January 16, 2014

Designer Profile | Tatanka Means

Best known for his roles as an actor, comedian, and speaker, Tatanka Means also heads up the streetwear company, Tatanka Clothing. He's Oglala Lakota, Omaha and Navajo from Chinle, Arizona, and as he explains, "I’m from the Bitter Water clan on my Dine’ side, Eagle clan on my Lakota side, and Deer clan on my Omaha side."

While fashion is only one facet of his creative life, it is a vital component of his overall goals to uplift and inspire cultural empowerment. I was able to catch up with him and to talk a bit more about Tatanka Clothing.

BB: Hi Tatanka! Thank you for taking time to talk with us about your clothing company. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got into screenprinting your own tees?
TM: I don’t know a lot about fashion or claim to. I wish I did. I’m a t-shirt and jeans guy. I had t-shirt design ideas that I wanted to see printed. I would share my ideas with shirt printers but that is as far as it went. I initially did a test run of 100 shirts and hired a screen printer to print all of the shirts. But I quickly learned that the overhead to profit ratio was not enough. So I took matters into my own hands and got productive about it and cut out the middle man and invested in a silk screen machine and taught myself the process. I had to learn from zero and teach myself the entire process because no other printers would help or were willing to teach me at the time. But now I’m glad it worked out like that because it’s a good story, and I have my own style from start to finish just like any artist.

BB: I bought Tatanka tees for my guy relatives for Christmas, and they loved them! Can you tell us more about your inspirations and what that 'start to finish' process looks like?
TM: Inspiration for an idea or concept will rain down sometimes or happen by accident. A lot of the inspiration for the designs comes from our history and culture. We have visual concepts that Indigenous people can relate to and instill some kind of pride and truth to their own connection. Then I shoot the idea back and forth with our graphic designer, Isaac Grant who is a creative genius, until it is finished. It could be a few weeks before we finally step into the shop and begin to print them up. I want to create designs that send a message, educate, and I want to create designs that people can feel proud to wear anywhere.

BB: Being an artist and designer isn't easy - what have been some of the biggest challenges you've faced?
TM: We’ve had some people consider a few of our designs ‘controversial,’ But as everybody knows you can’t please everyone. I've learned to not waste any time on things you cannot control. Your art is your art. Staying true to the work and standing by it is what’s important. Anyone can make shirts that say “Native Pride” and they will sell, but we want to be more creative with how we instill that message. Time is the most precious thing we have in life, so to argue about something like a t-shirt design is not on the top of the priority list. Negativity feeds off of negativity. And we’re all about spreading positivity!

BB: What does Native fashion mean to you?
TM: It means hard work, hustle, and supporting one another. Literally. We need to buy Indian. Our products are just as good as any department store at the mall, if not better. Supporting one another like this is supporting our livelihoods and it allows us to live free and continue our work based off of our creativity and skills. There are a lot of amazingly talented creative designers out there right now doing their thing. That’s great! We need to support one another more so that we can continue to represent ourselves in the fashion world but on a larger scale.

BB: Who are your favorite Native designers right now?
TM: Other shirt companies who have reached out to us, encouraged our growth, or have collaborated with us are NXP Tees, NSRGNTS and Une3k Sy5tem. And on the Fashion design side people like Bethany Yellowtail, Shayne Watson, and Penny Singer are very inspiring.

BB: What are your goals for Tatanka Clothing?
TM: Right now it is to move inventory and continue growing creatively as a company. Ultimately it would be nice to start carrying different types of apparel and accessories with enough support to move into a wider market.

Click here to order your own Tatanka Clothing and click here to Like them on Facebook. You can also follow them on Instagram: @tatankaclothing, and Twitter: @tatankaclothing