13 minute read

BEADING CONNECTIONS: DESIGNER JUSTINE WOODS IS RECLAIMING HER ANCESTRAL IDENTITY THROUGH A MÉTIS AESTHETIC

Chloë Angus; Photo: courtesy

Chloë Angus Founder, Chloë Angus Designs

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Chloë Angus is known for her fashion business Chloë Angus Designs. Located on unceded Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh territories, this sustainable company creates modern fashion and home décor while collaborating with First Nations artists and incorporating Indigenous art. Angus’ heritage may be English, Scottish and Irish, but her work and collaboration with First Nations people are remarkable. Angus is the founder of Chloë Angus Designs, a fashion company and studio based in Vancouver, British Columbia; Angus’ also co-owns her company with her husband, Gabe, who is Métis. Her company creates modern fashions and home decor in collaboration with Indigenous artists across Canada. This collaboration incorporates Indigenous art and culture into everyday style. Angus works directly with the artists to create each collection and is passionate about using her skill set to work with Indigenous artists while creating fair compensation and opportunities. Angus’ company aims to celebrate Indigenous history, art, and culture and have made it a priority to promote and share the significant artwork that each artist creates. Her goal is to unite people, encourage an open dialogue, promote better cultural understanding, and celebrate Indigenous culture. Another goal of Angus’ company is to sustain a healthy body image. “We have realistic sizing for our garments, and when it comes to models,” she says. “We like to show all types of beauty.” Angus uses models of all shapes, sizes, ages, and backgrounds. Angus’ ancestors immigrated to Canada in the mid-1800s, specifically in British Columbia. Living here gave Angus the privilege of growing up in a predominantly First Nations community on the west coast. “This gave me an understanding and deep respect for Indigenous knowledge, strength, and culture,” Angus explains. Angus has always been into fashion and style her whole life. “I was born to do this,” she says. “My spirit is creative; my medium is fabric; my passion is creating a style that uplifts the person who wears it.” Angus describes her style as classic, elegant, comfortable, and powerful with accessories that tell her life stories, all of which spread through her fashion company. Pearls and Formline [Formline art is a feature of the Northwest Coast tribal art] are what she’s recognized for. The pearls used in some of her work come straight from the oyster farm where she was raised. Growing up in a small First Nations community provided Angus with a positive experience of love and care. “We all knew and cared for each other,” she describes. But when she moved to Vancouver, she discovered a separation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. “There was nowhere for people to get to know each other, support each other, celebrate together, and experience each other’s positive qualities. This causes a lack of understanding and respect among people that leads to distrust and racism.” Gabe’s–Angus’ husband who co-owns Chloë Angus Designs–great grandfather was from the Red River area in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His grandfather was a fur trader who moved throughout the west coast before settling in Vancouver. Gabe’s background in global operations helps the company develop into an international company. Making everything better was what inspired Angus to start Chloë Angus Designs. “A designer to make better clothing, a better way inspired me to start my company,” she explains. Being raised on an organic seafood farm-made, Angus wants to make clothing “better” for the environment, a driving force of hers. “Sustainability is an important part of the company’s ethos; we are always striving to use natural and technically-advanced fabrics and techniques in creating collections, making it better for our bodies and our planet.” As a sustainable company, Chloë Angus Designs supports the ‘Made in Canada’ economy by producing locally in Vancouver in a sweatshop-free environment. The landscape of the west coast also influences Angus’ design aesthetic. “Color, texture, and diversity; nature at its finest is so inspiring!” she exclaims. “The west coast landscape is breathtaking, and I find endless creative influence from all it offers.” Angus describes the towering mountains with giant trees that grow to the edge of glaciers and deep seas with low tides that show off the secret underwater world; everything that she channels into her design aesthetic. “All this wrapped in the culture of the First Nations people who’s oral history tells the story of this land through colorful imagery and narrative.” Chloë Angus Designs became known for collaborating with First Nations artists while giving them fair compensation and credit. This trait helps Angus be an ally for First Nations designers and artists by providing a platform for them that ensures high-quality business for both customers and the artists. “Indigenous people around the world deserve a seat at the table to collaborate equally and be fairly compensated and credited for their part,” Angus explains. “Fashion is just one of those tables, First Nations artists have been fighting for this for a long time and have established strong businesses and markets for the work they do, and I’m simply an ally to this.” Angus was

