Ginew: Native created, designed and Native-influenced denim fashion
When perusing the denim fashion site Ginew, created and managed by Erik Brodt, Ojibwe, and Amanda Bruegl, Oneida and Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican, a married couple who live in Portland, Oregon, it would be an arguably easy jump to assume that both Bruegl and Brodt must be full-time designers with a focus on creating beautiful denim clothing with Native-influenced designs.
But Ginew is their secondary gig, as both Bruegel and Brodt are full-time physicians.
As Brodt explains it, “Ginew is our side job, a passion project and creative idea which serendipitously was born into a space where we express ourselves. We are both physicians, Amanda is a Gynecologic Oncologist (women’s cancer surgeon) and I am a Family Medicine physician.”
“We both work in academic medicine for a medical school, pursuing research and educational programs, all of which aim to improve the health and wellness of Indigenous people. A few years ago we helped launch We Are Healers and OHSU Northwest Native American Center of Excellence,” says Brodt.
Brodt says the concept does confuse some people regarding the idea of American Indian physicians who also work as apparel designers. But Bruegl says Ginew provides the husband-and-wife team with “a creative outlet and means to balance out the intensity of our full-time responsibilities.”
The origins of Ginew
Ginew (GIH-NOO) which translates "brown eagle" in Ojibwe and is part of Erik Brodt's name, is an expression of Brodt and Bruel’s journey.
The backstory to Ginew originated from Brodt’s and Breugl’s wedding ceremony. Brodt’s father had hunted a buffalo as a gift for their wedding and the duo then prepared the hide from the buffalo in their garage. Wanting to honor the buffalo, and as a way “to give a more meaningful gift to those who helped with the ceremony,” Bruegl and Brodt decided to make buffalo belts made from their wedding buffalo’s hide.
“One thing led to another, and we ended up starting a tiny leather goods business in our apartment, which was the primary focus until the leather goods market became saturated,” says Bruegl.
Both Bruegl and Brodt grew up in Wisconsin, Erik Brodt grew up in the rural Northwest woods on the White Earth Reservation, and Amanda Bruegl grew up in the East near the shores of Lake Michigan and the Stockbridge-Munsee Reservation.
The apparel label and Ginew’s first creation, the Heritage Coat, got their start on a frigid February morning in Houston, Texas when Bruegl and the couples’ dog Stinky were resting in a heated tent after she had been working the long and demanding hours — required by training as a physician. When Erik Brodt says he went out for coffee, he became immersed in thought and reflected on possible answers and influence from his great-great-grandfather.
“I started on a thought experiment about the transition my great-great-grandfather made from hunter-gatherer to agrarian. I was thinking about what that experience may have been like and what might have gone through his mind, and I thought about what he might have been wearing in those moments. How it would need to be utilitarian, functional, and sturdy. Perhaps what he might have included in the coat, had he chosen design elements to represent both worlds he was living in during this transition.”
Taking into consideration these factors, Brodt says the Heritage Coat — their first apparel item he had drawn out on a napkin in the common space at a local coffee shop, El Cosmico — had come into existence. They worked to make a concept into reality.
“We took about 2-3 weeks to identify all of the necessary components, patterns, and sought to make it factory-made enough for ourselves and some friends, thinking we were done,” says Brodt, not yet realizing they had embarked on creating the company, Ginew.
After creating the coat and sharing the image on social media, they received invitations from Lightning and CLUTCH magazines to show their collection at the CLUTCH Collection Show in Tokyo, Japan.
Ginew apparel was born.
Just before December 2017, they sourced their denim from White Oak Cone Mills, However, the mill soon thereafter closed. “With the closure of the mill, our attention shifted elsewhere. We wanted to find the highest quality, most interesting denims and we have most recently settled on Nihon Menpu Mills in Japan. We love what they do, the intricacies and artisan elements of each denim, and how they wear over time. These are truly stunning denims,” says Brodt.
All of our collection is sewn in the USA, Los Angeles, Portland, and Seattle, in that order from most to least,” says Bruegl. “We have some bandanas made in Japan, but our collection is almost entirely and intentionally made in the USA.”
Instagram image: Models left to right: Aaron Tellez @aarowruns, Haatepah @_haatepah_, Nyamuull @_clearbear_ , Photographer: Kari Rowe @karirowephoto and stylist Erin Bruno @erinsbruno .
Bruegl and Brodt say they have to put considerable thought into answering a commonplace query from the media, such as why their line “isn't overtly Indigenous-looking in its design.” They say the question prompts them to respond as to what the definition of “Indigenous-looking” might be conceptually.
“This is a challenging question to answer as there are many layers of response to it. First, where does one’s understanding and impression of what “Indigenous-looking” is come from? For most, exposure comes from out-dated and incomplete accounts from elementary school history classes coupled with misappropriation and misrepresentation in media, movies, etc. Those limited exposures set the expectation for what Indigenous means and they are wholly incomplete manifestations of what it is and means to be an Indigenous person,” says Bruegl.
