When Rebekah Jarvey was growing up on the Rocky Boy Reservation, she was bullied for her clothes.
Jarvey, who is Chippewa Cree and Blackfeet, has always thought of herself as an Indigenous fashionista but said, at the time, it wasn’t popular to wear clothes that represented Native culture.
“It limited my ability to express myself. At the time, there weren’t really Indigenous designers. It wasn’t cool to wear beaded earrings. Ribbon skirts weren’t really around then. It just wasn’t cool to express yourself as an Indigenous person,” she said. “You might wear those things to a powwow, that was socially acceptable, but you wouldn’t wear that every day.”
But thanks to fashion designers like Jarvey, those times are changing as more young people proudly wear clothes and jewelry representative of Native culture.
“I think as Indigenous people, we are now understanding the trauma that was imposed on us. And so after understanding that, we’re working to reclaim our ancestral land, reclaim our roots, reclaim our identity. There’s a big push for that because we’re losing our culture, we’re losing our language, we’re losing our way of life. And that was the government’s intention. So now we try to keep and uphold that knowledge and be proud of who we are,” she said.
Jarvey, 35, is a fourth-generation beader and sewer — her great-grandmother taught her grandmother, who taught her mother, who taught Jarvey. For most of her life, Jarvey thought of fashion as a hobby, rather than a profession.
“It was just normal to me. I didn’t really consider it a business,” she said.
But in 2020 when COVID-19 entered America, everything changed. Jarvey designed a face mask, made with cloth from Louis Vuitton purses, horsehair, shells, beads and crystals, and it went viral. Suddenly, Jarvey was flooded with dozens of orders, T.V. interviews and social media requests.
“A couple of good friends who are in the fashion business told me, ‘Rebekah, you’re a fashion designer,’ and so I made that shift,” Jarvey said.
Located in the Bears Paw Mountains in northcentral Montana, the Rocky Boy Reservation is a rural community with a population of around 3,700. Jarvey said communities like Rocky Boy aren’t always associated with fashion.
“When people think of a fashion show, they automatically think of New York City, really avant-garde and tall, skinny ladies with crazy clothes. So I’m trying to change people’s mindsets and show them that’s not Indigenous fashion. Our fashion is Native American girls and boys, all shapes and sizes, in clothes that are beautiful with an Indigenous touch,” she said, adding that she aims to make fashion more accessible by hosting a fashion show in Rocky Boy each year in September.
On Saturday, Jarvey will take her talents to Arizona for an Indigenous fashion show hosted by the Phoenix Indian Center. At the event, which is held at Brophy College Preparatory School (4701 N. Central Ave., Phoenix) from 7 to 9 p.m., Jarvey will showcase five streetwear looks, including a jogger outfit and ribbon jeans. Her collection is called “Being Indigenous is Beautiful” because each time she lays ribbon on a skirt, she thinks about the beauty in Native culture.
“I believe every Indigenous person has a gift, like cooking, dancing, sewing, gathering, hunting, knowledge keeping, storytelling, language speaking. And in the Native community, we are known for humor. We believe humor brings us good medicine. So that’s the inspiration for my collection,” she said.
For more information on Jarvey’s work, visit rebekahjarvey.com.
Jarvey to appear in Arizona fashion show
What: Indigenous Community Fashion Showcase hosted by the Phoenix Indian Center
When: Saturday, March 5, from 7 to 9 p.m.
Where: Brophy College Preparatory School (4701 N. Central Ave., Phoenix)
This article originally appeared on Great Falls Tribune: Rebekah Jarvey of Rocky Boy to be featured in Indigenous fashion show