taught to give credit where credit is due and fair in business, which is very important for Angus when working with First Nations artists in fashion. “So many before me have taken advantage of Indigenous culture, using it for their gain without recognition or royalties.” Angus understands there is still much work needed to be done towards reconciliation in Canada, which moved her to launch the Spirit Collection. With a focus on uniting art and fashion, Angus collaborates with First Nations’ Inuit and Metis artists to create designs for the Spirit Collection. “The Spirit Collection is a collaboration with Indigenous artists from across Canada, working together, we celebrate and support Indigenous art and culture in the fashion industry.” All artwork is licensed, and the artists are fairly compensated. The Spirit Collection is a way for Angus to honor the Indigenous people of Canada, where the collaboration creates a modern representation of Indigenous-Canadian fashion and style for men and women, even home decor. As a non-Indigenous person doing fair and equal business with First Nations artists, Angus’ company helps set a standard that many companies can and should follow. Angus believes working with others fairly opens up so many growth opportunities both creatively and in business. “Fashion brands would find themselves more successful if they followed the collaborative path with Indigenous people.” Instead of finding themselves on the news for wrongfully appropriating Indigenous culture, working with Indigenous people fairly and equally would allow their brand to be celebrated by clients they may have never reached before. Angus is also known for styling entertainers and celebrities. When asked who was her favorite celebrity to style, Angus replied, “that is like asking a mother which child is her favorite! They each have their unique qualities that I love.” One memorable time was when Angus styled Eugene Brave Rock for the Los Angeles premiere of Wonder Woman with a modern grey suit featuring a feather design by Heiltsuk artist KC Hall on the chest. She even styled Brave Rock’s wife with a Signature Spirit wrap by Haida artist Clarence Mills. Another memorable actor Angus styled was Carmen Moore, who played in a lead role in the hit series Blackstone. Angus was a huge fan of the show and her character. “I got a message saying she was coming in to see me about a dress for an upcoming event,” she says. “I have to say it doesn’t happen often, but I was completely starstruck!” After all these years of dressing politicians to princesses, it made Angus nervous to style Moore. “I wanted her to like my dresses as much as I liked her.” Carmen models for Angus now on the runway and in photoshoots. When it comes down to it, Angus loves every person she gets to dress and style, taking pride in making everyone look and feel like celebrities. It’s been 16 years since Angus and Gabe opened their company. Angus still designs and conducts fittings in her Vancouver studio while catching up with old and new customers, dressing countless actors, entertainers, and politicians. The Spirit Collection continues to develop and flourish with new designs, First Nations artists, and inspirations years later. What Angus does is also helping bring Native fashion to the mainstream fashion community. “It comes back to collaboration,” Angus says.

“When Indigenous and non-Indigenous people are working together, we can appeal to all customers.” For Angus, this is what it takes to become mainstream. With that comes greater appreciation, recognition, and respect for Indigenous art, culture, and fashion in Canada and worldwide. “I’m honored to be apart of that.”

Angus’ modern Haida dress, featuring a Modern Haida Design by Haida artist Clarence Mills, which is neutral and doesn’t belong to any specific Haida clan or crest; Photo: courtesy

Beading Connections: Designer Justine Woods Reclaims Her Ancestral Identity Through a Métis Aesthetic

Photo: Alia Youssef

Justine Woods, a 23-year-old interdisciplinary artist from the Georgian Bay Métis community, is an emerging talent of Indigenous fashion who is reclaiming her ancestral identity through a Métis aesthetic.

Justine Woods’ F/W 18 Collection: Decolonizing the bespoke suit. This collection is framed within the means of decolonizing fashion. A reclamation of Métis culture and identity through the defacement of a series of western tailored garments with floral beadwork. Photos: courtesy.

