Indigenous business spreading awareness through art

·3 min read

Kainai Nation local Ina Fairbanks-Old Shoes is spreading awareness through art with her small business Something Wonderful Studios, combining advocacy through apparel.

She is paying homage to missing and murdered indigenous women across Canada and sparking discussion with representation. Starting her business during the COVID pandemic, Old Shoes took her art from the canvas to apparel looking to spread a message through alternative means. Through an entrepreneurship program on the Blood reserve, Old Shoes has been able to apply for a business grant and start her journey.

“The reason I started the orange-neck sweaters was because they started digging up the graves and finding the bodies of these children. I was on social media and everybody was complaining that all these larger manufacturers were profiting off our traumas.

“People weren’t able to find local retail that was actually from Indigenous people. At that time, I had my small business and I thought to myself, ‘I have the skill, I have the money, why don’t I do something about it.’ I wanted be that change. And I wanted it to be local,” said Old Shoes.

Working to advocate through her artwork and business, Old Shoes is always thinking of the future and how her artwork can be a platform for change.

“The whole reason I created Something Wonderful Studios is because one day I hope to become an animated production company. I want to be able to tell original stories of our people and be able to have those professionally done through a better means,” says Old Shoes, who wants more representation with accuracy. She says the shows she grew up watching such as “Brother Bear” and “Pocahontas” lacked true Indigenous peoples.

Old Shoes has been an artist from an early age and thanks her art teachers in school for helping her become who she is today. She uses skills she has learned along the way to propel her craft forward.

“Everything, all artwork within my store, it’s all designed, hand-drawn and produced by myself. Even my logo was hand-drawn by me. I’ve been self-taught, so that’s where my main motives are,” says Old Shoes.

“I’ve had to teach myself how to do these things; how to learn what the different files mean, what they are, what different manufacturers require, what I can do to make their process easier without paying more on top. Because me as the artist, that’s the best thing I could do for myself, just being able to take full credit. The only thing I don’t do is manufacturing.”

Old Shoes is off to South Korea for two weeks, doing an international study abroad through Medicine Hat College’s Art and Music program, hoping to gain new insights and values for her craft.

“I would love to take from all these cultures something that they’ve done. Being able to integrate that into my own artwork. Maybe it’s a practice, maybe it’s a technique, or maybe it’s a way that they use their colors,” says Old Shoes.

Advocating through her work, Old Shoes looks to grow her small business while also spreading awareness. Using her craft as a way to spread a message while giving Indigenous communities true representation.

“Growing up, I’ve always been told as an Indigenous person, when you’re scared, or you’re lonely, or feeling bad, call upon your ancestors. They’ll be there, they’ll protect you. I thought to myself, ‘there’s a lot of these people that have died because of what’s happening. But there’s a lot of us that are still alive fighting so that people don’t continue to die.’ And that’s kind of where my vision came from. I had that long before I even had a small business grant,” says Old Shoes.

Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald

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