Indigenous shoe designer Dewayne Dale combines his passion for shoes with his Navajo culture to create authentic style with a purpose.
C&I chatted with Dale about his upcoming collaboration with Rock Deep, which is available for pre-order here. Read on to discover Dale’s dedication to the Native experience and how his designs came to be.
Cowboys & Indians: What inspired your journey to designing shoes?
Dale: When I was growing up I saw how footwear was transforming people’s lives. Whether it was in sports, utility and labor intensive jobs, or lifestyles, shoes began to get more specific to the end use. On top of that, I grew up playing sports year-round and I saw how sports alone was really transforming the look of shoes back in the 90’s.
I really enjoyed looking at shoes up closely, probably more than getting the shoes. Looking at shoes up closely, instead of from a distance, felt like it told me a different story than the shoe or the athlete that wore it. For example, how the layers of the upper were put together and down to the exciting features of the outsole grip or cushioning story of the midsoles. Thinking of how the shoe was put together or engineered always told me a different story than what you saw from the marketing of products.
It’s the engineering stories that made me appreciate shoes, and I think was one of the big contributing factors why I was drawn to this product. For me to design a shoe is not only a visual element, but also a full immersion into what I want the end user to feel, see, and more importantly, how I am going to solve the problem. Being an Industrial Designer/Footwear Designer is about being able to solve problems; to do that, I don’t mind getting involved in the artistic elements right down to the engineering pieces.
C&I: Your Native roots play a clear role in your designs. Which specific elements inspire you?
Dale: In terms of creativity, I like the lifestyle of my culture. Growing up on the Navajo Nation, I like how life does not move as fast as a big city and things can move slower as a creative person. These days, moving slow is bad for business and we need to stay constantly “updated” on the next thing. Having that slowed-down approach always allows me to go back to the basics and this has helped me solve problems as an Industrial Designer and Footwear Designer. I also like the Dine’ animal stories and how things on our land came to be. Dine’ storytelling is something that inspires me because it is part of who I am and I believe it has helped me with creating stories and storytelling when I’m designing a product.
C&I: Tell us how the Fifth Collection x RockDeep came to be.
Dale: Rocky, CEO of RockDeep, reached out to me in the summer of 2020 and pitched the idea to collaborate. What he didn’t know is that this has been one of the big things that I’ve been trying to do since I [first] got involved in the industry. So, with him and I relating and seeing the opportunity to work with each other, we moved ahead. Because this was not just a random “seasonal” approach to a product line, he wanted to respect the process and allow the time to let it happen. For me, because it’s something that I wanted to do for a while, I was able to continue where I left off in my creative process.
C&I: What do you hope people take from the line?
Dale: I want people to look at the line and celebrate how Native people influence products. With the upcoming footwear, I hope many feel a sense of accomplishment and pride when they learn of the story and collaboration. More importantly, the difference between my upcoming footwear and what is currently out there [promoted as] native-inspired or moccasin-like is that mine is authentic. I don’t consider my shoe to be native-inspired because I’m designing and creating from my upbringing. I’m not trying to replace my culture or say that these shoes are the new moccasins. I don’t believe I have that right. However, I can create products that are a result of my experiences. Big companies do it all the time by taking parts of different cultures and highlighting them for their benefit. The only difference is that I’m in the driver's seat of what I want to share and not share about my culture. To be honest, there are some things in my culture that I can’t just give up or use because it looks cool. Those things are not mine to share.
I grew up in a culture that has stood the test of time and there is power in that.
C&I: What about your design process sets you apart as a creative?
Dale: My work is never meant to take over or replace any part of my culture or other native cultures. Unlike most big brands, I don’t intend to just take or use Native patterns or style for the benefit of a fashion trend. I realized that I don’t have to travel overseas, go to a big city, or listen to an iconic designer tell me about culture. I grew up in a culture that has stood the test of time and there is power in that. Any other big footwear brand or apparel brand will have their design teams travel to learn about different cultures all over the world, only to bring them back and turn them into some marketing story that has little meaning to the ones that matter. If I'm going to create a product story, I want to create them for my people and other Indigenous people to celebrate in and not to just sell shoes.