We have all seen in elements of Native American culture, whether it be war bonnets, face paint, or feathers, being paraded around in mainstream culture, especially in fashion. But it could be argued that designers haven’t really delivered a just and fair representation of these deeply traditional pieces, and has rather been a case of cultural appropriation.
One Native designer by the name of Bethany Yellowtail aims to embellish the deep traditions of her people into her clothes, rather than flaunt them as a means to catch ones attention. The B.Yellowtail brand is “founded on creating visually stunning clothes that impart artistic passion and self-empowerment”, and it does just that through her latest collection.
The Crow/Northern Cheyenne designer has managed to develop a collection that mixes everyday pieces like skirts and dresses, but with a personal spin to it. The melange of textures, patterns and materials are all used in a way that not only adds to the look of the clothes, but also to their character.
What we don’t often realise is the actual meaning and deep traditions behind things like the war bonnet – they are only supposed to be worn by those who have earned the right to wear it, and is a way of showing respect. But due to their heavy linkage with Native American culture, they are often used irresponsibly in photoshoots and mainstream culture.
It is the attention to detail and genuineness that makes her collection stand out. She doesn’t have to revert to using big bold elements in her clothes to make a statement, but rather chooses to use subtle symbols such as the Elktooth, and intricate designs to produce something that feels very original and fresh, while maintaining its traditional value. This quote from their website sums the Yellowtail experience quite well; “An honoring of refined beauty, a celebration of culture, and a journey of self-exploration”. It is these principles that raise B.Yellowtail’s status from just being a fashion statement, to also a form of spreading knowledge and tolerance.
Being one of the very first Native indigenous designers, Yellowtail has managed to successfully combine traditional and modern elements to create a collection that is contemporary yet classic, and traditional yet authentic. It not only focuses on being fashionable, but also reminds the world that her people are still very much alive and present, and their traditions will carry on for years to come.