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Artist mixes street wear and Indigenous design, birch bark plague masks – Yahoo News

Sep. 24—TRAVERSE CITY — To innovate, fashion often looks ahead.
For Jillian Waterman, owner of Thrive Apparel, the best way forward is found through her traditions and culture.
The Ojibwe artist from the Saginaw Chippewa Indian Tribe is working in between the intersection of traditional art and reforming street wear that is culturally-focused.
Waterman said that the goal behind her Anishinaabek-clothing is to create more accessible and affordable apparel that has Indigenous representation.
"It's art, but it's really not about fashion, it's about creating those spaces for Indigenous Peoples," she stated.
Growing up, Waterman noticed the lack of cultural representation outside of her community; it wasn't normal for her to see Indigenous designs, beadwork or art, but especially in clothing.
She wants to help normalize that in the streets, so began designing templates in January of this year during the height of the pandemic.
"I have always loved Indigenous fashion, and it's so beautiful and innovative, but a lot of the clothes were out of reach with my budget," she said.
Waterman said that she started using a third party company to upload her art onto T-shirts, leggings, and masks at first for herself, close friends and family — but soon she was getting requests for her clothing from around the country.
She wants to create dialogue with her clothing.
"Indigenous fashion and art is innovative," she said, explaining that creators are engaged in the resistance to systems of colonialism, and noting that the fashion industry is deeply rooted in cultural appropriation, racism and the exploitation/theft of Indigenous art and designs.
Native American fashion and the community is not new, though the recent buzz in mainstream media surrounding it is, she said.
It has only been recently that it has started to make headlines on runways and in magazines, and while the Indigenous fashion scene is ever-evolving, there's also an emphasis on street wear.
Bold graphics, and logo mania draws awareness to culture, history, teachings, and traditions. Waterman said she is inspired by other artists and reconnecting with her tribe's own art and symbols.
The clothes are a small step to reclaim one's heritage, she said.
Pieces from her collections include vintage beaded prints, with images dating back to the 1800s of Anishinaabek beadwork and art, many of which Waterman said sit on auction sites with private collectors, making them inaccessible to the tribes and their citizens they originated from.
"I hope in our own way we can repatriate these pieces," she said. By incorporating the images and merging them with her own artwork and patterns, she wants to reclaim what was stolen, "blow them up," and allow the children to see them.
She said that Indigenous fashion designers and artists, "push me to be better and to make better art." Being an Indigenous clothing designer and artist means to be grounded in community ethics and ancestral values, political, and socially responsible, Waterman said.
Besides Thrive Apparel, she also works with birch bark. She began working with birch bark back in 2010 under her teacher, the late Dave Shananaquet, who taught Waterman how to etch on the delicate medium.
From there she went out to make jiimans (traditional birchbark canoes) and teaching classes throughout Michigan and parts of Canada. In 2015 she picked up jewelry-making.
When the pandemic hit, she began a series of birch bark masks, inspired by the current events, but grounded with the traditional knowledge that was taught to her.
"I wondered IF," she said about her masks, adding that she was really inspired to see how far she could go with her art. It began with a simply-yet captivating birch bark face mask, and evolved into a gas mask, and her more recent, the plague doctor mask.
The process of making the masks is "very labor intensive, 18-hour days that turn into days, weeks, months …" Waterman laughed, adding that birch bark work is tedious, but it helps ground her and helps her find her calm by connecting with the trees.
Currently Waterman is working building Thrive Apparel, and applying for a personal leadership grant so that she can expand her efforts and give back to Indigenous communities.
Her future plans are working with other Anishinaabek artists, creators, and dreamers, like herself.
"I want to get to a place where people are found and recognized."
Snag your next pair here.
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