Last year was a hallmark year for Native entrepreneurs in the fashion industry. The following four businesswomen (Bethany Yellowtail, Jessica Metcalfe, Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere and Maria Running Fisher Jones)—who all grew up on a reservation—launched e-commerce platforms, or physical retail stores in addition to their online spaces, to sell Native-made designs to international audiences.
Each website and store showcases the authentic, creative and high-quality work of Native artisans.
June 2016 saw the launch of designer Bethany Yellowtail’s new e-commerce initiative in partnership with other Native artists: The B. Yellowtail Collective.
The e-commerce retail initiative features jewelry, beadwork, textiles, handbags, and other accessories handmade by Native artists. All pieces are one-of-a-kind, created through traditional design methods passed down for many generations.
Since the inception of Yellowtail’s clothing line in 2014, the designer says she has envisioned a collaborative project with Native American artists and designers who often lack retail opportunities due to their remote locales.
“What makes The Collective so unique is that the people will now have a direct connection to the authentic, creative source of what they’re purchasing. It is very important to know and understand the artist behind the work,” Yellowtail previously told Indian Country Media Network.
“There will now be a face and a name behind their work, not just a generic idea of Native American product,” Yellowtail said, “Consumers will be able to see their faces, hear their voices, and understand the significance and individuality behind their designs and concepts.”
Visit The Collective and shop the full b.YELLOWTAIL collection.
In May 2016, after four years of successfully operating her online marketplace, beyondbuckskin.com, Dr. Jessica Metcalfe opened her first physical Beyond Buckskin retail store on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota.
Her boutique, like her website, features designs by dozens of acclaimed Native artists, fashion and jewelry designers. The store in rural Belcourt also serves as her new headquarters for working on beyondbuckskin.com, an e-commerce site for Native people to sell art worldwide.
“It’s not a fashion mecca by any means,” Metcalfe said of Belcourt, “but it’s home.”
And Metcalfe’s retail store is boosting the local economy.
“This is not a grant-funded organization,” she explained, “This is a business. We can bring in money from halfway around the world to the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation.”
“Hopefully,” she added, “Beyond Buckskin becomes a mainstay in the Turtle Mountains. I envision hiring aspiring artists and business owners to work with us for a couple of months or a couple of years and eventually going out and launching their own businesses.”
Also in summer of 2016, Metcalfe launched Beyond Buckskin’s international wholesale program, bringing Native-made fashion to stores and boutiques around the globe.
Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere
In February, then-25-year-old Navajo and African American businesswoman Ahsaki Báá LaFrance-Chachere launched her Four Arrows boot line and retail website, four-arrows-westernwear.com. The brand is largely targeted at rodeo hands, like her husband and business co-founder Dennis Chachere, a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tie-down roper from Houston, Texas.
The couple markets Four Arrows by sporting the products, as well as regularly posting photos and updates on Facebook (4 Arrows), Instagram (4arrows_westernwear) and Twitter (@_fourarrows). “I’m just so excited,” regularly repeats LaFrance-Chachere, who was raised in Besh-Be-Toh on the Navajo Reservation in Northeastern Arizona.
The Four Arrows name stems from Navajo tradition. “The number four is very sacred,” she says, referencing the four sacred mountains and the Four Directions. “The arrow is a sign of protection. Navajos believe the four arrows represents protection in front of you, protection behind you, protection beneath you, and protection above you.”
Four Arrows’ designs are priced affordably, generally at $165 or $185, rather than the high-fetching $300- or $600-plus boots typically sold by mainstream brands. Four Arrows currently features more than 30 different styles including boots, hats, clothing and accessories. The boots are fashioned from quality leather sourced from León, Mexico, “the capital of boots,” she says. “These guys know what they’re doing.”
Four Arrows designs are intended to last through the seasons and endure rough conditions, like rodeo competition and tending to livestock. The designs — the types of leather, the intricate stitching, the embroidery, the colors, the stones — stem from LaFrance-Chachere’s background as well as urban trends. LaFrance-Chachere aspires to create a variety to match diverse personalities and tastes. “Native American culture and a mix of modernity is what inspires the boot designs. The designs of the boots are created to reach everyone,” she previously told Indian Country Media Network.
Maria Running Fisher Jones
Maria Running Fisher Jones grew up wearing moccasins on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation in Browning, Montana, and later in Great Falls, Montana. "I've always worn moccasins. I love them. I have multiple pairs," she previously told Indian Country Media Network.
TPMOCS was born in spring 2016 through her desire to give back to her tribal community.
The idea for the business sparked a few years ago when Running Fisher Jones, now a San Francisco Bay resident and intellectual property attorney for Oracle, was visiting her family in Browning, for the North American Indian Days. "I took a drive around town, and not much has changed since I was a kid. It's still very stricken with poverty. I was thinking of what can I do to help this community, my community," she said.
The Blackfeet Indian Reservation struggles with a 69 percent unemployment rate. "I thought, 'What can I do? How can I give back?' And it just kind of came to me — to use a traditional art form to create employment opportunities. I thought moccasins would be a good way to share the appreciation of our culture with other people."
Proceeds from every purchase of moccasins for little ones, now available for ages zero to 2, help TPMOCS address poverty on the Blackfeet reservation. Running Fisher Jones eventually intends to expand TPMOCS tribe by tribe, hiring and training Native artisans and other employees, and providing resources to more Native communities in need.
For its first major giveback, TPMOCS partnered with the Blackfeet Early Childhood Center during the 2016 North American Indian Days, held each July in Browning. "We gave diapers, clothing and formula for children ages 0 to 2. We'll do that again, likely this year around Christmas," Running Fisher Jones said.
In general, moccasin designs vary by tribe and region. TPMOCS moccasins are based on traditional Blackfeet design. The colorful liners take a modern spin on traditional art. The moccasins are branded with names like Fire Walker, resembling a red pendelton pattern, and the Salmon Runner, in tan and soft pink.
TPMOCS features three collections: Traditional, Urban and Limited. Custom design is also available. Among other attributes, TPMOCS are sinewed, or handfcrafted, from cowhide, and hand-stitched in a very unique pattern. They are handcrafted upon order, and thus require up to two weeks for completion (plus domestic shipping takes three to five business days for delivery).