January 29, 2013

Designer Profile | Topah Spoonhunter

I'm very excited to announce that we are increasing our Beyond Buckskin Boutique artist list for 2013, and we're expanding our streetwear collection on a monthly basis - so you can always check back to the Boutique site and learn about new artists and pick up some fresh threads to rock on a regular basis.

Our newest artist is named Topah Spoonhunter (Paiute/Northern Arapaho) who runs the company Two Dogs and a Bear. I caught up with Spoonhunter, asking questions about fashion, and our interview is below.

BB: When and why did you start Two Dogs and a Bear?
TS: The official launch was September 2012 but I feel like I have been working on it since 2007. It all started as a creative outlet for me. I have always been interested in art and design so I started designing t-shirts. I really had no idea what I was doing but it was fun and I was actually able to sell some of them. I found the experience very rewarding but I didn’t have the skills or experience to do much more. I continued to design and learn as much as I could. Then about a year and a half ago I decided to focus on building a brand and not just selling shirts. I took the things that I learned over the years and put it together and the end result was Two Dogs And A Bear.

BB: Describe the general process you go through to create your work.
TS: I start with a basic idea for a design. I try to write it down or sketch it so I don’t forget it. Then I will start to do research. I will search for reference material and try to learn about what I’m drawing. As I’m researching I try to refine the design as much as I can. This includes sketching the design to see what will work or what I need to change. After I find the right layout and content of the design I will do the final sketch. I try to take the design as far as I can with the sketch and make it as clean as possible. I think it makes inking a lot easier. When the sketch is finished I will start inking. I like to ink with pens but I’m starting to lean more towards digital inking. For some designs it makes more sense to ink digitally and it’s also more forgiving. After I’m done inking I use Photoshop to clean up my line work and for any other editing I need to do. When I’m finished in Photoshop it’s ready for print. I send my work off to be printed. I would rather leave the printing to the professionals.

BB: What matters to you most as a fashion designer?
TS: As a designer my focus is on the end product. I’m a bit of a perfectionist so I look at every aspect of the product. I don’t just want the design to be good but I want it to be printed with quality ink on a great shirt. I’m sure there are a lot of people that wouldn’t notice these things and might not even care but I like to make sure everything is up to my standards. I look at it like this, if it’s not something I would be excited to have then I can’t expect anyone else to be excited about it.

BB: What or who is your inspiration?
TS: My inspiration is my life. I read a quote once that said artists are trying to get others to see the world as they do. I think that sums up my work pretty well. The things I value and the major influences in my life are reflected in Two Dogs And A Bear. And the biggest influence, excluding my family, is my culture. I was raised with an understanding and appreciation of my culture. I would say pride but I think it’s more than that. It’s more like confidence. I believe that Native cultures offer so much more than people give them credit for and my goal to show the world how amazing these cultures are.

BB: What does Native fashion mean to you?
TS: That’s an interesting question. Native fashion, in my opinion, is a combination of a lot of things. It’s functional, beautiful, durable, but above all it is timeless. I’ll do my best to explain. Whenever I look at the old photos of Native people I always take notice of their clothing and other items they may have. It’s impossible for me not too. Their clothing is simply incredible. It is functional, durable and beautiful. The first two are probably more of a necessity as their clothes needed to last. But they also took the time to make their clothing look amazing. But the one thing that stands out, above everything else, is that their clothing is timeless. It’s just as impressive now as it was 150 years ago. I’m not sure if that answered your question but that’s what I think of when I hear Native fashion.

BB: Who are your favorite Native designers and artists?
TS: That’s hard because there are so many great ones out there doing some really amazing things. I even have relatives that are very talented. But I would say my favorite would have to be my mom and my dad. They would never admit to having talent. My mom is very humble and my dad was also but growing up I always remember them making things. My dad, who passed away in 2004, was very talented. It seemed like he could do a little of everything. I always remember him drawing or making something. And my mom is also very talented. She weaves baskets, beads and works more with traditional materials. But my mom and dad are my favorite because they made art and design real for me. They were not only very supportive but they also exposed me to these different things and that inspired me to be creative. They were also the ones that showed me the importance of my culture and my beliefs and how to incorporate that into my life.

BB: What is in the future for Two Dogs and a Bear?
TS: I always tell people that if I can continue to make things I will be happy. But from a business standpoint I’m planning to offer a wide range of products that people will use and enjoy.

BB: What is your favorite quote or life motto?
TS: It’s not really a quote or motto but it was something I learned that has helped me tremendously:

There are thousands of cultures throughout the world. Each of these cultures views the world differently. And every one of these cultures is right.

To me, this means that there is no right or wrong way to look at the world and whatever you choose to believe is right. It might not be right for everyone, but it is right for you. This validated my personal beliefs and helped me appreciate my culture and traditions even more.

BB: What is something that a lot of people don’t know, but should know, about your tribe?
TS: It’s not really about my community or my tribe but one thing I notice is that people often put all Native cultures together. I would just like people to remember that there are literally hundreds of tribes across the continent and each one of these tribes has a different culture, language and belief system.

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