Native art, clothing industry expanding to wider audiences

Local Indigenous designers and artists are getting a boost of attention in the wake of “Killers of the Flower Moon” movie release. But it was already a booming industry.

Osage Nation citizen Julie O’Keefe worked as a wardrobe consultant on the movie and recently launched Indigichic at 1306 E. 11th St. with four other partners. The pop-up boutique, which will be open through the holidays, features Native American-made clothing, jewelry and accessories representing 39 tribes.

O’Keefe says this moment has elevated Indigenous designs to a global market, the same level of Louis Vuitton or Valentino.

“As an Osage, my great-grandfather, Henry Roan, is murdered in this film. As a former Chief of the Osage Nation, I had to deal with many unresolved issues.”

“We finally have been able to break through because we have so many different types of artisans in all 567 federally recognized tribes in our nation,” she said. “We deserve to be standing here. There is not one fashion house that didn’t start at someone’s kitchen table with someone wanting to show their ideas and to do this work. At the end of the day, we are discussing art.”

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For non-Indigenous people conscientious to avoid wrongful appropriation of Native American culture, buying from Native artists protects against that, O’Keefe said.

“As a retail shop, we invite everyone to come in,” O’Keefe said. “We are not carrying anything that would be cultural appropriation of any kind. We wouldn’t put something out there culturally inappropriate. As Natives, that’s our responsibility.”

At major art markets, particularly Native American shows in Santa Fe or the Heard Museum in Arizona, artists depend on a bigger consumer base, O’Keefe said.

“These are collectors, non-Native and Native, and they are buying. We depend on that,” she said.

A beautiful tradition in Indigenous art and design is how skills are taught.

“Everything you see is generational; it’s been passed down,” O’Keefe said. “A lot of designers sit down to research for historical pieces they may do. Native and Indigenous people are passing down basically talents that are learned through the generations in their families.”

That rings true for the formation of Burning Wagon Design, created about a year ago by Libbi Gray and her daughters, all Osage citizens. It’s common for the family members to be in a living room brainstorming, sewing and filling orders together.

Burning Wagon Designs offers an array of contemporary, everyday apparel from T-shirts to pencil skirts. Its sales doubled after actors Lily Gladstone and Leonardo DiCaprio wore clothing that was featured in Vogue.

Like with Indigichic, the products can be worn by non-Indigenous people.

“Most of our customers are Native, but our clothing is meant to appeal to a wider audience,” said Gray, who is an Osage Nation citizen.

Gray recommends avoiding products that say “Indigenous inspired” and seek “Indigenous made” labels, indicating the creator is Native American. She said Indigenous artists and designers are making items meant to be worn by others.

“If a Native person is making and selling beadwork, that is how they are supporting themselves and their families,” Gray said.

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Patrick Prince

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