January 23, 2010

Native Lo_Fashion

When I told my friend Doug Miles of Apache Skateboards that I was writing my dissertation on Native high fashion, he told me -> don't forget about Native American low fashion.

DM: "Let's just say that 'fashion,' though a wonderful field can and must encompass many things besides high couture items. Today it must also include what I call 'lo_fashion'."

Indeed to fully investigate the world of Native fashion - we must include high fashion, streetwear, and even powwow attire. While my research focuses on the 'couture' side of things, I can't, nor do I want to, dismiss the exciting work happening in Native streetwear. Several underground Native-owned and operated shirt companies have emerged in the past decade, splattering the epitomous American t-shirt with imagery of historical Native American heros, comtemporary political messages, old tribal design motifs, and words in Native languages.

Apache Skateboards has recently collaborated with the eco-conscious C-Pas - the latest of his many collaborations with skate companies. One of his shirts in this collection features the image of a Apache kid – a real person who was both a hero and an outlaw. “He was never caught but lived the remainder of his life in Arizona and New Mexico as a fugitive and ‘wanted man.’ There was a bounty on his head.”

Another shirt features geometric designs influenced by traditional Apache symbols and culture – black triangles represent mountains and earth, lightning bolts represent power, and the circle represents life in completion. The shirts can be purchased here.

Miles' collaborations demonstrate a way for Native artists to get the image of Native people out there in the world - from the Native perspective. Indigenous aesthetics have much to offer the world of fashion, but they need to be presented with respect to the cultures. The current Tribal Trend in fashion offers an exciting opportunity for Native artists and designers to reach broader audiences, however, this trend also threatens to merely replicate old stereotypical tropes and call it done. I'm hopeful that consumers are atleast somewhat cognizant of this situation, and will seek out forms other than the stereotypical ones - especially now since artists/designers like Doug Miles are making it easier for consumers to access new options.

Miles' work is also currently on display (thru Feb 13) at the Chelsea Art Museum in NYC.