By Jenna Kunze
On the February morning of the New York Fashion Week show featuring a collection of Iñupiaq parkas, designer Bobby Brower (Alaska Native Iñupiaq) woke up in Manhattan to snow.
“All of my role models were so happy,” Brower, 36, said. Indigenous News Online. “They’re like ‘finally! An appropriate thing to wear on the runway. It was perfect for my collection.
Eight professional models wearing Brower’s designs are pictured strut on a rooftop podium in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, comfortably decked out in felted parkas with elaborate fur hoods and trims as the snow falls.
But coats aren’t just meant to look warm, Brower said. They are meant to keep wearers warm in sub-zero temperatures, down to -50 Fahrenheit.
“It’s part of our culture,” Brower said. “Being from Alaska and growing up in the Arctic, it’s survival gear. It’s not just, ‘I killed these animals so I could wear the fashion.’ It’s about keeping my kids warm and keeping my family warm.
Brower, the creator behind Arctic luxury, traveled more than 4,000 miles last month to fulfill his career dreams. After learning that she had been accepted into New York Fashion Week last April, she began packing eight atigiit, or parkas, at her home in Anchorage, where she recently moved from her hometown in the Arctic, Utqiaġvik.
One of the males’ coats was made from sealskins that Brower salvaged during a big storm last year, when about 40 dead seals washed up on Utqiagvik beach. Brower and his brother were able to skin nine and used the meat to feed animals at the beach.
“It was like I was recycling,” she said.
This coat will now be loaned as part of a nine-month exhibition at the Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
To offset the cost of the trip to New York, plus the $6,000 space, Brower held fundraising events and sold raffle tickets for his handmade parkas.
In the end, she said the New York Fashion Week exposure was worth it.
“I am a single mother of four children. So it was very difficult for me to keep all my parkas because it took me about a year to prepare everything,” she said. “But I didn’t do this just for me, you know, I feel like I’m representing Alaska Natives as a whole. I think it was really necessary for people, especially our young people. .
Although Brower couldn’t bring his own models to the show, his next big event… Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto, Canada in June — will showcase their work on exclusively Indigenous models. She said the more her contemporary Iñupiaq products are on display, the better it will be for young Indigenous people like her children.
“There is still a lot of racism and hatred towards native people,” she said. “To be able to show that I went to New York Fashion Week and showed Alaskan Native culture on the catwalk, it’s crazy. I don’t know what’s going to come out of New York Fashion Week. York I can’t wait to see what happens next.
More stories like this
Reservation dogs win again
CBS Hit-Series Ghosts actor set for second season
Prairie Band Potawotomi and Mexican-American leader Stephanie “Pyet” Despain earn next-level leader title, to stream live with Native News Online
Chef Stephanie “Pyet” Despain reaches final round of next-level chef
11 years of native news
This month, February 2022, we celebrate our 11th year of delivering Native News to readers across Indian Country and beyond. For the past decade and more, we’ve covered important Indigenous stories that are often overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the toppling of colonizer statues during the racial equity protests, to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW) and delinquent accounts related to assimilation, cultural genocide and at Indian Residential Schools, we were there to provide an Indigenous perspective and elevate Indigenous voices.
Our short stories are free to read for everyone, but they are not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to donate this month to support our efforts. Any contribution, big or small, helps. If you are able, we ask that you consider make a recurring donation of $11 per month to help us remain a force for change in Indian Country and to tell the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.
Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you.