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Walk-N-Beauty provides wearable Native art

LEHIGH ACRES, Fla. - One year at the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque, N.M., Jerri Anderson-SixKiller was standing in the dance registration line. From quite a distance away, members of a drum group were yelling to her, asking about her shoes. ''I knew they weren't looking to snag,'' Anderson-Sixkiller laughed. ''They were intently looking at the shoes I was wearing.''

Rather than wearing beaded moccasins as part of her regalia, Anderson-SixKiller, Cherokee, was wearing a pair of beaded heels that caught her eye in a fashion boutique. ''These were 'made in China' beaded high heels that looked pretty classy from a distance, but up close you knew they were junk. However, people always noticed them. Everywhere I went - whether at conferences, pow wows, meetings - people would literally follow me around and ask about those shoes ... I would laugh and say, 'Man, if I had a dollar for every time someone asked us about these shoes, I would be rich!'''

That concept and encouragement from a close friend led Anderson-SixKiller to begin researching for a base for her shoe production idea. Her goal was to make beaded heels and low heels for Native women. ''Shoes Native women would get attention wearing,'' she said, ''something beautiful, like Native women, that would make them feel special no matter what size they are.''

Anderson-SixKiller is a personal trainer and fitness expert currently residing in Florida. She's a mother of three who travels the United States and Indian country, speaking to Native women about eating disorders and abuse. While on her travels, she looked for suggestions for a business name and design styles.

She began a direct marketing approach by sending a mass online questionnaire, stating her goal and asking, for example, ''Would you buy these shoes? How much would you pay for them? What size do you wear?'' The response was overwhelming.

Armed with logistic data pertaining to target customers and their needs, yet still without a business name, she came up with ''Walk-N-Beauty'' one day while talking to First Nations comedian Don Burnstick. ''He just said off the top of his head, 'How about Walk-N-Beauty ... like a Walking Beauty but with an N in between.' He said, 'The shoes are beautiful, the women that wear them will feel beautiful and the path they walk on, you pray, will be beautiful.' I knew that I found my business name at last.''

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She enlisted the help of several Native women she knew, who were also skilled beadwork artists. Anderson-SixKiller herself has been a talented beadwork artist since age 12, having beaded everything from shoes, handbags and barrettes to jewelry and regalia pieces by special order.

The Walk-N-Beauty collection consists of both heels and flats, featuring a comfortable padded sole and a wooden shoe base. Women wearing these shoes can feel comfortable while looking stylish, a combination almost unheard of in the fashion shoe business.

Anderson-SixKiller sources her leather and wooden bases for the shoes, guaranteeing the highest quality. And, because each pair is hand-beaded by Native women into designs that consist of sparkling size 11 beads, no two pair is really alike. Walk-N-Beauty shoes cost about $150 per pair and can be ordered directly from the Web site.

Anderson-SixKiller designed a Northwoods-style moccasin charm that is attached to each pair of shoes. ''This is to remind us of our grandmas who walked before us and the path they journeyed on.''

Her shoe line premiered successfully at the Gathering of Nations in April 2007. Her current goal is to add four new tribal designs for every 200 pairs sold. She is now working on a special design that benefits domestic violence programs for Native women, donating a portion of sales to the cause. ''I'm very excited about this idea, and to support Native women who are victims of physical, mental, sexual and emotional abuse.''

Anderson-SixKiller and her employees work hard to perfect the shoes. ''I have business experience, but none like this and on this scale. This is trial by error, most definitely,'' she said, ''and just like everything in life, it is a work in progress.''

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