Fashion-forward at St. Joseph’s

“Dream big. Take up as much space as you can.”

-Christopher Piña, fashion mentor

On Saturday, April 20, students at St. Joseph’s Indian School workshopped and put on the aptly named Thiyóšpaye (extended family) Fashion Show. They were joined by professionals in the Native fashion Industry and dozens of staff members. Through the event, students gained valuable insights into Native fashion trends and the profound life lessons to be found in the contemporary Native fashion world.

The event is the brainchild of houseparent Kirstie Mattos, Mrs. USA Ambassador South Dakota, who has first-hand involvement in the fashion industry and knows the positive benefits it can bring the students. She brought together models, designers, and photographers from across the country and generous staff from all over campus to make the Thiyóšpaye Fashion Show that lifted up some 50 participating students.

“Dream big. Take up as much space as you can.” This advice was directed by visiting model mentor Christopher Piña to a roomful of attentive St. Joe’s students. They took the message to heart throughout the day, filled with laughter, learning, good food, and fun.

Cameras flashed, sewing machines whirred, hairspray and face power filled the air, and colorful ribbons and jewelry brightened every corner. Seventh graders Mykah Goings and Randi Johnson took to the scene as roving reports. Video cameras caught every comment as, microphones in hand, Goings and Johnson captured interviews from students and professionals alike.

“I liked how I got to interview the fashion designers and models,” commented Goings. “I was able to talk to them. I was nervous at first, but it got smoother at the end of the day,” she added.

Johnson overcame early stage fright to take to her role with gusto. “Cool. I liked it a lot. I was nervous at first, but then I got to learn about other people, and I got to know them.” Asked if she would ever want to do the job again, she was all smiles and thumbs up.

Fashion is a language, a signal that tells others who you are and what you represent. However, the fashion industry has for centuries exploited class, race, gender, and the products used in its creation. In a perhaps surprising turn of events, the emerging Native Fashion Industry is turning the tables on exploitation to become a beacon of representation, reclamation, resilience, and empowerment for a new generation of fashionistas. Native fashion today is Indigenous-led, Indigenous-owned, and an expression of Indigenous culture, identity, healing, and more.

Through the deeper exploration into the transforming world of Native fashion, students learned more about the beauty of their cultural identity and found pride in the resiliency of their people – a valuable lesson as they chart their way into the future, whether as fashion models or role models on the path of their choosing.

Established in 1927, St. Joseph’s Indian School is one of the oldest ministries of the Priests of the Sacred Heart (Dehonians) in the United States.

PHOTO ABOVE: (Left to Right): Mykah Goings watches Iris Huezo of Native Hope film, while Lawrence West of Sioux Fall’s Watecha Bowl is interviewed by Randi Johnson. Watecha Bowl provided lunch for the event.