February 24, 2016

Artist Profile | Bentonia Brown

We are excited to add yet another amazing new artist to the Beyond Buckskin Boutique: Bentonia Brown creates tiny little cloth-covered gems emblazoned with geometric designs and Native American art.

Her business, T.Connor&Co., is an ode to her son and her culture, and her limited-edition button-style earrings are about to become your latest obsession (how do you buy just one pair? You can't - you need to collect them all!). We sat down with Bentonia to learn more about her fun and budding business.

BB: Hi Bentonia! Can you start off by introducing yourself to our readers?
BB: Yá’át’ééh! Shí eí Bentonia Brown yinishe’. Ta’neeszahnii nishłį́, Ta’chíínii bashishchiin, Tłízíłaní dashicheii, Kinłíchiinii dashinalí. Ákót’éego diné asdzáán nishłį́.

Hello! My name is Bentonia Brown. I am a Navajo. I grew up on the Navajo Reservation in a little town called Chinle (Arizona). I am currently residing in Phoenix, Arizona, and I am the owner of T.Connor&Co - an earring business that I unintentionally created about a year ago. You can find us just about anywhere, listed under the name: T.Connor&Co.

BB: You mentioned that you got into this business unintentionally - can you elaborate?
BB: I created T.Connor&Co. early last year. We just hit our 1 year anniversary at the end of January! I didn’t have any intentions on creating a business out of a hobby I did for 'DIY gifts'. One day, I posted on my Instagram account what I had made for my mothers, aunts and in-laws for their Christmas presents and I had so many comments the next day: “What are those?”, “Are they painted?” and my favorite, “Where can I get them?”

Although I had a lot of inquires about the earrings I had posted, I was still hesitant about opening up an Etsy account, as a friend had suggested. I was pondering on the idea for a couple of weeks and decided to go for it; not on an Etsy shop, but my own webpage! I had been studying at the time for my business degree, so I figured I could get some hands-on experience in running a small business for a bit before my husband and I help bring more businesses to the reservation.

I love working on this business because it puts me in a different mindset. I’ve always been a creative person. When I was younger, I loved coloring or creating bracelets more than playing with Barbies. I believe creating my products gives me a chance to replay my childhood. I also believe it takes the stress and pressures away from my day job. I work full time as an accountant for a luxury homebuilder in Scottsdale. For everything to be black and white all day, it’s quite nice to come home and bury myself in boxes of colorful fabric!

BB: Yes! And you have so much color in your collections? What inspires your designs?
BB: My inspiration is my culture. In a world where our beautiful Indigenous designs and patterns are being stolen, I believe it’s up to us to bring out the true designs and educate those who don’t know or are ignorant toward their meaning. I always try to include meaningful pieces and educate the importance of each. We have beautiful traditions. My goal is to keep the teachings alive through modern, wearable art.

BB: That's an awesome goal! If someone asked you what Native fashion is, what would you tell them?
BB: Native fashion to me means bold, colorful, meaningful prints! I love Native fashion because each piece has a story behind it. It’s amazing when you can chat with the artist and receive a history lesson in return.

BB: That is true! There are so many awesome artists out there, who are some of your favorite Native designers?
BB: My favorites right now, in no particular order, are: MaRia Bird (Mea B’Fly), Michelle Lowden (Milo Creations), Jared Yazzie (OXDX), Jamie Okuma (J.Okuma), and Bethany Yellowtail (B.Yellowtail).

You can shop the T.Connor&Co. collection on Beyond Buckskin now. Also, check out her online shop, and follow her on Instagram and Facebook.