Reservation runway: Rising Cree designer makes New York runway debut
Scott Wabano, a two-spirit Indigenous fashion designer who grew up on a small northern Ontario reservation, took over one of the most important fashion runways in the world, making a debut at New York Fashion Week (NYFW) earlier this month.
Wabano, who is Mushkegowuk from Moose Factory, on the west coast of James Bay, with Eeyou-Eenou family roots from the Quebec Cree Nation of Waskaganish, aims to challenge colonial binaries, like gender terms brought on by early settlers.
Wabano, who uses they/them pronouns, hopes to do that through genderless, sustainable streetwear with an Indigenous influence.
"The future is going to be Indigenous-led. It's going to be two-spirit-led as well too. I'm really honoured to be able to showcase that on the runway," said the designer.
Wabano's mission is to make Indigenous representation a fashion statement, using black-and-white designs that include the line's logo, a stylized teepee, all over the fabrics.
"As Indigenous people, we're already living in post-apocalyptic times due to colonization. I just really get so much inspiration at the resiliency and the strength a lot of our people carry [from] rising up from the ashes of genocide," said Wabano.
Most of the models in the show were Indigenous and included notables such as Grand Chief Mandy Gull-Masty, Indigenous activist Michelle Chubb, a swampy Cree from Bunibonibee Cree Nation, and actress-model Braydee Cardinal.
"We're in a world where our people are already being brought down so we have to uplift each other and be there for each other because we are trailblazers," said Chubb.
Gull-Masty, the first woman elected as the grand chief of Eeyou Istchee (the traditional name for the Quebec Cree territory), said she was happy to take part as an honorary model.
"To see a Cree youth breaking a boundary, coming to a space that has never had Eeyou representation makes me really proud," said Gull-Masty.
Cardinal shared her experience of the runway on TikTok.
"It was special because I was surrounded by so many inspiring Indigenous youth. It was a moment of 'wow, Indigenous people are quite literally the most resilient, powerful and strong-spirited people,'" said Cardinal.
Wabano made a casting call through Facebook for models for the Feb. 10 show and over 200 people responded for the event, organized by Runway 7 Fashion.
The response produced a cast that included many two-spirit models, something that has been lacking in the fashion world, Wabano said.
"I really strive to create safe spaces in any door that I walk in. Every space is a two-spirit space. Every space is a sacred space because I'm entering those doors, but also other two-spirited people as well," said Wabano.
Wabano's logo is a stylized teepee that represents their people's historical nomadic lifestyle.
"Everytime I think of home, I think of a teepee. For the longest time, I was struggling to find home. I felt I wasn't at home within myself.[...] The logo kind of represents that. You take home wherever you go," said Wabano.
Wabano's own journey of decolonizing gender binaries through advocacy and fashion is only just beginning.
After show at New York Fashion Week, they've been invited to appear at London Fashion Week in September, among other shows.
"Living in the rez can be hard. I been there. It feels very isolating living so far away from big places like New York City or Toronto," said Wabano.
"Sometimes our dreams and our goals just feel like dreams and goals, but we can make them a reality," said Wabano. "You come from such a strong bloodline of resiliency and love and community. It's really important to tap into that."
WATCH | Scott Wabano and Indigenous models takeover a NYFW runway: