SWAIA brings Indigenous fashion to the forefront with the announcement of the country’s first-ever Indigenous Fashion Week, spearheaded by fashion curator Amber-Dawn Bear Robe.
Indigenous fashion is expanding on the success of the Santa Fe Indian Market’s annual Indigenous Fashion Week, coming to the public May 2 to 5, 2024. The SWAIA fashion show, which began as an independent endeavor by a small group of passionate people on a shoestring budget, is now a highlight of Indian Market drawing massive crowds and showcasing Indigenous fashion designers and models such as Jamie Okuma, Sho Sho Esquiro, and Quannah Chasinghorse.
Leading the charge of the country’s first Indigenous fashion week is fashion curator, art historian, and member of the Siksika Nation Amber-Dawn Bear Robe. Bear Robe spearheaded the effort in 2014 to create a fashion show during Santa Fe Indian Market weekend, transforming the weekend formerly known solely for its traditional artwork, jewelry, and pottery into a hub and hot spot for Indigenous fashion enthusiasts.
“The first fashion show was tiny,” Bear Robe says. “It was free, and it was barely advertised. So people were surprised by how well it was embraced by the market audience.” From transporting models to the very first runway in a U-Haul to celebrating 10 years of standing-room-only, Bear Robe has seen the SWAIA Indigenous Fashion Show grow and evolve.
Besides the fact that the first show was free, Bear Robe says the draw was also that “It was something different. It was not restricted to the very strict rules and bylaws of SWAIA art. It was a breath of fresh air. It was appealing to a different demographic that doesn’t have an interest in painting and pottery but has an interest in the performative, the present day — an interest in what’s new. It wasn’t limited to expectations of what Indian Market art and creativity should look like.”
And Bear Robe has pushed the envelope with every successive show and is now ramping things up even more with a weeklong event not tied to the market in August. Five years in the making, the spring Santa Fe Indigenous Fashion Week expands on Indian Market’s fashion show to include a fashion symposium, a soiree, and multiple runway days showcasing some of the nation’s top Indigenous fashion designers. Bear Rose says we can expect more of everything, including, “more designers, more diversity, conversations on peeling back the layers of Indigenous fashion in its entirety and its complexity.”
Born in Alberta, Canada, Amber-Dawn Bear Robe has become one of the most influential voices in Indigenous fashion and art history due to her work across the country, including as a professor at the Institute of American Indian Arts as well as a curatorial assistant for the Museum of Indian Arts & Culture. “Fashion really does reflect the political and social discourse that is happening in its current era,” she says. “The majority of people don’t even know that Native people exist and are the original people of this land.”
Bear Robe hopes that Indigenous fashion will grow to be represented the way it should be and that the Santa Fe Indigenous Fashion Week grows to be the place where people come to experience, purchase, buy, and work with Indigenous designers and Native models. “That’s the goal,” she says. “I mean, I’m never going to change [someone’s] mind who thinks Native people should stay living in tepees. That’s not the demographic I’m focused on.”
For more information on SWAIA Indigenous Fashion Week 2024, visit the SWAIA website. The inaugural event will kick off on May 2, 2023 in Santa Fe.