By Erika Mathieu
Sunny South News
Blackfoot beader, jewellery designer, and winner of the International Indigenous Fashion Awards-Accessories Designer of the Year, Melrene Saloy, is headed to the City of Love. She will be showcasing her beadwork and jewellery designs in the global fashion capital of Paris this week at the International Indigenous Fashion Week Inc.
Saloy, a First Nations designer and member of the Blood Tribe/Kainai started her jewellery business, “Native Diva Creations,” in 2015 after deciding she didn’t want to return to retail management after her maternity leave ended. Saloy said starting Native Diva Creations was both a way to support herself and her children, while also honouring her talent and skills acquired through generational teachings shared with her. After attending an entrepreneurial symposium for Indigenous youth, she was further inspired to use her passion and skills to find her own business.
“I didn’t think the things that I love could actually make a viable business out of. After a few days of this amazing camp, (I) learned some amazing things. I quit my job and I said ‘I’m gonna do it.’”
“I have always been beading,” said Saloy. “(It’s) something where I made regalia for myself and for my kids and learned many different things from aunties and grandmas and my mother,” and said this talent is, “something I’m really proud about.”
In addition to her custom and commissioned pieces, Saloy has also created a line of, “culturally appropriate” jewellery pieces which can be worn by people from any walk of life.
Her jewellery line can be enjoyed by a broader audience, as she works to design pieces which honour her culture’s influences, techniques, and materials, while also safeguarding designs worn exclusively by Indigenous people, including pieces worn as regalia, or worn during closed practice events or ceremonies.
“I make my jewellery that is influenced from my culture, 100 per cent, but it’s not in a way that isn’t wearable. I wanted people of all backgrounds to be able to wear it and enjoy it. I take so much pride in my background and I want to be able to show that, and it’s amazing seeing so many different kinds of people wear (my work),” explained Saloy.
Saloy said her beading designs are a con-temporized execution of traditional techniques, materials, and patterns and often incorporate elements of her family history. She added her work is an amalgamation of both traditional and contemporary materials and techniques resulting in pieces which are “uniquely Native Diva Creations.”
Saloy’s jewellery line also includes beaded Orange Shirt Day pins which she donates a portion of the earnings to local Indigenous support organizations in Calgary.
“I’m directly affected by the residential school (system). My mother is a residential school survivor, so I get all my strength from that amazing person. It’s kind of a hard thing to be the child of someone that had gone through such trauma.”
Her work will be shown in Paris and will include contributions to exclusive head-to-toe looks centred on the “Every Child Matters”, campaign, as well as a look at her work that will centre on the ongoing crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG), to be photographed at the Eiffel Tower.
“Internationally, people just don’t know and to educate overseas is really important for me, but also showcasing the beauty of (resilience) There’s so much trauma, but there’s so much beauty at the same time,” said Saloy, adding she is hopeful the event and statement pieces will help foster a space for dialogue about these issues at a global level.
Although the fashion industry is slowly changing, the fashion capital has long been associated with Euro-centric conceptions of beauty. Additionally, both mid-range and high fashion lines with household name recognition, have a long history of appropriating various Indigenous groups’ designs and severing them from their historical significance. As such, this week’s event is a space for Indigenous designers to reclaim and assert the true context of Indigenous design.
“There are so many stereotypes out there about First Nations people, especially us from North America that people overseas only see in movies or TV. Showing that we’re not just trinkets, and we’re not just from Old Westerns (and) that we’ve con-temporized. We’re still here, we’re still flourishing, our culture is very vibrant and we’ve gone through a lot of trauma and we’re really growing and developing and healing and our work shows that.”
Saloy will be showcasing her designs at the International Indigenous Fashion Week in Paris, beginning on Oct. 1. You can follow her work at NativedivaCreations.com or on Instagram, @NativeDivaCreations.