Indigenous fashion in North America is flourishing in part due to an activist-driven generation of young creatives. First Nations graduate student, Justine Woods, a 23-year-old interdisciplinary artist from the Georgian Bay Métis community, is one of those emerging talents leading the charge. "I always wanted to be a fashion designer," says Woods, who began sewing at the age of six and is currently a Master of Design candidate at Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) University in Tkaronto (Toronto). Prior to OCAD University, she received her bachelor's degree in fashion design from Ryerson University in the spring of 2018. "It's baby steps, but we're well on our way to creating this new world of indigenously-made fashion," says Woods. "It's becoming its own entity." For too long, and much like their Native American counterparts in the United States, Canada's Indigenous populations' traditional practices were repeatedly stolen and suppressed due to Western colonialism. During the first two years of her undergraduate studies, Woods found it difficult relating to the Eurocentric curriculum, which ultimately led to a gradual disinterest in the fashion industry altogether. "Like most indigenous youth, I grew up disconnected from my culture," she admits. "At Ryerson, I was very young, and I was trying desperately to find my voice in an industry where there's really no representation of who you are as an Indigenous person. Instead, all you see and hear is a bunch of Western notions of fashion ideals and unrealistic beauty standards." A course in bespoke tailoring during her junior year reinvigorated her love of garment construction by good fortune. It allowed her to incorporate her traditional Métis beadwork, which is a staple of her blossoming portfolio. "I taught myself how to bead as a way for me to reclaim my identity as a Métis woman," declares Woods. "It also affords me the opportunity to decolonize fashion." For her graduating Fall/Winter 2018 presentation, Woods "defaced a series of Western tailored garments with floral beadwork in an attempt to showcase reverse colonialism." The 15-piece bespoke menswear collection of five complete suits earned her a 2019 Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards (CAFA) nomination for The Simons Fashion Design Student Award. Today, whether she is quarantining with her parents on ancestral lands away from the daily grind of city life to work on her thesis proposal or facilitating The Beading Circle for Ryerson University, Woods hasn't let the pandemic stifle her creativity. "Every Wednesday since the pandemic started back in March, I've been leading a beading circle on Zoom," says Woods. Before the pandemic, members of the grant-funded project met face-to-face within the Ryerson Fashion Department, where guest beaders from across the Tkaronto community shared their beading knowledge and skills. Due to the global shutdown of public schools and universities, Woods decided to move the organization online. Notable guest instructors include indigenous artists Adam Garnet Jones and Bronwyn Butterfield. "A beading circle is an act of revitalization. They contribute to the awakening of indigenous knowledge," says Woods. The community-based platform has grown to include participants from across the continent. "In the midst of physical distancing, our weekly beading circles have become sources of medicine for us to get through this time of uncertainty and make it out safely on the other side as a community." Other projects that underscore her focus on cultural resurgence include graduate design work. For her art installation entitled, "Geyaabi Indayaamin Omaa," Woods first created a corset using raw deer hide, then applied seed beads to the garment inside to spell out, "We Are Still Here," which is translated into the Anishinaabemowin language. "It's a very emotional piece, and I relate to it deeply," says Woods. "I wanted to explore the concept of Western femininity with the body being cinched around the waist and how that has long been a beauty ideal even to this day," she adds. "I also draw attention to the sensory effect of the beads being imprinted onto the skin, especially when the corset is laced up tightly." For Woods, the piece challenges women's objectification and is "a dedication to all Indigenous women whose bodies have been attacked and victimized by settler violence." Another pivotal piece is the land-based project, "Em[beaded] michinn," or "Embedded medicine," which features seed beads on a maple branch using the peyote stitch technique. Woods created the piece with her parents during quarantine to practice Keeoukaywin–the visiting way–wherein Métis take refuge in ancestral homelands to reconnect with family during challenging times. "It was this beautiful experience of borrowing this branch, beading it together as a family in isolation while having conversations with one another, and then, returning the branch to the land as a thank you gift for allowing us to heal and re-center ourselves through this act of reciprocity." Peeling away these Western-centric impositions and bringing forward other ways of thinking that are equally valid is what drives Woods' design process. "When I create my designs, I place indigenous practices at the forefront of my making," she proclaims. Her colleague, Riley Kucheran, Assistant Professor of Design Leadership at Ryerson, echoes that sentiment. "Justine's aesthetic is ancient but forward-thinking," he says. "The forms and medicines that are beaded into her work come from the land; they all have purpose and healing properties. It's the kind of fashion we need to be encouraging–slow, sustainable, and respectful." What's next for Justine? "I'm researching doctoral programs. I want to become a design professor so that I can continue to share indigenous-driven practices," she says with excitement. "A lot of my work is grounded in not only my identity as a Metis woman but also my ancestors. I position my work as a way to provide them with a voice because they never had one, and also, creating this possibility for my future ancestors to be able to live in a world where they fully understand and embrace who they are."

Follow Justine on Instagram at @justinewoods_ and visit her website at JUSTINEWOODS.COM.