Feminist Designers: SheNative

The Closet Feminist’s second instalment of Feminist Designers interviews Devon Fiddler, Chief Changemaker and Designer for SheNative Goods Inc. SheNative is based out of Saskatoon, and is a socially driven, handbag and accessories brand that aims to empower the Indigenous women.

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What inspired you to start your line SheNative?

I started SheNative out of a childhood dream of becoming a designer, my own life experiences as an Indigenous women, and my first career experiences. When I started SheNative, I had no fashion design background, little sewing experience, and went for a Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics (Aboriginal Public Administration).

After completing my degree, I worked as a Business Development Coordinator, working with clients on reserve who wanted to start a business. This sparked my passion of entrepreneurship, and brought my childhood dream swirling back into my head. I saw other entrepreneurs starting companies with a mission to have a positive social impact, and I decided that I wanted to start a fashion business that gives back.

I grew up out of a lot of negative experiences that many Indigenous women in Canada face, including seeing and experiencing family violence, being taken advantage of, domestic violence and more. I still see many of my friends and family struggle with what they went through; these experiences are so common among Indigenous women.

Through SheNative, I want to bring light into lives by showing the power of positivity, and showing other women that you can find it in yourself to make changes and overcome any negative experience you’ve had. I try to show that myself by practice, living healthy, and following my dream. I try to bring positive inspiration into the lives of others through the initiatives that we create in SheNative (Her 4 Directions Fashion Incubator), inspirational words, and showcasing what other Indigenous women are doing.

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SheNative focuses a lot on affirmations, positive thinking, social media campaigns beyond marketing, etc. Are there plans to evolve SheNative into a broader lifestyle brand?

Yes, I think that’s where we are heading with our brand. We are still figuring out what’s working and what’s not working. We are very new, so it takes time to build.

I started out with the idea that I would create very specific products. Initially, I wanted to start a clothing line that was more geared towards professional working women. After consulting with a product development company in Toronto, we found that it didn’t matter what we created: SheNative was going to be a company that empowered Indigenous women.

Initially, SheNative started by designing a handbag collection instead of a clothing line. Working with companies that hold ethical production standards, along with quality workmanship is really important to me.

Since starting, SheNative has really evolved as a brand, from quality handbags to graphic t-shirts. Our line goes from a higher-end to a fairly low price point. We are looking to build more products in the medium price point range. I think becoming a broader lifestyle brand would make the most sense for us moving forward.

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What have you learned working on SheNative that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?

The fashion portion especially has been a big learning curve for me, and I am still learning a lot! I still leave the sewing to those who are best at it. I found the best way to learn is by just jumping in, doing, and being hands-on instead of taking technical courses in design.

For the business-side of things, I’ve entered as many entrepreneurship courses and classes, both online and in classrooms that I can find. I think you have to learn from mistakes along the way and pivot when things are not working.

What is a typical day for you as the head designer and founder of SheNative?

I am currently trying to create a typical day for me. At first it was chaotic; we had a lot of interviews and random media requests during our launch. Then, I started getting speaking requests, especially in the Indigenous community, as well as invitations to many different events like trade shows. At this time, I would often forget to eat, and stay up working on business stuff at all hours of the night.

Now, I’m establishing a bit of a routine. I wake up in the morning, have my breakfast, take my dog out for a walk, check emails, and then head out to our shared studio space. At the studio, I take on whatever tasks come our way from there including operational, sales, design, etc, which takes me to the end of the day; only sometimes do I take evening meetings. I also sit on three committees, so that takes of some of my free time. I now go to sleep at a decent hour, and always make time for myself.

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Your brand seems very dynamic with regards to how you reach your customer base—trade shows, craft fairs, farmers markets, pop up shops, conferences, and fashion week in addition to an online shop. How has this versatility affected/impacted SheNative?

We have been exploring what works and doesn’t work [in an attempt to find] our target market. Through this, we have found our target market is different than we thought it would be; you never know until you jump in and try. I have to admit, trying too much at once has had a negative impact on the business. After finding out something doesn’t work, you need to be strong at saying ‘no’, and moving forward with what actually works.

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SheNative recently completed a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, congratulations to the SheNative team! Be sure to follow SheNative and watch this exciting Canadian brand grow!

Shop SheNative here

SheNative on Facebook

SheNative Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter

Images by Axis Imagery. All images used with permission by SheNative

Stella Jean: “I want to create new and unexpected cultural messages”

The Fall 2016 Stella Jean collection (example below found here) made me a little nervous for reasons mentioned on The CF’s Pinterest. Still, I’m always inspired by her thoughtful, conscientious creative process and the politics that go into her designs. I read an interview with her from last year and it got me pondering and contemplating all over again.