“Our approach refutes these incomplete impressions and is deeply rooted in our traditions and culture with the intent to genuinely represent ourselves and family. We design our collection with the aim of increasing Indigenous visibility in a contemporary context. While many of our items may not appear Indigenous, there are elements that are deeply meaningful to us personally and which are likewise meaningful in our respective communities,” says Brodt.
“Our approach is a way for us to be who we are — as contemporary American Indian people in a contemporary context — wearing clothing which honors this. While not necessarily adhering to the stereotypes of what Indigenous clothing or design must be. In this way, Ginew seeks to share about our lives, stories, and cultures with anyone who is sincerely interested in learning, while simultaneously being a label for someone who is looking for clothes of built of meticulously sourced, premium materials.”
Bruegel and Brodt also discussed some of the traditional elements in the Ginew collection such as hunted deer leathers as well as an adherence to tribal values, family stories, symbols, and traditional textiles.
They say the Wax Rider Jacket is one example.
“We designed the Wax Rider Jacket after my grandfather who struggled to obtain employment as a Native welder in the 1950s in the towns neighboring the reservation,” explained Bruegel.
“Together, my grandparents made the decision not to relocate to the city and chose instead to maintain the family on the reservation, surrounded by culture and support of an extended-kinship community. This meant that grandpa had to travel a long, long way to the city every Sunday and Friday night for the duration of his career. A motorcycle company in Milwaukee (Harley Davidson) hired him, and this is how he supported our family. It was his dedication to our family and culture, his wisdom, love, bravery, courage, respect, honesty, humility, and truth, which he taught us in these actions. To honor him, we designed the Rider Jacket to include these traditional values.”
”Maybe this is how we are able to wake people up — peers in the fashion ecosystem, shops, and customers— to the very real existence of Native people in a contemporary context, not frozen in an Edward Curtis photo, but living and thriving in this present day.”
Brodt says that In addition to family stories like Bruegl’s grandfather, Ginew also includes symbols and traditional textiles into their collection. We seek to be quietly resistant and present in our designs, such as the white oak leaf on the back of our fasteners to the incorporation of the traditional symbols of the Oneida Skydome creation story and Ojibwe dwelling/house. We include select symbols from our tribes in our designs so that we — as contemporary Indigenous people— can wear clothes daily which contain elements that are dear and special to us. Using traditional textiles like deerskin is a way for us to share about our real lives and use a textile which was traditionally the primary clothing textile. We hunt deer every Fall— like our families have done for many generations — and in doing so continue to participate in this tradition.
Brodt says including deerskin that they have hunted in their designs “is one more step toward honoring and maintaining those teachings, while allowing us to share who we are with others.”
Inspiration comes from the notion of Indigenous visibility
Brodt and Bruegl say they are most inspired by the clothing their relatives wore during certain periods of time as a key way to reinforce the notion of Indigenous visibility.
“We are still here and have always been here through trends and time,” says Brodt. “We are inspired by Americana. In fact, we’ve sometimes said we are Native Americana, fusing both Native American and classic style.”
“We design what we want to wear and live in. Amanda often teases me that I have my uniform which I wear until it’s ready to return to the Earth. Well, if I am going to have a uniform, it might as well reflect my personal style and traditions, right?” asks Brodt.
Collaborating with Pendleton for some jacket interiors
Brodt and Bruegel collaborate with Pendleton blankets to create many of their jacket’s interior designs. They maintain that these designs are important in both of their communities and that they seek to make their garments using only the best components.
Thus, they say, “Pendleton was a natural fit for us as they make the best wool blanket fabric for our application.”
They worked with a Native artist for the specific jacket interior designs. “It was an honor to work with Dyani Whitehawk to design the pattern with us. We love working with her and appreciate her process, as she listened so carefully to who we are and to our ideas. The result is an authentic fusion of our family story and cultures— respectful of some of our sacred colors and symbols— while being acutely aware of our distinct creative vision. And along with the Pendleton team, made the process seamless. We love that Pendleton weaves the exclusive Ginew pattern for us into wool fabric and blankets. It means so much for us to have the best-made wool blanket fabric made by a premium, family-owned company right here in Oregon.”
Brodt says it has been a long process since 2010, and look well forward into the future in a quest to create beautiful designs by Ginew, while increasing Indigenous visibility.
“Amanda and I have full-time jobs, and Ginew has slowly built since 2010 as a passion project. Ultimately, we seek to increase Indigenous visibility and inclusion in the global fashion ecosystem. This is important because there is a propensity to appropriate Indigenous design, symbols, names, patterns, and culture in this space, and we feel this would not happen as readily if more Indigenous people were included across the spectrum of the fashion world, especially in visible positions like designers, brand-owners, and executives.”
“Our goal is to help grow the number of AIANs who are in this industry and there seems to be some good things brewing. We simply need to see if the cosmic jello aligns for us to make and incubate talent in these key areas. There are some special partners such as the City of Portland, Oregon Native American Chamber of Commerce, local tribal nations, and key individuals. Time will tell.”
For more information, visit GinewUSA.com.