Talent, moxie, and Navajo culture come together in Double D Ranch's exciting new collaboration.
On the fashion frontier, collaboration is king right now — or, in this case, queen. While you'll see a lot of the industry's major players teaming up with already well-known names, country couture powerhouse Double D Ranch is providing a platform for a fresher face.
"To us, talent is talent, and if yours aligns with our aesthetic, then we're interested in having a conversation about collaborating," say Double D Ranch creative director Cheryl McMullen. "We do work with some big names who already have a reputation and a repertoire — I mean Oscar Betz is a lapidary legend — but Penelope Joe has that heart and hunger that you only find in young visionaries eager to make their name."
The 20-year-old, self-taught artist is the embodiment of carpe diem with a canvas. Penelope was born and raised (and still lives) on the Navajo reservation near the Petrified Forest in Arizona, where chores are ample and luxurious are scarce. Her home didn't have electricity until she was 13 and currently still does not have running water. But for Penelope Joe, an environment low on technology was ideal for cultivating creativity.
"Starting from when I was about 4 or 5, after my uncles came in from working, we would all have dinner," she recalls. Then after dinner, we'd clean off the table, and they'd bring out paper. We would sketch and draw every night. I wasn't attached to the TV, and I wasn't on social media; I didn't get on social media until people encouraged me to put my art online." By the time her home got electricity, Penelope had already conquered her first art contest.
Double D Ranch is doing something different, which I think more of these clothing companies should do by asking Indigenous artists to be part of these Native American designs.
"I was 12 years old when I entered my first art show, the Gallup Inter-Tribal Indian Ceremonial," she says. "And my painting won first place. By the time I decided I was definitely going to enter, I only had one week to complete that painting, Storytelling of the Creation of Horses."
She has a propensity for seizing opportunities, and where they don’t exist, she creates them. That’s how she ended up one of the youngest artists ever admitted to the widely renowned Santa Fe Indian Market.
“I sent my application every year, even knowing I was too young to enter,” she says. “I wanted them to know my name by the time I was eligible. And then, when I was 18, I got the letter, and I was able to announce it at my high school graduation dinner.”
That’s also how Penelope found herself in creative cahoots with Double D. Ranch. She simply had the tenacity to ask.
“Our first time teaming up with Penelope was for a photoshoot and feature in our Fall 2021 Grand Canyon catalog,” McMullen says. “She actually contacted us wanting to model; she was so earnest and genuine, and as you might imagine, we admire a girl with moxie! We were impressed with the way she presented herself and her goal to change the narrative around the relationship between Native American artisans and the Western fashion world and that she wanted to be the one to do it.”
Penelope felt compelled to be a firsthand representative of the Navajo people, one actually living the rituals and reservation life, and demonstrate that, rather than collide, the cultures could coincide and collaborate, and people could learn from each other and mutually benefit.
“Double D Ranch is doing something different, which I think more of these clothing companies should do by asking Indigenous artists to be part of these Native American designs,” Penelope Joe says. “Most of my art design that I did with DDR has meaning in my culture.” In particular, she was able to share her horse symbols. Growing up, she says, all she had was her artwork and her horses. In Diné culture, horses hold a special place and have a central place in Penelope’s art.
Now her designs play a central role in DDR’s Chili Patine collection, the third installment of the Fall/Winter 2022 Scrapbooks collections. Named for a fictional alter ego from McMullen’s childhood, it’s rich leather, intricate embellishments and embroidery, fringe and fur. And it has a strong Southwest-style influence presented in bold black bases complemented by earthy autumn and terra-cotta tones.
As both an Indigenous artist and a native to that region of the country, Penelope was the ideal candidate for collaboration on Chili Patine.
“This collaboration is the biggest honor of my life,” Penelope says. “I’ve been working toward this since I was 11 years old. I wanted to know where art would take me. Now I’m collaborating with Double D Ranch, one of the biggest high-end Western clothing companies. Chili Patine is an amazing collection, and I’m very thankful for this opportunity.”
Double D Ranch is thrilled with the collaboration, too.
“There’s an authenticity to Penelope’s artistic style that is evident has been passed down through generations,” McMullen says. “Her talent is her own, but I can picture her cultivating it alongside her uncles; there is so much tradition and culture that come through in her aesthetic and being deeply ingrained in her Navajo roots aligns her with Southwestern style in a unique way. We’re honored to be part of what is sure to be a resplendent career for her.”
The collaboration is the source of great pride for Penelope Joe.
“There were some very tough times for me growing up as a child not having a ‘normal’ life like most other kids have in America,” she says. “Here on the reservation, you have to work harder. Just getting ready in the morning, you have to warm hot water to take a shower. You have to haul water every other day. You’re always on the hunt for many Coleman kerosene lamps because you don’t have light at night to do your work. Many people along the way have helped me since I was a little baby — my mom, my uncle Ryan, Grandpa Venson — telling me ‘You can do anything.’ And now I’m here sharing my designs with the Western fashion world. Having my artwork presented on a national scale is the biggest achievement of my life as a young Diné Navajo artist. I can’t wait for that moment to sit back and see my art at a rodeo or on social media with a Western influencer wearing DDR clothing and say I was part of that collaboration.”
Photography by Mitchell Franz
Keep up with Penelope Joe and her work here.