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And while being part of a multiracial family in Italy in the Eighties not only shaped me as a person, but also inspired my professional path, however, it has been neither simple nor painless.  Actually, my cultural background made it harder for me to find an identity. As I am the result of a mix of different cultures and races that could appear completely opposed, but I want to promote a sophisticated and alternative multiculturalism through fashion. Blending traditions that are so distant.  I want to create new and unexpected cultural messages. Fashion gives me ample space to maneuver and find a place where both of these cultures can coexist. This weak point has become both a strength and a fresh start.’

– Stella Jean in an interview with The Fashion Plate Magazine here

Super Normal Super Models are Super White

….lest we forget that racism is an ongoing issue in fashion, W magazine’s September issue’s editorial “Super Normal Super Models” shows us a pretty clear picture about what kinds of women can be successful in fashion: those who are thin and white. Hello, are there any women of colour in this spread?

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People are going nuts over this spread, and it’s easy to see why–it features some of the most famous female models from the last couple decades all together in one editorial.

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While the models may have blonde or dark hair, gap teeth or unusual cheek bones, they represent a look in fashion that has long reigned supreme, and despite the varying ages of these models, we can see that precious little has changed in fashion whether it be in magazines, on the runways, in ads, etc: successful models who we know by name are white and thin. That is what has become ‘Super Normal’ in fashion, and though we may call it iconic, drool-worthy, memorable, or impossibly chic, it’s still Super Racist.

Raquel-Amanda-Saskia-Mariacarla-Daria-Lara-Meghan-Suvi-Anna-Mica-And-Kate-By-Mert-And-Marcus-For-W-September-2014-11In fact, it could be argued that this shoot in particular celebrates something quite distinct from fashion–if you look closely, what is really being shown in the editorial? It’s not the clothes–the styling is hardly memorable, if present at all (some of the photos in the spread are NSFW). More than anything, it is a celebration of the faces and bodies of women who are so famous now in fashion they don’t need remarkable clothing.

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This is tricky because we don’t want to discredit the hard work of the women in these photos in a notoriously difficult industry for women to work in (then again, which industry isn’t?)–they are famous because they have worked for themselves to build up their career.

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This editorial and what it represents seems to be further complicated because it is not as if Kate Moss, Lara Stone, and Canadian favourite Daria in particular claim any such feelings of racism. However, these models have had more than a little help. Their privilege, their faces, and bodies happen to be part of a long-standing tradition, which supermodel and Victoria’s Secret Angel Cameron Russell comments on in her now-famous TED talk. They represent fashion’s extremely thinly-veiled obsession with skin that is not dark, hair that is not textured, and bodies that have no fat where it’s not acceptable for women to have it. Is it Super Normal? Sure, but only insofar as the fashion world continues to purport these images as such.

All images found here.

Think About It: ‘Real’ Models & ‘Groundbreaking’ Agencies

Here at The Closet Feminist we’re always keen to hear about magazines and modeling agencies doing things a little differently to challenge the status quo/white supremacy that reigns supreme in the fashion world. Sometimes, however, we see people/projects who say they’re trying to do something different, but if you take a critical look at what is actually being presented you’ll see that there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking about what is being shown.

Two recent cases come to mind.

The first is Betabrand‘s campaign to use female PhD students as models, the second is the so-called Anti-Modeling Agency. Both have the common factor of claiming to use models based on their ‘brains’ and/or personality as opposed to their looks. A novel idea to be sure, but its execution was disappointing.

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Above: Betabrand’s Spring 2014 campaign featuring female PhD students–so smart and inspiring. Also so white.

While applause came from all corners of the internet for these ‘fresh’ campaigns, it thankfully wasn’t long before some of our favourite sites sat up and realized, “wait a sec, this is bullsh!t”.

Refinery29 pointed out in their cautionary critique that “real” doesn’t always mean diverse, and while using female PhD candidates as models a neat idea, they were still all conventionally pretty, not to mention 75% of the ‘models’ used are white.

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Above: A screen shot of the Anti-Modeling homepage. As you can see, conventionally-attractive white models are really having a hard time finding work–oh wait, no they’re not!

Jezebel similarly noted that all the Anti-Modeling Agency is really doing is using attractive, thin, white people with rainbow-hued hair in their hilarious headline which read, “‘Anti’ Modeling Agency Dares to Rep Beautiful People with Funny Hair“. The summary of the article leaves with a simple but sharp reminder that many seem to have missed, noting of the agency “Please, don’t frame it like it’s some kind of massive paradigm-shift.”

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Above: Abby is one of the so-called ‘anti-models‘ that is changing the face of fashion. It has nothing to do with the fact that she is thin, white, and very pretty…

Bottom line: next time you see a campaign, agency, or project in the fashion world that boasts of a diverse crop of models or surprising in-your-face twist on fashion norms, ask yourself a few questions about what you are actually looking at. Here are a few questions to get you started:

1. Does the campaign/project feature people of colour?

2. Does the campaign/project feature models who might be considered ‘plus’ models?

3. Does the mandate/mission/vision of the campaign/project speak to diversity, anti-racism, discrimination, anti-oppression in any way?

