‘War­rior up’ with a brand made for the mo­ment

Los Angeles Times - - FASHION - BY TARA PANIOGUE tara.paniogue@la­times.com

In an era of fast fash­ion — and even faster tech­nol­ogy — it seems every day brings a new in­stance of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, with some of the most egre­gious ex­am­ples hav­ing to do with “bor­row­ing” el­e­ments and im­agery from Na­tive Amer­i­can cul­ture with­out fully un­der­stand­ing their sig­nif­i­cance or con­text. Model Karlie Kloss wear­ing a Na­tive Amer­i­can war bon­net dur­ing a 2012 Vic­to­ria’s Se­cret fash­ion show is one high-pro­file ex­am­ple; the too-cool-for-school Coachella crowd (pick a year, any year) is another.

Angeles-based de­signer Bethany Yel­low­tail, 28, is out to flip the script by cre­at­ing cloth­ing that ex­pertly weaves to­gether a tra­di­tional Na­tive Amer­i­can per­spec­tive with con­tem­po­rary sil­hou­ettes, and as a re­sult, it does some­thing that’s rare on to­day’s fash­ion land­scape: It carves out a space for truly au­then­tic Na­tive Amer­i­can rep­re­sen­ta­tion that all walks of life can wear and en­joy.

Launched just three years ago, the de­signer’s B.Yel­low­tail la­bel has amassed more than 36,500 In­sta­gram fol­low­ers and a strong celebrity fol­low­ing that in­cludes Amer­ica Fer­rera, Shai­lene Wood­ley and John Leg­end. Yel­low­tail’s de­signs and artis­tic col­lab­o­ra­tions have also caught the at­ten­tion of fash­ion’s ul­ti­mate ar­biter of taste, Vogue magazine Edi­tor in Chief Anna Win­tour.

“I re­al­ized there is so much [cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion] go­ing on that I de­cided I am not even go­ing to get mad any­more, but I de­cided I was go­ing to do some­thing about it,” Yel­low­tail said. “Ul­ti­mately, I want to let my work be­come a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity and de­sign pieces with cul­tural in­tegrity.”

Yel­low­tail, who hails from the Crow Na­tion and North­ern Cheyenne In­dian reser­va­tions in south­east­ern Mon­tana, moved to Los Angeles in 2007 to study fash­ion de­sign. She grad­u­ated from the Fash­ion In­sti­tute of De­sign & Mer­chan­dis­ing in 2009.

In 2014 she started her fash­ion la­bel in L.A. The brand cel­e­brates her her­itage and an­ces­tral tra­di­tion through the cre­ation of dresses, tops, skirts, pants and ac­ces­sories that bear pat­terns and mo­tifs such as the elk tooth and Crow rose prints that are adap­ta­tions from the North­ern Plains tribe’s orig­i­nal prints. The re-imag­ined fab­rics are then paired with mod­ern sil­hou­ettes such as off-the-shoul­der tops, wrap dresses and flare pants. B.Yel­low­tail re­leases new items about every month with prices rang­ing from $50 to $1,500. Yel­low­tail’s line is avail­able on­line at www.byel­low­tail.com.

The cloth­ing for B.Yel­low­tail is man­u­fac­tured in down­town Los Angeles, but in the fu­ture, the de­signer said she hopes to bring man­u­fac­tur­ing back home to her com­mu­nity and to the reser­va­tion.

“The poverty rate is over 40% on the reser­va­tion, and many peo­ple are in se­ri­ous need of work op­por­tu­ni­ties,” Yel­low­tail said.

She’s also work­ing to sup­port and em­power na­tive artists through a sec­ond la­bel called the B.Yel­low­tail Col­lec­tive that fea­tures prod­ucts from Na­tive Amer­i­can artists across the Great Plains tribal re­gions.

All ar­ti­sanal pieces are hand­made us­ing time-hon­ored meth­ods passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion. Th­ese heir­loomqual­ity goods are made in an ef­fort to stim­u­late the econ­omy and cre­ate mo­bil­ity within reser­va­tion com­mu­ni­ties.

Yel­low­tail takes a holis­tic ap­proach to de­sign­ing and be­lieves that pro­duc­ing qual­ity work goes hand-in-hand with lead­ing a healthy and bal­anced life. Fur­ther­more, Yel­low­tail is fully com­mit­ted to her craft and reg­u­larly takes lan­guage and his­tory classes about her na­tive peo­ple to con­stantly learn and be aware and in­spired by her in­dige­nous back­ground. Old fam­ily pho­to­graphs and heir­looms in­spire her de­signs, she said. A photo of her great aunt and her sis­ter at a tribal cer­e­mony was a di­rect in­flu­ence for her Women WarLos rior scarf.

That scarf in­flu­enced a lim­it­ededi­tion turquoise silk scarf by Yel­low­tail that was given to the par­tic­i­pants in the Women’s March on Wash­ing­ton in Jan­uary. It was a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween Yel­low­tail and artist John Isa­iah Pe­pion and re­flects the tra­di­tional women’s war bon­net dance — in Crow cul­ture called the Shoshone War Bon­net Dance — part of a larger cer­e­mony that cel­e­brates young lead­ers from in­dige­nous na­tions.

“I am so grate­ful to be able to ex­pe­ri­ence this in my life­time. Who knows when [Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tivism] will have this much fire un­der it. The shift is hap­pen­ing, and it is go­ing to be mon­u­men­tal,” Yel­low­tail said.

Af­ter par­tic­i­pat­ing in two events, the Stand­ing Rock protest in North Dakota last win­ter and the Women’s March as part of the In­dige­nous Women Rise group, Yel­low­tail said she felt com­pelled to de­sign prod­ucts aimed at “dress­ing the re­sis­tance.”

She de­signed T-shirts, sweat­shirts, scarves and wa­ter bot­tles that sup­port Na­tive Amer­i­can ac­tivism. Yel­low­tail said she hopes that her work gives peo­ple the courage to “war­rior up” and stand up for what they be­lieve in. “Wa­ter Is Life” and “Pro­tec­tors” are just some of the mes­sages that are writ­ten on her prod­ucts. The “dress­ing the re­sis­tance” ap­parel and prod­ucts demon­strate her ea­ger­ness to take a stand dur­ing a tu­mul­tuous po­lit­i­cal cli­mate.

Yel­low­tail serves as a leader and role model to oth­ers in the Na­tive Amer­i­can com­mu­nity. She said she en­cour­ages in­dige­nous peo­ple to be proud of their iden­tity and fight for pos­i­tive change. And she leads by ex­am­ple.

At a New York fash­ion event in Fe­bru­ary, Yel­low­tail was se­lected by Win­tour to at­tend a panel dis­cus­sion on di­ver­sity within the in­dus­try. Yel­low­tail em­braced the op­por­tu­nity to speak on be­half of Na­tive Amer­i­cans.

“I hope the mo­men­tum sticks around and in­spires peo­ple to take ac­tion in their com­mu­ni­ties and re­al­ize that we can­not rely on the govern­ment to han­dle it for us,” Yel­low­tail said. “We have to be the change we de­sire to see.”

Cameron Mackey

Cameron Mackey

Cameron Mackey


“I WANT to let my work be­come a learn­ing op­por­tu­nity and de­sign pieces with cul­tural in­tegrity,” says Bethany Yel­low­tail, above, of her la­bel, which salutes her Na­tive Amer­i­can her­itage with tra­di­tional pat­terns on dresses, skirts, tops and pants, shown here, from the sum­mer 2017 col­lec­tion.

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