Taking Native American fashion 'Beyond Buckskin' and headdresses

Story highlights

  • New generation of designers create authentic examples of modern Native fashion
  • Beyond Buckskin blog is at heart of movement to promote Native fashion
  • First Beyond Buckskin look book features 17 designers and artists from Indian Country
  • Editor: Look book is a "indigenous response to the rip-offs being marketed in mainstream media"
Growing up in rural North Dakota, about 13 miles from the Canadian border and a 90-minute drive from the nearest McDonald's, Jessica Metcalfe relied on magazines for her pop culture fix.
The young Turtle Mountain Chippewa never saw anyone in the pages of Seventeen who looked like her. But as an adult, she's working to change that, promoting the work of Native American fashion designers and artists.
She began with the 2009 launch of Beyond Buckskin, a blog that highlights Native designers and discusses their place in media and pop culture. Even Metcalfe was surprised by its initial success -- by the size of its audience, the positive feedback, the readers asking, "Where can I buy that?"
The blog expanded to include an online boutique last year, placing Metcalfe at the center of a growing movement to reclaim what fashion labels "Native American." She's surrounded by a group of passionate Native designers, artists, stylists, photographers and bloggers who have already proven that by raising their voices they can hold companies accountable. Instead of just reacting to controversies, Metcalfe and her cohorts want to promote authentic examples of modern Native fashion. Their work reflects the diversity of North America's indigenous communities, from the southeastern United States to Canada's Pacific Northwest, but their message is clear: True Native fashion is more than what's for sale at Urban Outfitters or Forever 21.
When blogger Adrienne Keene of Native Appropriations outed Paul Frank last year for holding a powwow-themed party, the company not only apologized but invited Keene and Metcalfe to speak at an upcoming industry panel on cultural appropriation. The company is also working with Metcalfe to develop collections featuring four Native designers.
Whenever a celebrity dons a feather and long braids for a photo shoot, or a fashion brand releases a gaudy collection of "totem pole print" tracksuits, bloggers like Metcalfe and Keene are slammed with questions about why they're offensive. Metcalfe says they should be showing better examples -- tasteful, appropriate use of Native iconography, and talented Native designers.
It's the work of Taos designer Patricia Michaels, the first Native American to appear on "Project Runway;" the art of Virgil Ortiz, a Cochiti Pueblo artist and designer who collaborated with Donna Karan; the sexy couture gowns of Bethany Yellowtail and other designers who appeared in the first Beyond Buckskin Lookbook launched earlier this month to spotlight Native-made