4. Does the campaign/project feature models who are of age? Or are they just featuring a creepy selection of 13 year olds?

5. Who is behind the campaign/project? Leadership of a given campaign/project often gives you clues as to whose vision, values, and experiences are informing the campaign/project.

I’m Ready for a New Conversation on Fashion & Cultural Appropriation.

By: Emily Yakashiro

I have a background in non-profit work, specifically focused on raising awareness about violence against women. In the 5 years I worked in that particular sector, I observed that the rhetoric and teaching tools we used to raise awareness were constantly changing. For example, “No Means No,” embraced the addition of “Yes Means Yes”. Instead of telling women to watch their drinks, campaigns from rape crisis centres transitioned to putting the blame where it belongs–on perpetrators and bystanders. I have witnessed these changes occur, and I’m only 24. I have yet to see such changes in the fashion world when discussing cultural appropriation.

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Above: American Apparel’s infamous”Afrika” print, which was designed by Landon Metz.

I’m ready for the conversation to change when it comes to discussing fashion and cultural appropriation. I think we have reached a place where the words, rhetoric, and tools we have to teach people about it and engage people in conversations about fashion and cultural appropriation is at a bit of a stand-still.

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Image above found here.

Don’t get me wrong, I still think the Chanel Pre-Fall show (pictured above) was a f****** disaster, and Miley Cyrus‘ ongoing tendencies to “borrow” from black cultures for her tour performances/musical awards ceremonies is truly offensive. I also realize that I have a great deal of white privilege, which is no doubt informing this post.

I will say though that while I feel I can offer many different anecdotes, examples, and teaching tools to have conversations on several different levels about violence against women, I cannot say the same for fashion and cultural appropriation. When my friends ask me why it would be inappropriate for them to wear feather headresses to Sasquatch or bindis for a night out, my arguments are always the same–I have a very limited amount of anecdotes and ways to explain why cultural appropriation in fashion is inappropriate. When I emerge the victor in such conversations, I know it is because of my own personal disapproval or judgemental attitude that prevents bindis and bandage dresses from happening, not because I explained things well or in an accessible manner.

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Above: Gwen Stefani–I love her, but she is a serial offender of cultural appropriation. Image found in this article about cultural appropriation x fashion.

I find that a lot of the arguments against cultural appropriation in fashion occupy a curious space between highly personal experiences (which often ‘out’ the explainer in some way) and very academic concepts and terminology.

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Above: Katy Perry’s performance at the American Music Awards November 2013.

When I say ‘outing’ the explainer, I refer to situations where we say it doesn’t mean the same thing when we see a racilazied minority wearing something (say, a turban) versus a white person wearing a turban. In my own personal experience, I might say something like “Japanese people can’t wear kimonos for fun the way white people wear kimonos for fun.”  At this point it is highly likely that the person I am talking to (if I don’t know them) will inquire of my own ethnic background, and I will feel obligated to say why yes, I am of Asian descent. In contrast to my other ‘area of expertise’ I have noticed, however, that I never, ever had to identify as a survivor of violence to explain or discuss violence against women.

The second stumbling block I experience when discussing fashion and cultural appropriation is that a lot of the conversation tends to be highly academic and intellectualized. I can say “colonialism” and “capitalism” all I want, but those concepts are hard to explain and throw around–even in Canada where we are taught via our public school curriculum roughly what colonialism and capitalism mean. Hell, when I was 20 and in my third year of university and busily working away for the support centre I worked for on campus, I used my paycheque earned from my (which was cemented on feminist and anti-oppressive principles) to run out and buy the infamous “Afrika” print American Apparel leggings (see the first picture in this post). I, of all people, should have known better. But I didn’t.

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Above: Karlie Kloss in one of the most heinous examples of cultural appropriation in recent fashion history during the Victoria’s Secret fashion show.

I have no doubt that I have some blind spots when it comes to explaining cultural appropriation and fashion, but I also have a pretty darn solid background in workshop facilitation and public speaking (if I may toot my own horn for a second)–if half of what we say is not what we say but how we say it, my ‘toolkit’ to discuss or explain cultural appropriation should be pretty darn good, yet I find myself constantly fumbling through arguments against cultural appropriation in fashion.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the gift for coming up with snappy metaphors or eye-opening anecdotes that might make a difference in how I explain things (like “Yes means Yes,” etc) with regards to fashion and cultural appropriation. I can rehash the statements well enough, and back them up once I know them, but for now I am certainly lacking. I am ready for a new conversation about fashion and cultural appropriation, and I think the fashion world is ready as well. I’m looking looking for more conversations, more ideas on how to approach this issue-will you help me out?

 

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