Sindy Tammy Kenneally has hit the jackpot. Dressed in a fashion-forward parka she sewed herself, she and her sisters Crystal and Naiomi, each wearing their own Kenneally-designed coat, have arrived at the community hall in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, to find long tables overloaded with bolts of fabric, boxes of zippers and pairs of scissors. They queue up with their neighbours to claim materials and notions, chatting about what they’ll create with their finds. Within an hour, it’s all gone.
The sewing supplies – four pallets’ worth, including several thousand metres of fabric – were flown in that morning by Canada Goose, the Toronto-based winter outerwear behemoth. The company launched its resource-centre program nine years ago, partnering with the airline First Air to give back to the northern communities it relies on for its raw materials and who have helped spur the growth of the brand by being advocates for Canada Goose gear. Working with local volunteers, the company has donated surplus supplies to people in Pond Inlet, Rankin Inlet, Pangnirtung and Iqaluit in Nunavut and Kuujjuag in northern Quebec, bolstering Canada Goose’s sustainability efforts.
The intent of the initiative is to provide communities in the North with free materials so that they can sew their own winter gear. But the effort has also had the unintended benefit of arming budding Indigenous designers with another path toward practising their craft.
Similar goals were behind Ikea Canada’s recent partnership with Setsuné, an Indigenous fashion incubator, on a limited-edition collection of textiles for the kitchen including aprons, baskets and tea towels. The fabric, made from the furniture retailer’s salvaged textile waste, was transformed through the work of designers and artisans in the incubator. “Partnering with Setsuné allowed us to simultaneously empower the local Indigenous arts community and also creatively explore a pathway toward a circular economy,” says Brendan Seale, sustainability manager at Ikea Canada. Participating artisans also gained experience with production and merchandising.
Setsuné’s founder, Sage Paul, has since moved on to launch the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto, which runs from May 31 to June 3. Along with runway shows and a marketplace, programming for the event includes a conversation with Kent Monkman, a Cree and Irish-Canadian artist who has collaborated with French designer Jean Paul Gaultier, and a panel discussion about the ethical dilemmas of wearing another cultures’ traditional craftwork and fashions.
In Cape Dorset, the Canada Goose initiative focuses more on providing difficult-to-access materials to support local designers and makers working for themselves, rather than adopting Indigenous elements for its outerwear collections. Kenneally plans to sell her parkas to family members and others in the community. She creates a small collection of pieces, but also takes commissions. “I like making things that are one of a kind, so I don’t often repeat my designs,” she says.
Wakta Joanasie was at the centre on the same evening as Kenneally, wearing a bright purple and white parka adorned with lace patterns. She was there to collect supplies for her sister Emily Joanasie, who lives in Iqaluit and has a hobby business designing parkas, including the one Wakta was wearing.
“The Canada Goose events are always fun since they often provide materials I wouldn’t buy on my own, as in [material] I haven’t worked with before, and I can experiment with it,” Emily Joanasie says of the supplies her sister collected for her. “And they often provide a selection of basics that you might not find in our community.”
In the past, international brands such as DSquared, Paul Frank and Ralph Lauren have been accused of carelessly incorporating Indigenous elements in their collections. Initiatives such as Canada Goose’s resource centre and Ikea’s collection are examples of how brands can foster creative collaboration, not colonization.
Jordan Bennett, a visual artist of Mi’kmaq descent who collaborated with eBay on a limited-edition scarf collection in 2016 and is working on another creative partnership launching later this year, says that, beyond raising his profile, the benefit of such partnerships is being able to share his community’s art with a wider audience in a way that stays true to cultural traditions.
“It’s great when major brands do true collaborations,” he says. “There has been so much appropriation of our visual cultures, it’s exciting to see Indigenous people creating and wearing these designs.”