When Angela Howe-Parrish didn’t hear anything regarding her application to a fashion show in Paris, she assumed she wasn’t selected.
“I kind of gave up,” she said.
But one day in June, Howe-Parrish opened an email she never thought she’d receive.
She had been accepted to participate in the third annual Paris Indigenous Fashion Week, an event that has provided Indigenous designers with a global platform, helping them break into the mainstream fashion industry.
Howe-Parrish printed the email immediately. She sat at a table in her bedroom in Billings holding the print copy and read it again.
Then she rushed to tell her husband, Christian Parrish Takes the Gun, also known to many as the rapper “Supaman.”
“Oh my gosh!” she told him. “My dreams are coming true.”
Howe-Parrish began to cry. It didn’t feel real.
Fashion is in Howe-Parrish’s blood.
She grew up learning from her mother, Donna Howe, who was a seamstress and home economics teacher. To make some extra money, Donna started a side hustle sewing clothes with Native designs. She named her brand Choke Cherry Creek, after what the Crow people used to call the Bozeman area.
When Howe-Parrish was in eighth grade, her mother taught at Plenty Coups High School in Pryor. Because the school was small — now serving about 70 students — Howe-Parrish was allowed to attend prom.
Howe-Parrish was thrilled to showcase her new skills. She sewed her own dress, complete with a black, shiny bodice top and a flared metallic midi skirt with black lace detail.
Howe-Parrish’s grandmothers and aunts were excellent beaders, and when Howe-Parrish was about 19 or 20, she was desperate to learn from them.
“I remember my grandmother gave me a medallion that was half done, and she said, ‘You bead the rest of this just how I beaded the first half,’” Howe-Parrish recalled. “The quality of her beadwork was just exquisite. It was perfect. I had to take mine out and redo it a few times. But that’s how I learned.”
As she grew older, Howe-Parrish, who is Crow and a Blackfeet descendant, worked in sales and as an entrepreneur, and she continued to sew and bead for fun. She helped design some items for Good Medicine Clothing, part of her husband’s brand. She made some regalia. She sewed some outfits for herself for events. And she beaded for her family members.
Over time, friends and family encouraged Howe-Parrish, now in her 40s, to sell and showcase her work. Howe-Parrish entertained the idea, but it didn’t become real until her friend Cora Chandler approached her with an opportunity.
Chandler helped organize the first annual Big Sky Indigenous Women in Fashion and Art Gala in April.
“I remember she told me, ‘I’m planning this. I want you to be part of it. So be ready,’” Howe-Parrish recalled, adding that, at the time, she feared she wasn’t up to the job.
But Howe-Parrish was ready. It was her first fashion show, and she showcased 12 looks. More than 500 people were in attendance.
The event was a success. People wanted to follow Howe-Parrish. Community members congratulated her. They wanted to buy her work. They wanted to know where she’d go next. Howe-Parrish was thrilled.
Howe-Parrish began featuring her work in more shows. And a little more than a month later in May, with her mother’s permission, Howe-Parrish launched Choke Cherry Creek, a company featuring her contemporary Apsáalooke, or Crow, designs.
In September, Howe-Parrish and her family, flew from Montana to Paris so she could show her work at Indigenous Fashion Week. About a dozen other Native designers participated, and she was the only Montana designer there.
Howe-Parrish created 16 looks for the show in a collection called, “Honoring My Mothers and Grandmothers.” About half of the pieces were “ready-to-wear” looks, and half were couture. All of the outfits featured contemporary Apsáalooke designs and geometric shapes. The collection featured a gold dress with imitation elk teeth, which Howe-Parrish calls her “showstopper.”
Howe-Parrish said Indigenous models walked in the show, and every makeup artist was Indigenous as well. Howe’s 13-year-old son Brayden modeled in the show, and her older son Samuel’s girlfriend, Corrin Lamere, wore the “show-stopping” dress.
“It was such a high for me,” Howe-Parrish said. “It’s amazing we’re in these spaces. Native representation is important. You can use this platform as an opportunity to share who we are, that we are still here and that we have our beautiful culture. It’s really special. There’s so much meaning in each piece. That’s what I love about it.”
Howe-Parrish said the fashion world has opened doors. Her business has become increasingly popular and she fields more clothing orders and fashion show invites. Her success in the industry has brought opportunities to her community as well.
“People were asking me if Corrin was signed with an agency,” she said. “It’s so awesome to see and have that impact. Events like this can inspire someone to sew or bead or create something for themselves. It’s been the biggest joy.”
Howe-Parrish hopes to continue to inspire and encourage local youth. This month, she plans to visit St. Labre Indian School in Ashland and Lodge Grass Public Schools to speak with students about fashion, self-love and confidence.
“I like going to these communities and using young people in my fashion shows,” she said. “I like putting them in my clothes and seeing their confidence boost knowing that the clothes have meaning and tribal designs. They take pride in that. They like it. And I like seeing their joy.”
Howe-Parrish is hoping to launch her new “Resiliency Collection” in November. The line will include men’s wear, casual wear and dresses — all complete with Crow colors and geometric patterns.
This article was first published in the Missoulian.