Elizabeth Arey was born to sew.
The artist Inuvialuk from Tuktoyaktuk remembers watching his mother teach his younger brother the craft. Arey is looking forward to the time he, too, will be able to pick up a needle and study.
“I just learned from anyone who would teach me – my mother, and many other talented tailors,” he said.
Having mastered the craft as a young girl, Arey has made everything from parkas to hats for herself and her family, all using local materials from the ground.
He eventually learned to sew moccasins after inheriting his grandmother’s seal skin pattern, as well as learning the art of beading in a fairly short time.
Now, Arey runs his own business – Arctic Oceans Mocs – where he sells beaded shoes to customers across the region.
She said sewing and beading was a way to honor her heritage and ancestry.
“This is to pass on my culture and traditions,” he said. “Obeying my (grandfather), when he was a child, he remembered when the flu outbreak came. He was a child who brought water to all the tents where the sick were. He saw many deaths.
“It’s very important for me to pass on our culture and traditions through sewing, and also to pass those skills on to anyone who wants to learn – the same way older tailors taught me.”
Arey is one of 12 women across the North in the EntrepreNorth 2020 business program cohort.
Launched in 2018, EntrepreNorth help Indigenous companies and entrepreneurs develop into thriving businesses. Each year, the program takes on a different theme – for example, last year it focused on tourism.
This year’s theme? Circumpolar mode.
Over the course of nine months, the women – all of whom design and manufacture clothing, jewelry, and other accessories inspired by their Indigenous culture – receive guidance from established Indigenous professionals and designers.
Mix tradition with trends
When Arey found out that she was accepted into this year’s program, it made her cry.
“I almost got emotional, because it was so exciting,” he said, choking at the memory of the moment. It’s still real.
Arey’s cousin, Erica Lugt – also Inuvialuk from Tuktoyaktuk – joined him in the EntrepreNorth 2020 cohort.
Lugt has made and sold beaded jewelry under the brand name He is a Free Spirit since 2017. Her work has been featured at Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto and Paris Fashion Week.
“My time is now, and it took me this long to get where I understand … this is my calling,” Lugt said of the opportunity with EntrepreNorth. I’m honored.
Lugt describes finding inspiration in the surrounding landscape – especially the colors.
“It excites me,” he said. “I can see the autumn skies over the Arctic and really scream, because seeing those bright colors makes me so happy.
“There is excitement I can’t describe, so I try to incorporate that joy into every part I make.”
He is also fascinated by the mix of modernism and tradition, blending current trends with the practicality and culture of his Inuvialuit heritage.
“We live in a modern society but, at the same time, you want to respect the style of your ancestors,” he said.
Gwich’in quilt maker Dorathy Wright, in Norman Wells, can relate to that.
Wright complements the NWT contingent in the newest EntrepreNorth cohort. She learned sewing and quilting from her family, then learned new techniques from community classes and YouTube videos.
Sharing her creations to Facebook, she has garnered local followers and admirers.
Names her new venture Willow Crescent Quilting, Wright attempted to incorporate his cultural heritage into Gwich’in Delta-style blankets and Beaufort Delta parkas. He uses materials such as fox fur and arctic fur.
A single mother of five, Wright describes sewing as “quiet time”.
“When my house goes crazy, and I’m on my sewing machine, it just… calms me down,” she said.
‘The most satisfying feeling’
The Circumpolar fashion group will meet three times in person during the program, in addition to the online courses. Nunavut and NWT members met in Yellowknife last week – there was a travel bubble between regions during the pandemic – to receive business training and take part in product shoots (group members from the Yukon, who were not in the same group, were unable to attend).
The three women said the experience was great.
“That’s very informative. I learned a lot of things, “said Wright. “It was very tiring, just all the information they gave us, and we were there all day, [but] It’s so precious. I’m really into the moon. “
For Lugt, the best part is meeting fellow designers and fans of Indigenous fashion.
“It is the most fulfilling feeling, being surrounded by like-minded individuals who all love our culture and respect our culture through our fashion,” he said.
“Sometimes, I feel like a crazy person because I am obsessed with Indigenous fashion. Being surrounded by other people like me, it was like, ‘Yes!’ “
When asked what makes Native northern fashion unique, Arey, Lugt, and Wright use one word: practical.
Wright said northern clothing was “practical and eye-catching”.
“It’s like a Delta-style parka – very, very warm, but the ornate on it is totally unique to the Delta and North,” he said.
Arey remembers talking to his father about the fringe during a trip.
“He started telling me they wanted water to drip,” he said, “and I never thought of that before. I thought it was for fashion.
“He asked me, ‘Why? Why did they do that extra sewing long ago if it didn’t work? ‘
“I think all of our fashions have had practical uses for a long time, but they still look good today too.”
‘Part of a movement’
The global Indigenous fashion world has “exploded in the last two years” according to Lugt. More and more Indigenous designers are setting trends, offering innovation, and bringing new meaning and purpose to the world of fashion.
Lugt calls it a movement.
“We are part of it. We took him to the front. We have clothes that we make to keep warm in the North and now, we have some of the women in this group who take what we need to survive in our part of the world and make it glamorous and make it cool.
“It’s amazing to see him.”
Even though the program doesn’t end until next May, the NWT artists already have plans. The three of them will be featured at Dene Nahjo’s upcoming Indigenous online handicraft market.
Lugt wants to launch a website to sell his creations. Wright dreamed of becoming a tailor and starting a shop in Norman Wells.
Arey applied to art and fashion shows, something he was too embarrassed to do before joining EntrepreNorth.
She finally hopes to start an online shop that showcases her own work together with other Inuvialuk tailors, “to help them reach further” and perhaps gain the courage she has.
“That is us as Inuvialuites – we help each other,” he said.
“I just want to see all of our people succeed.”
to request modification Contact us at Here or [email protected]