When it comes to the world of fashion, there are countless examples of cultural appropriation ranging from those that profit off of tired stereotypes and the suffering of Indigenous people to others that straight up steal the work of Indigenous artists. Don’t believe me? Go ahead a google ‘appropriation and DSquared’ or ‘appropriation and KTZ’. Many articles have been written about the impacts and damage of this theft and I encourage you to search online and read through some.
These sad facts aside, I want to take this post in a different direction. I want to share with you a story of cultural collaboration. Holt Renfrew has brought together Canadian accessories brand Ela and renowned Métis artist Christi Belcourt to work on an offering for their H Project. Holt’s website describes H Project as “… a specialty department of extraordinary products …[that] are all socially responsible by way of where they are made, by whom, with what materials, and how they give back.” So far so good; however, this is often where I get nervous as many a company has started off with positive intentions only to mire themselves in racist archetypes leading to PR disasters. Not in this story.
This story starts earlier this week when I first spotted a stylish clutch and slim pouch in my Instagram feed. I instantly recognized the distinctive embroidery pattern as Christi Belcourt’s. My thoughts were racing but before I jumped to conclusions (i.e. cultural appropriation), I decided to investigate further by clicking the links and landing on Holt Renfrew’s page. Not only has Ms. Belcourt provided input and designs for the mini Ela collection but part of the proceeds goes to the Onaman Collective, an organization Ms. Belcourt co-founded in 2014 dedicated to “…helping Indigenous communities, particularly youth, [in] reclaiming the richness and vibrancy of their heritage including traditional arts, but with a contemporary spin.” Specifically, Onaman projects serving for communities in Northern Ontario, will see benefit from this collaboration.
Here is a case in which everyone truly wins: Ela’s craftsmanship is highlighted by Christi Belcourt’s amazing artwork; Christi Belcourt’s work becomes familiar to those fashionistas who may not have seen her skills before; Holt Renfrew get to benefit from having both the ela/Belcourt collaboration sold under their banner and ultimately; and Indigenous cultural art and heritage is maintained and obtained in way that acknowledges of an Indigenous artist and the authenticity of her work. When you see Indigenous art sold by a non-indigenous artist or organization, I encourage you to ask questions about the design and provenance of the pieces you covet. Don’t feel bad to ask questions about relationship between the artist and the seller – is it mutually beneficial? These questions will ensure that Indigenous artists and artisans in Canada (and around the world) are acknowledged and compensated for their work. It also gives you the opportunity to share the origin story of the piece in your home or on your body with pride and confidence – and context.
The H Project ela x Christi Belcourt limited edition handbags are currently available in Holt Renfrew stores across Canada. Call for availability and pricing.