Northwest Native Fashion Show highlights the real deal
By CHRIS AADLAND
MISSION, Ore. – Indigenous designers and models hit the runway Wednesday on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in an all-Native night of glitz and glamour.
For the second year, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corporation and Nixyaawii Community Financial Services hosted the Norwest Native Fashion Show at Wildhorse Resort & Casino as part of a larger economic development conference.
Wednesday night’s demonstration of high fashion was part of the 2023 Northwest Economic Summit, which included several days of presentations, networking opportunities and discussions around topics like increasing regenerative agriculture practices on tribal lands, workforce training needs, tribal energy development and small business development. The summit started on Tuesday and concluded Friday.
About 300 people attended the event – an economic development tool disguised as a fashion show – to cheer Indigenous models who showed off outfits, jewelry and accessories created by Native designers. Backstage, Indigenous makeup artists and hair stylists ensured the models looked stunning.
Several Native vendors also set up tables to sell their hand-made products, which included jewelry, skin care and essential oil-based products, at the show.
In addition to seeing how traditional Indigenous art could be fashionably incorporated into modern designs, attendees had the opportunity to buy the outfits and accessories from the show and mingle with the participants.
“We’re done with ‘Native-inspired,’” Jacob Wallis, fashion show co-emcee and business services manager for NCFS, said during the event.
Many of the designers and models were from the region and included CTUIR tribal members and other citizens of Columbia Plateau tribes, with some participants and attendees coming from across Indian Country, some from as far away as Arizona and Minnesota.
The theme, “Revolvelution: Innovation through mindful creation and destruction,” provides a clue to why a fashion show was connected to a tribal economic development conference.
The purpose of the show, according to organizers, was to highlight the work of Indigenous designers -who may be doing the work as a side hustle – by recognizing their work, helping them grow their business, and providing exposure for their creations. This is especially important now as “Native-inspired” products and art often created and sold by non-Native people are growing in popularity, Wallis said.
“We have this pipeline of creatives that just needed a platform and it was as simple as that,” Wallis said.
Wallis, who developed the show alongside Casey Pearlman, the show’s other co-emcee and the director of business development at the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians Economic Development Corporation, said the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive.