A PUFFY, WHITE BOMBER JACKET evokes desert skies. Pieced together using elegant patchwork, it incorporates vintage textiles to create a billowy shape that seems borrowed from monsoon clouds. Blue birds in green meadows, a red zipper, and crimson lettering that reads “Blue Bird Flour” adorn the cotton surface to complete the color story.

Made from repurposed flour sacks, Diné designer Carrie Wood’s jacket is emblematic of Indigenous fashion today—its many possible interpretations digested differently, depending on the viewer. Fashion lovers may see the puffer coat and think of the rise of street wear. Similarly, the reworking of old textiles aligns with a cadre of current designers who are doing similar things. But for Wood, the jacket’s callout to a staple of Native cooking recalls childhood moments. Wood grew up in Page, Arizona, and learned to sew from a grandmother who never threw anything away.

“I love to upcycle. It promotes reusing things,” says Wood, who began using flour sacks to make clothing for her dolls. “It’s custom. It tells a story.”

from left "Dark Winds" actress Jessica Matten in Jamie Okuma; Peshawn Bread wearing Jamie Okuma.

For the first-ever Native Fashion Week, which takes place May 2–5 in Santa Fe, the aspirations are similar. The event, aimed at both exposure and understanding, includes runway shows from more than a dozen designers; symposiums exploring important issues such as non-Natives wearing Native designs; and a pop-up shop that features designs from Indigenous creators from across North America. Sponsored by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA) and spearheaded by Amber-Dawn Bear Robe (Siksika)—who has directed and curated the annual fashion show at Santa Fe Indian Market since 2014—Native Fashion Week provides a platform for Indigenous designers to shape the understanding of their work.

from left A model in a Jason Baerg and Melanie Monique Rose design; A Jamie Okuma design.

WHILE NATIVE AMERICAN FASHION MAY BE stepping into the mainstream consciousness in a big way in 2024, Indigenous designers have long been masters of the craft. To think about modern Indigenous fashion is to remember the legacy of Lloyd Kiva New, a Cherokee designer who began selling innovative garments from his atelier in Scottsdale, Arizona, in 1945.

New clothed a sophisticated clientele in handcrafted textiles with patterns inspired by Indigenous culture. Neiman Marcus carried New’s designs, and in 1957, he dressed Miss Arizona, Lynn Freyse, for the Miss America pageant. New was part of a larger fashion renaissance, as mainstream designers shed their prewar identities and wrought a new era filled with feminine silhouettes, shorter hemlines, and higher heels. Strong shoulders were out, and a fresh softness was in.

from left Matten (left) in Carrie Wood Blue Bird Flour varsity jacket, Jamie Okuma top, and Matagi Sorensen earrings. Amber-Dawn Bear Robe in Carrie Wood. A Himikalas Pamela Baker design.

As the fashion landscape shifted, New embellished his designs, creating men’s shirts with delicate accents like buttons made by his friend, the renowned Hopi jeweler Charles Loloma. He also collaborated with weavers from northeast Oklahoma to create textiles for his designs, and his bags were the first to use metallic leather. His designs hit runways in Paris and New York.

In 1962, New helped open the Institute of American Indian Arts, in Santa Fe, infusing the curriculum with his ethos that Native art should be defined only by Native artists. “You have much to be proud of being Indian; make the most of it,” New wrote. “The world of creativity will not be denied to you because you are Indian. Please feel free to experiment, invent, use new materials, form new ideologies to fit the rapidly changing realities of being Indian in your own time.”

By establishing the preeminent institution for Indigenous art and artists in the Land of Enchantment’s capital city, New made Santa Fe an epicenter of self-determining fashion, or Native designs authentically crafted by Native people. Indeed, the Santa Fe Indian Market’s annual fashion shows are where many Indigenous designers continue to get their start.

from left Ursala Hudson design; Jamie Okuma design.

WHILE NEW MAY BE CREDITED WITH BRINGING Native fashion to contemporary consciousness, the art has been crafted over thousands of years, creating a visual allegory of Indigeneity. “Native fashion has always been framed as anthropological,” Bear Robe says. “When you look at the whole history—first contact, exoticizing clothing and tattoos—it’s never been seen as a way of fashion. There is no language for it.”

“Even the word couture. It’s a French word and a European concept,” she continues. But Indigenous fashion can go much deeper than the term allows. “You don’t get more couture than hunting a walrus, killing a walrus, gutting the walrus and cleaning it, and making an exquisite, life-saving garment,” she says.

The inaugural Native Fashion Week happens at a time when Indigenous fashion has grabbed a mainstream spotlight, maybe more so than ever before. Oscar nominee Lily Gladstone (Siksikaitsitapi/Nimíipuu) wore a black Gucci dress to the 2024 award show adorned with porcupine quill petals by Indigenous designers Joe and Sunshine Big Mountain of Ironhorse Quillwork. The design dominated headlines about Oscar fashion the next day.

from left Orlando Dugi designs; Jamie Okuma design, Carrie Wood dress, Orlando Dugi design.

Ralph Lauren recently released an Artist in Residence collection made with Diné weaver Naiomi Glasses that includes cowl-neck sweaters and ranch jackets woven in creamy hues and pale brown tones. Glasses taps into memories of weaving with her grandmother via her designs for Lauren. These collaborations acknowledge that Indigenous-inspired pieces need to be made by credited Native designers to avoid cultural appropriation.

The City Different itself is a fashion capital of sorts. Tom Ford grew up in town before heading Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent and creating his own brand. And Santa Fe style, with its turquoise accents, bolo ties, and wide-brimmed hats, is part of the fashion dialogue. Pharrell Williams, the men’s creative director at Louis Vuitton, debuted a fall/winter 2024 collection of cowboy boots, hats, and suits embroidered with cacti, along with saddle bags and blazers with turquoise buttons. Native Voices of Resistance, a powwow group with Indigenous members from across the country, sang on the soundtrack as models took over the Paris runway. The group also performed live after the show.

Bear Robe sees the setting of Native Fashion Week as an important piece in creating a truly Indigenous gathering. “We could have these designers go to New York or Paris,” she says, “but I want the industry to come here, on our territory, in our realm.” During the event, Native American designs are the focus, not the outlier.

from left A Jason Baerg and Melanie Monique Rose design; Himikalas Pamela Baker's runway.

WHEN PESHAWN BREAD (COMANCHE/KIOWA/CHEROKEE), who uses they/them pronouns, designs a garment, they do so from the perspective of a 27-year-old who began modeling as a preteen. Designing comes naturally to Bread, who has graced the runway for innovators like Patricia Michaels (Taos Pueblo), who made it to the finale of Bravo’s Project Runway, and award-winning designer Orlando Dugi (Diné).

“I grew up with a lot of natural influences,” Bread says. “My mom and my aunts did beadwork, and my aunt Josephine Myers-Wapp (Comanche) was a founding faculty member at IAIA. She sewed a lot of beautiful pieces, and she did finger weaving until she was 102 years old.”

In middle school, Bread made outfits to wear to anime conventions. In 2017, a jacket they designed took second place in the SWAIA Indian Market Native Clothing Contest. Bread now creates everything from jewelry to full looks under their brand, House of Sutai. “I like to make things that can be worn by anyone, any gender,” Bread says. “I want to see Indigeneity everywhere, in clubs, in regular settings.”

from left Mobilize (Dusty LeGrande) design; Bread in Elias Jade Not Afraid.

The runway at Native Fashion Week will host Bread’s first full collection. “It’s electrifying, there’s a lot of movement to it,” Bread says, while maintaining an element of surprise about the aesthetic details. “It’s nostalgic, it’s fun and innovative.”

The new 14-piece collection is an ode to a life Indigenous people might have lived. “It’s a period piece,” Bread says, “and what I imagine Indigenous people would have had at that time if they weren’t fighting for their rights every day, if they had been allowed to express joy.” By stepping into the spotlight, Bread is helping to expand minds. “People need to realize that Indigenous fashion has always been here, and we are finally creating our own space.”

One of the first things 42-year-old designer Carrie Wood made was a bomber jacket for her husband that reuses the scarves she associates with grandmothers on the rez. “We call them másání scarves,” she says. “Másání means ‘maternal grandmother.’” Whenever her husband wore the jacket, people asked where he got it.

"Dark Winds" actor Eugene Brave Rock in Lauren Good Day.

Two years later, Wood is preparing to debut her first full collection at Native Fashion Week. Titled Navajo AF, it includes 16 complete looks. The designs reinterpret traditional fabrics and familiar Navajo motifs with a contemporary edge. “I like to take things that are recognizable within our culture and re-create them,” she says.

While Wood’s inspiration is rooted in her identity, she also honors Diné culture by avoiding elements meant only for her own people. “I stay away from things that are more spiritual and ceremonial,” she says. She also knows her designs will be perceived differently by each viewer.  “If you are part of my culture, you will see my bomber jacket, and it has another level of meaning because you recognize the fabric as part of your culture,” she says. “If you’re not, it’s still a really cool bomber jacket.”

from left Matten in Blue Bird Flour Western shirt by Carrie Wood, Ginew jeans, earrings by Rhiannon Griego, and hat by Thunder Voice Hat Co; Patricia Michaels design.

Of all the pieces in her collection, Wood is most excited about a pair of wide-leg denim jeans she made from a bunch of vintage Wranglers. “They remind me of JNCOs,” she says, giggling about the once-ubiquitous jeans that helped define late 1990s style. She used four pairs of Wranglers to make an exaggerated shape. “Wranglers remind me of family,” she says. “All my uncles wear Wranglers because they have livestock. My dad gave me a big bag of his old Wranglers.”

Every person in the Southwest, fashionista or not, knows Wranglers. But as with Wood’s Blue Bird Flour jacket, we see them through the lens of our own experience. Wood sees Wranglers and thinks of family; others think of Western movies. Fashion is a mirror we peer into to see a bit of our own reflection. “Native fashion is not just for Native people,” Bread says. “It’s for everybody.”

No matter what images the designs on the catwalk at Native Fashion Week conjure, the audience will be seeing inimitably Indigenous designs—and that’s the point. “I hope it appeals to everyone,” Wood says of the event. “I want people to see these items, wear these items, and just feel good—to feel proud of who they are.”

Read more: As director of the annual Santa Fe Indian Market Indigenous Fashion Show, Amber-Dawn Bear Robe curates what we see and what we wear.


May 2–5, various venues, Santa Fe