Phoenix Indian Center Hosts Fashion Show for Indigenous Designers

Arlyssa D. Becenti

Kathleen Tom-Garcia started by sewing masks for people during the pandemic. Then one day she learned that the Phoenix Indian Center was offering an online ribbon skirt-making class taught by none other than Agnes Woodward, who made the ribbon skirt that Deb Haaland wore when she was sworn in. as Home Secretary.

After learning how to make a skirt, Tom-Garcia made a red one in honor of the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women’s Movement. Since that day, she says she hasn’t stopped making skirts and every time she posts a photo of a new one on Facebook, someone buys it within minutes.

“After that, I started to blossom and create and all these designs came to mind,” Tom-Garcia said. “It was just flowing. It was like a gift. When I buy the fabric, there is an energy that is drawn to that fabric. I just touched it and everything flows into place. I guess it’s a gift from the creator.

On a chilly Saturday evening in early March, Tom-Garcia’s granddaughter modeled her grandmother’s latest creation in front of a sold-out crowd for the Phoenix Indian Center’s Native Community Fashion Showcase, which took place held this year at Brophy College Preparatory School in commemoration of the center’s 75th anniversary. birthday.

A model wearing a design by Kathleen Tom-Garcia of Kathleen's Design, of the Navajo Nation, walks the red carpet during the Phoenix Indian Center's Native Community Fashion Showcase at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix on March 5, 2022.

It wasn’t just community members like Tom-Garcia who showed off their designs, but also four notable Indigenous fashion designers, whose pieces were worn and modeled by Indigenous models.

“We are celebrating our 75th anniversary,” said Jolyana Begay-Kroupa, acting director of the Phoenix Indian Center. “It will be a great year to celebrate community events and bring recognition to all the townspeople and the services we have been providing for many years.”

Begay-Kroupa said the Phoenix Indian Center has gone into overdrive for the urban Indigenous population during the pandemic, providing a range of services, like ribbon skirt doing classes via Zoom for people who are isolated or quarantined.

“We never closed our doors but we stopped face-to-face interactions,” Begay-Kroupa said. “However, we continued to be there for our community and for our families as best we could. We explored and used our creativity, we focused on services in order to continue to help. »

Designs inspired by Indigenous culture

The idea behind the fashion show was to focus on bringing the community together, which is why the first part was dedicated to community members like Tom-Garcia, people who don’t necessarily have a line clothing or jewelry but who want to show off their creations.

The second part was aimed at up-and-coming fashion designers who are part of the fashion industry, Begay-Kroupa said. Four designers were invited to participate in the show.

The fashion show took place the same weekend as the 64th edition of the Heard Museum Guild and Market. Sage Mountainflower designer Ohkay Owingeh/Taos Pueblo/Navajo had a successful showcase at Heard after one of her pieces from her Phendi’-Tewa collection won the blue ribbon. The piece was also purchased by the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts. She said the dress was a contemporary look at her tribe’s manta-style dresses.

Shircura Brown, left, Shenoa Jones, Tania Estrada, Royce Jarvey, Brittany Yazzie and Rebekah Jarvey walk the red carpet during the Phoenix Indian Center Native Community Fashion Showcase at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix on March 5, 2022.

The black-on-black piece was inspired by its Pueblo culture. The design used black cut glass beads to create beaded flowers on satin, with vintage iridescent gold bugle beads to highlight the water flow and kiva steps. The piece took about 40 hours to make and a lot of love and creativity went into it, Mountainflower said. When it was bought, she tore it up.

“I cried because of all the work I put into it,” Mountainflower said. “I get emotional over my plays. Many of them are usually personalized.

Her winning dress was just one of six pieces shown that night. All were black and gave a contemporary twist to native fashion, whether it came from the designer’s tribe or something common to all tribes.

The word “phendi” in Phendi-Tewa, the name Mountainflower uses for its collection, means black in the Tewa language of the six northern Pueblos, she said.

“I’m still the director of tribal environment and that’s what I still love to do,” she said. “That’s why a lot of my business will be earth-related because that’s my environmental science degree and my connection to this earth.”

Mountainflower said Indigenous fashion is unique because it has a story behind the designs of who we are as people and where we come from.

Kristen Sanderson of the Navajo Nation gets ready backstage before attending the Phoenix Indian Center's Native Community Fashion Showcase at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix on March 5, 2022.

Another piece made by Mountainflower won the Heard Judges’ Choice. The fully beaded bodice dress is called “Flowers in the Stars” and was launched when COVID-19 shut down Pueblo villages. She was in quarantine at the time and that moment was depicted in the dress with the use of pink on the bodice.

“We all have this story of emerging from how we came to this earth and that’s how all of my designs are,” Mountainflower said of the importance of Indigenous fashion. “They all also have a story of emergence.”

Other designers who took part in the fashion show were: Wilfred Jumbo (Diné), Joanne Miles-Long (San Carlos Apache and Akimel O’Odham) and Rebekah Jarvey (Chippewa Cree and Blackfeet).

Templates help bring designs to life

The young Aboriginal role models who were able to bring these works of art to life were also impressed with the pieces chosen for them to wear. Lerae Begay wore Jumbo’s piece and Shicura Brown wore Jarvey’s piece.

“Native modeling is more of a culture,” Brown said. “Becoming a model is not only about beauty, it’s also about being a model.”

The Phoenix Indian Center is the oldest such nonprofit Native American organization in the United States. It serves over 7,000 people each year through direct services and reaches over 20,000 people through other related outreach activities. She has helped over a million people in her lifetime.

The center is the largest of its kind in the nation, serving the third largest and fastest growing urban Native American population, approximately 150,000 people in the Phoenix metro area. It provides services in the areas of workforce development, language and cultural enrichment, youth programs, substance abuse and suicide prevention.

Proceeds from fashion show ticket sales will go to the Phoenix Indian Center, Begay-Kroupa said.

“The Aboriginal Community Fashion Show was a complete success,” said Kris Beech, who was the fashion show emcee. “The community response has been so overwhelming that I expect this to become an annual event. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw an ‘Indigenous Fashion Week‘ at some point in the future. which attracts people from all over the world.

Arlyssa Becenti covers Native Affairs for the Arizona Republic and azcentral. Send ideas and tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @Abecenti.

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