Home » FEATURES » Feature: Made in Turtle Island-Three Indigenous Designers Finalists in Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards

Feature: Made in Turtle Island-Three Indigenous Designers Finalists in Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards

Styles (left-right) Beyond Buckskin, Kristen Dorsey, Bethany Yellowtail


By: Isabelle Bourgeault-Tassé

Toronto Canada

The ‘Maker’ will define America’s new economy, boasts Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards: “from Detroit to Des Moines, Spokane to St. Louis, people are choosing Main Street over mini-malls—supporting the local and the handmade.”

And if Jessica Metcalfe has anything to do with it, this new American economy will reach beyond Main Street and into Turtle Island – the name given by Indigenous communities to North America – and spark an economic and cultural revolution.

Along with Crow/Cheyenne designer Bethany Yellowtail and Chickasaw Kristen Dorsey, Metcalfe – curator of the online boutique Beyond Buckskin and member of the Turtle Mountain Chippewa Nation – are proudly representing Indigenous America in the upcoming American Made Awards, “spotlighting the next generation of great American makers.”

L-R: Kristen, Bethany, Jessica

L-R: Kristen Dorsey, Bethany Yellowtail, Jessica Metacalf


With their stunning designs and exceptional business acumen, the fierce triumvirate is poised to not only show the support they have earned from their Native communities, but also to show that Indigenous designers can break into mainstream American and international fashion markets.

“This is an amazing opportunity,” Metcalfe tells Ramp1885.  “We – Native small businesses – are the champions of local economies – we want to see beautiful economic growth on the local level. And I think we can do it in creative ways with our artist-driven businesses.”

Putting the power of Indigenous designs and its economic benefits back into the hands of the First Peoples is paramount. American Made and its ambitious agenda comes at a particularly critical juncture in fashion history, where wealthy fashion houses like Chanel, Urban Behavior and Victoria’s Secret have pillaged patterns and designs, regardless of the sacred nature of some of the regalia, material or iconography.  The awards also come at a time when haute couture and street style are both rife with racism – whether it’s Urban Outfitter’s hip-flask and Navajo panties, Givenchy’s Victorian Chola collection or DSquared’s shockingly offensive #DSquaw collection.

Urban Outfitter's Navajo girls underwear

Urban Outfitter’s Navajo girls underwear (photo credit: www.dailyedge.ie)


Givenchy's Chola Victorian look

Givenchy’s Chola Victorian look FW 2015 (photo credit: www.newscult.com)



Dsquaw by Dsquared at Milan Fashion Week

Dsquaw by Dsquared at Milan Fashion Week (photo credit: www.cbc.ca)

Consider the flagrant theft of a sacred motif created by generations of American Made-nominated designer Bethany Yellowtail’s family. Yellowtail’s Apsaalooke Nights dress, was blatantly reproduced and included in a Fall/Winter 2015 collection by Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski, creative director for Kokon to Zai (KTZ), a “bold, unapologetic” “tribute to the primal woman indigenous to this land, who evolves into a sexualized, empowered being.

But to Yellowtail, the world is ready for authentic, thoughtful Indigenous design: “I believe that people are craving truthful, indigenous design,” she writes on her nomination page.

Consider, for example, the incredible impact of Valentino’s recent collaboration with Métis artist Christi Belcourt, whose Water Song beading-inspired paintings was transformed into remarkable prints for the fashion house’s 2016 Resort Line.


Valentino Resort 2016

Valentino Resort 2016


“An oversight that the general public is not aware that innovation is our tradition,” Dorsey tells Ramp1885.  “There are numerous talented Native designers that deserve the spotlight of the industry.  Native designers are actively transforming the industry from “native-inspired” to native-designed.”

“I design from a very personal place of love,” says Yellowtail.  “My aesthetic comes from the deep roots of my ancestral traditions and the inherent designs of my culture.  I want to share the stories that come from our communities.  In my design process, I’m just sharing my story.  I’m sharing who I am as a woman, as a Crow and Cheyenne woman, and an indigenous woman.”


Bethany Yellowtail's collection B.Yellowtail

Bethany Yellowtail’s collection B.Yellowtail

Bethany Yellowtail

Bethany Yellowtail’s line B.Yellowtail


To Dorsey, jewellery is a sacred narrative, its craft a sacred responsibility, “Adornment is always highly valued by our culture as a symbol of status and authority. My mission is to bring native techniques back to my community while spotlighting on South Eastern jewellery traditions in today’s market.”

But beyond the sacred nature of their craft, Yellowtail, Metcalfe and Dorsey are businesswomen with an equally crucial aspiration to foster change in their communities.

“I was always told that no matter what I do, it’s my responsibility to help and give back to my people,” writes Yellowtail on her nomination page.  “Nearly 40% of our tribal population is unemployed and living in poverty. The work I do now enables me to work directly with the communities and native artists that I love.”

Kristen Dorsey's jewelry designs

Kristen Dorsey’s jewelry designs


Kristen Dorsey's jewelry designs

Kristen Dorsey’s jewelry designs


“Around a third of all Native American people are practicing or potential artists, yet most live below the poverty line,” says Metcalfe.  “This is unfortunate since major international luxury brands tap Native American or First Nations resources and designs for their latest collections. The artists who Beyond Buckskin features are highly skilled and multi-talented, we just need the opportunity. Programs like Martha Stewart’s provide that entry point.”


Beyond Buckskin

Beyond Buckskin


Beyond Buckskin

Beyond Buckskin


To Dorsey, creating the conditions under which artists can flourish is crucial. “Fashion is a great vehicle for diplomacy,” says Dorsey.  “I hope that through my work I can reach people to not only educate them about the historical context of my jewellery, but to open their minds to the exciting world of Native fashion and art.”

And so if Metcalfe, Dorsey and Yellowtail are the future of American fashion – and Turtle Island – the future is bright indeed.

Vote for Beyond Buckskin, B. Yellowtail and Kristen Dorsey Design in the American Made Awards.


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