Otahpiaaki fashion show highlights indigenous designers
MRU business classes come together to showcase entrepreneurship and help indigenize the campus
By Melanie Walsh, Photo Editor
Mount Royal University’s Bissett School of Business, located on Treaty 7 land, is finding opportunities in the curriculum and with their students to educate and honour treaty agreements. During this era of truth and reconciliation the marketing students have devoted some of their large projects to honouring that relationship and talking about the truth of our history.
This year they wanted to bring awareness to the cases of the missing and murdered indigenous women (MMIW) and the erosion of culture that could put these women in peril.
To do this, Patti Derbyshire, the chair of entrepreneurship, marketing and social innovation from the school along with her marketing design students, literacy students and the senior brand studio came up with the idea to professionally execute a fashion show. While bringing the issues of the MMIW to light they also decided to focus on some positives and highlight true beauty. They were inspired by Aboriginal People’s Television Program, “Princesses” which highlights indigenous beauty in all of its forms.
Many women face self esteem issues and vulnerabilities and for indigenous women who have been so marginalized in Canada’s history or have had their loved one’s impacted by MMIW those feelings are only heightened. The fashion show was a chance for indigenous people to come together with non-indigenous students and showcase some authentic fashions and work towards mending their relationships.
The name otahpiaaki is a Blackfoot term that refers to sewing together, or coming together. Specifically, sewing the vamp of the moccasin to the base. This made it the perfect title for the event with many people coming together to make the show a success. All of the models on the runway were indigenous; many were students from Mount Royal University. Calgary’s own design company, Park, also helped put on the show.
The show opened with a song by A Tribe Called Red blasting through the speakers as Justin Lewis’ street wear from his company Section 35 made its way down the runway.
What really grabbed my attention the most was the “Kill the Mascots” line. On the website this line is dubbed as “creating a mindset based on diversity. Clothing designed to be a medium for change.” These designs highlighted the commercialization of indigenous art, cultural appropriation at its finest and a hot topic that has been in the media of late — sports teams. In place of the face logo of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks was a skull and around it the words “Kill Mascots, Save the People.” The clothes were trendy especially amongst the millennial generation and with the use of army patterns really emphasize the strength of the indigenous people in fighting for fair treatment.
Next we had designer Tishna Marlowe’s formal wear and REDdress movement collections. Marlowe was more than happy to send both collections to be apart of the show but she wanted to be involved more. She proposed a project to Derbyshire — MRU’s first red dress. Indigenous students from all over campus were invited to take part in sewing and beading together a red dress and each made a flower to be put on the dress, commemorating the women in their families and those who have been affected by MMIW. That red dress was the final piece to walk down the runway and will be permanently on display at Mount Royal sometime next semester along with a pop-up exhibit of the fashion show.
“What’s really beautiful of that is that many students came to me to be apart of it,” said Derbyshire.
Marlowe was more than happy to have them be involved, as long as they too made a flower. There will be other opportunities for students, faculty and staff to continue to add to the dress and honour the MMIW and their families.
The fashion show was a huge success, especially for Derbyshire and her students.
“I think that it’s so exciting that we can bring both our students intellectual resources, to pull together a program like this and to support it with professional execution,” said Derbyshire.
This is a great way for those students to be able to fill their portfolio and get this experience for after they graduate. Many other students came to the show to either photograph it or participate in some way.