We are at a loss for words on how it has taken the recent murders of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and countless others to finally start seeing progress on systemic racism. As a society, we still have a long way to go, but the Black Lives Matter movement has brought up so many important conversations about inclusion and implementing diversity. And now with the push for BIPOC brands to gain better representation, it seems like Indigenous-owned companies are also finally in the spotlight.
“I was at New York Fashion Week in my traditional dress one year — representing my people, my cultura, my gente. I was asked many times what ‘Indigenous’ meant. It was a sad, but exciting day for me. It was that day that I decided I was going to launch my own beauty brand,” says Cece Meadows of Prados Beauty. “When we don’t see ourselves in mainstream magazines, movies, or shows, we make our own.”
The next step is for Indigenous talent and creative artistry to no longer live in a bubble. “Social media has been a positive impact,” says Jennifer Harper, founder of Cheekbone Beauty. “It gives Native Americans a platform and people are becoming more educated about our culture,” she says.
One easy way to show your support and level up your awareness is to follow (and shop!) Indigenous-owned companies that are reclaiming their heritage, giving back to their communities and fighting cultural appropriation. Here is where to start.
When 26-year-old Canadian designer Lesley Hampton (of Anishinaabe and Mohawk heritage) launched her eponymous clothing line four years ago (a mix of ready-to-wear, evening wear and athleisure), it was made with a body-positive, all-inclusive approach in mind. She made waves in the media for casting all Indigenous models in her Fall/Winter 2019 Toronto Fashion Week show. Two years before that, she had a Boston Marathon bombing survivor (who lost her lower left leg) open one of her fashion shows in Hampton’s evening wear. Her Instagram feed shows her clear commitment to diversity with models of all sizes, backgrounds and abilities.
Did you ever think one swipe of lipstick could change lives? Enter: Cheekbone Beauty, created by Jennifer Harper of the Anishinaabe tribe. She impressively turned down an offer from “Dragon’s Den” (which is sort of like the British version of “Shark Tank”) because they gave her an offer that did not let her have any equity in the company. But now, the brand is thriving more than ever thanks to customer-loved products like the Warrior Women Liquid Lipstick Collection (which, FYI, has the creamiest, long-wearing color ever). It features shades that are named after influential Indigenous women in history. Our editor’s pick, “Alanis,” is named after Alanis Obomsawin, who was an Abenaki filmmaker in the ‘60s. We also love “Ashley,” a versatile mauve lipstick shade, inspired by Ashley Callingbull, the first Indigenous woman (Cree) to ever win Miss Universe. The packaging — inspired by traditional Indigenous teachings on sustainability — is biodegradable. Plus, whenever you shop from the brand, 10 percent of their profits go to Shannen’s Dream and the First Nations Child & Family Caring Society, which provides equal-opportunity education for Canadian Indigenous youth. Follow their IG feed to see real-life features of customers showing off the range, plus more info on the inspiration behind the lipstick shade names.
Between the delicate materials and the colorful patterns, Northern Cheyenne and Crow fashion designer Bethany Yellowtail created a line that feels like “wearable art.” After graduating from FIDM, the LA-based artist worked at BCBG before becoming a pattern designer for private brands — eventually launching her own brand in 2014. While she designs the clothing at B.Yellowtail, the accessories featured on her site are completely handmade by a collective of Native American artisans around North America. When you follow the brand’s journey on Instagram, you do not only get an inside look into how they craft each of their special pieces, but you will also be able to get involved and feel empowered by Bethany’s social justice vision for her community.
There is nothing really cuter than an Instagram feed of teeny tiny babies in teeny tiny moccasins, don’t you think? It is not just Instagram bait — the brand also makes a meaningful impact. Founder Maria Running Fisher Jones, a member of the Blackfeet tribe (known as niitsiTaPi, who have a long tradition of fine craftsmanship) named her company in honor of her ancestors. Each pair of baby shoes are crafted by Native American artisans (you can even design your own pair at no additional cost). They have created employment opportunities in three states, including the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Montana, which struggles with a 69 percent unemployment rate. In addition, the company supports underprivileged Native American children living on reservations.
This Chicana/Indigenous-owned beauty brand was created in 2019 by Arizona-based founder Cece Meadows. (Fun fact: “Prados” means “meadows” in Spanish.) The brand specializes in makeup brushes, mink lashes, makeup bags and they also partner with Cheekbone Beauty to sell some of their customer-loved lipsticks. 50 percent (yes, you read that right!) of all Prados Beauty profits goes back to Native American communities — recently her efforts include donating PPE for reservations. You will frequently see the Prados founder pop up on the brand’s Instagram and we love the dreamy, colorful, artistry-level inspiration splashed all over the feed.
If you are looking for something truly one-of-a-kind, meet Ginew — the only Native American-owned denim line in the world created by husband and wife duo Erik Brodt and Amanda Bruegl. Ginew is Erik’s namesake line (part of his Ojibwe name is Ginew, which means “golden eagle”) and features a mix of jeans, jackets, bandannas and more with a modern “Native American” vibe. The pieces are inspired by a fusion of the duo’s respective Ojibwe, Oneida and Mohican communities. We love the androgynous look and feel of the collection, plus the surprising pops of pattern and color (on the inner lining of their jackets, for example) that add uniqueness to each piece.
Ahsaki Baa LaFrance-Chachere (who grew up in the Navajo Reservation) is the CEO of cosmetics and skincare company Ah-Shí Beauty. She became the first Native-owned brand that had a brick-and-mortar storefront (unfortunately, due to Covid-19, she had temporarily shut down her stores). Being both Diné and Black, she sought to create a brand where it made it easier to find foundation shades that matched Indigenous skin (her Hi-Def Foundation comes in 22 shades). Her skincare line features clean ingredients like aloe vera, Japanese green tea and shea butter. Next up for the brand: a botanical hair and body collection.
If you are in the camp where quarantine has given you some extra time on your hands, this book subscription box can be right up your alley. Founded by entrepreneur Nicole McLaren, each seasonal box includes a book written by an Indigenous author, literature on Indigenous culture, a handmade craft or artwork and more (in the past, they have included things like skincare and jewelry). The children’s version of the subscription box features two or three books written or illustrated by Indigenous authors. Check out some of the past reads on their Instagram feed — and you can even purchase older boxes via their site. (FYI: They are based in Canada, but ship to the rest of North America.)