton interviewing Angela for a different project at the School of Fashion and she said she could use a bit of help. So I spent three months with her researching learning about her and through that I learned about what Indigenous designers need. You just don’t have access to the kinds of resources you might need to start your own fashion business. You don’t have as much access to capital, to the mentorship. You’re up against kind of racist stereotypes when people come into your store. There’s just a whole lot of intersectional barriers that you face as an Indigenous fashion designer. Thinking interdisciplinary about Indigenous fashion has allowed me to kind of simultaneously look at that history and then also imagine ways to move forward. I mean the ultimate goal is actually a council or some sort of organization to help Indigenous designers. I’m interested in mobilizing Anishinaabeg intelligence and really working together to create our own worlds.