BY: CAROLINE ROLF
Bethany Yellowtail uses elk teeth to line the gown sleeves and adds intricate floral beading that has been in her family for generations. Her work is an elegant fusion of classic style and the fundamentals of her Native background.
And it’s so much larger than fashion.
Every single one of Yellowtail’s partnerships is Indigenous: models like Martin Sensmeier, are Tlingit, Koyukon and Athabascan, while the photographer, Thosh Collins, is Onk Akimel O’Odham, Wah-Zah-Zi and Haudenosaunee. It takes many members to help Yellowtail’s vision come to life – a fashion collection influenced strongly by Native American history and get this, actually created by a Native American.
Founded in December 2014, Bethany designed B.Yellowtail to reflect her own Apsaalooke (Crow), Tsetschestahese and So’taeo’o (Cheyenne) heritage.
Indigenous designers are rare to find in the fashion world, and for the most part the existence of Indigenous designs have been that of the mainstream industry’s appropriation.
We can see this trend presently both on and off the runway, from Pharrell William’s Elle magazine cover to major fashion brands like Victoria’s Secret and Chanel decorating their white models with feathers, headdresses, animal furs and face paint. Yellowtail has had personal experience with her designs being stolen by the mainstream. Brand KTZ revealed their Fall/Winter line at New York Fashion Week, paying “a tribute” to Indigenous peoples, which has been criticized for using Bethany’s original design from her Crow Pop Collection.
Why is it that time after time, the intellectual property of Indigenous peoples is not taken seriously? Although the boundaries can be difficult to define and enforce, why were the morals and creativity of this brand not questioned? Indigenous peoples are not often given the same consideration, as white traditional artifacts are protected while Aboriginal designs merely enhance them. While some companies may aim to honour Aboriginal women, often they end up erasing them.
For Bethany, her designs are deeply personal and spiritual and will continue to fight the fashion industry’s imbalance with ancestral tradition, beauty and culture. Check out how she embraces authentic Indigenous design through wearable art: