Kanien'kehá:ka designer ready for the runway at New York Fashion Week
'As a Kanien’kehá:ka woman, I want to represent myself, my community properly'
Karoniénhawe Diabo wants to make her mark on the Indigenous fashion industry.
The Kanien'kehá:ka (Mohawk) designer behind the brand She Holds The Sky Designs will be heading to New York Fashion Week for the first time next week.
"It means a lot to me because I always try to challenge myself and I think just another challenge, another goal I wanted to reach," said Diabo, who is from Kahnawà:ke, south of Montreal.
Diabo grew up sewing around the women in her family. Custom-made Haudenosaunee regalia and ribbon skirts became the bread and butter of her small business. Her ribbon scarves and aprons were also in high demand during the holidays. But being able to make a collection of ready-to-wear clothing is a passion.
"I love making people happy in that sense, but this is just something that I've been working towards for a long time and I'm finally able to do it," said Diabo.
"It's just like I'm turning the new page for my business and for myself."
Her new collection, inspired by Haudenosaunee culture and symbols like wampum and flint, will be showcased at Rise NYFW on Feb. 10.
The event is a showcase of emerging and independent designers at New York Fashion Week. Several Indigenous designers from Canada and the United States have shown collections at the biannual event, including Stephanie Crowchild.
Crowchild, who is behind the brand Stephanie Eagletail designs and is from the Tsuut'ina Nation in southern Alberta, said it is a good experience for Indigenous designers new to the industry. She received a lot of inquiries about customer orders and collection drops following her show, and will be returning to fashion week next fall.
"It gives you a better understanding as a business, entrepreneur and what to expect and how to grow as well with your business," said Crowchild.
"Being in New York, it just gives you definitely a lot more exposure."
Diabo will be bringing 20 models with her to New York. Daisy Lahache, also from Kahnawà:ke, is one of the models ready to strut the runway.
"It's NYFW. I could only imagine the opportunities this experience could bring us," said Lahache.
"Haudenosaunee representation in the fashion industry is important to me because there is so much talent within our communities and it's beautiful to see our people being recognized, applauded and celebrated."
For Karahkwinetha Sage Goodleaf-Labelle, another model that will be wearing Diabo's designs, it's important for Indigenous designers to be able to represent their nations through fashion.
"The ability to identify different nations by their clothing as it descends the runway is really potent," said Goodleaf-Labelle, who is Kanien'kehá:ka and Pueblo.
"We are at a place in the fashion industry where our traditional designs are being recognized as a luxury brand …. There are occasions when we must show our artwork in this manner in order for non-Indigenous people to comprehend just how precious they truly are."
For Diabo, she's just proud to represent her community and nation.
"We have such a different style, distinct look to us, a look to our fashion," she said.
"I want to make sure we get it right and that we're wearing things that we're proud of and that we understand."