First Nations design is on the rise – refreshed with new collaborations and thinking – and anchored to a tradition that has been filled with struggle and joy. We had a chance to talk with designer Becki Bitternose, who is currently hacking Pendleton wool blankets – treating them as material and patterns to upgrade into something useful – transforming them into bold outerwear.

Why is fashion design your thing? How does your background inform your design? I set out to create a jacket for my baby, sat down thought it through and started cutting, and here I am today making jackets. When I would go to pow wows, I’d see  people wearing HBC jackets, and I wanted one so bad, but I could never afford one. When my kids were given Pendleton baby blankets, I thought that I could repurpose them into jackets for them. That’s how I got started. Fashion design was NEVER my thing, my life was never planned around sewing or textiles. It just happened and I followed the journey as it unfolded.

Tell me more about you, what drives your practice, tell us about your approach to making.? I have a label, PlayBuffalo which is named after my grandfather, and my inspiration comes from kokums, who created beautiful quilts that I used during childhood. I am a stay at home mom of four, and I’ve been married to my husband for eleven years. I am a regular person, looking to make things that people like and I enjoy making.

My drive is showing my children that anything is possible, you don’t have to dream it to make it come true. Work hard and the possibilities are endless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fashion design helps people express themselves – do you think about the user in your work – or are the collections a statement that you are making? No comment.

Technology is really pushing all design and creativity – how do you stay out front of this and how has technology pushed your practice? It is more important to link to tradition or explore the future? My sales have been done 90% through social media, I post a jacket and it usually sells within the day. I have not yet had my work in stores yet but have had a few invites to do so.

What would you describe as the most significant development in contemporary fashion in the last 5-10 years?  Fashion was NEVER my thing. I’m a jean and t shirt type of gal, or whatever I can find that will be comfortable for my day. Asking me about fashion and the development over the years flies right over me.

Your work is so such a hybrid – appealing to first nations and mass audiences – how important is memory and place in your work? My work is done free hand, I have no idea how to use a pattern – I’ve looked at one once and thought yeah this is to complicated and just continued to work the way I do. It’s more unique that way, more one-off. I have no specifics of what a jacket is going to be when I sit to create something, I let the pattern and colours lead the way. It just cones out to

what it is and if it’s liked by many that’s a bonus if not then just carry on, learn and not repeat it on the next piece.

Deep dive us into one of your big hits, like the PARIS RUNWAY experience. How did this get started/pitched/developed? How long does it take to develop your work? Paris ended up not working out for us, in the end we as a group decided to pull out of the show and within days of this happening the show was postponed by a year. New York however, was amazing and was my first international show. It was a show well organized and put together the staff and coordinators were more than welcoming and just straight out amazing people.

What is your favorite thing that you didn’t design…why do you like it and what design lessons are demonstrated in it? Favorite work I didn’t design is work by a fellow indigenous designer Disa Tootoosis. She took what we call ribbon skirts worn for ceremony and created pants. I am not sure the story behind why she created them but she does an amazing job and created something unique and beautiful. I own a pair and I love them.

In the waves of conformity/sameness and the push for work to be commercial and marketable – where do you fit into the fashion design world – and is there a political voice that you feel you have to express?  Umm no comment.

Tell us about working in the creative industry in Canada, are there advantages or disadvantages to being a designer here? I think it’s great being considered a Canadian designer, I think the support is amazing. I’ve done Saskatchewan Fashion Week twice and organizer Chris Prichard has always been amazing. He’s really gone above and beyond to have me in their show and works to include outsiders in the mix. I love the support, it comes from so many unexpected places and people. Keeping a positive attitude and being grateful for what is given is the biggest key, and not expecting more than what is there. I’m happy with how far I have come, and the many people that have stood with me. My home communities of George Gordon First Nation and Daystar First Nation are amazing, so much love and talent.

Some of Becki’s Favourite Things:

Favorite Flower. A pink carnation, I remember as a little girl hearing my uncle singing it he was an amazing person and his voice made that the most beautiful flower.

Fave City. I went to Vancouver when I was a teenager, I loved everything about the city that I experienced.

Season. I love the fall the colours the weather, everything about fall is beautiful.

Clothing. My go to One Tooth gym pants – the most comfortable thing ever made.

 

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