RED LAKE -- Alyss Mountain has started taking Ojibwe fashion across the country and around the world.
The 25-year-old Red Lake woman has been honing her beadwork and seamstress skills since she was named Miss Red Lake Nation nearly a decade ago. She has since shown her work in both New York City and Oxford, England.
And, she doesn’t plan on stopping.
For her, the work is a way to overcome personal obstacles and champion the beadwork art form that is still making a comeback from the days when celebrating Native American culture was discouraged.
“Coming from the reservation, we are faced with many hardships. My vision is to show my people that we are more than capable of growing from traumatic experiences and flourishing,” Mountain wrote in her biography for the fashion show Rise NYFW.
Before the larger world began noticing her work, she already was using her skills to teach others in her community. She works as a cultural arts teacher for the organization Abinoojiiyag Noojimoo Wigamig, which translates as The Children’s Healing Center. She teaches her students how to sew, how to do beadwork, as well as other forms of Native American artistry, such as how to work with birch bark or animal hides.
Though she was teaching students face to face, Mountain also began posting her artwork on the internet through platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. She posts photos. She films tutorials.
From that, people from across the spectrum began noticing her artwork. Someone contacted her through her online presence and encouraged her to apply to the event Rise NYFW, an event that's part of New York Fashion Week. She could barely contain her excitement when she realized her work was accepted into the show.
“I was ecstatic -- I jumped; I screamed,” Mountain said. “It was a rush.”
Aside from the fact that the trip exposed her artwork to a larger audience, it also allowed her to focus her efforts. As part of the fashion show, she received some mentorship in the business side of the industry. She then put her artwork together under an actual business name: “Miskwadesi,” which means Little Red Painted Turtle. She named the business after the traditional name of her six-year-old daughter.
Her experience in New York led her to apply and get accepted for the AFROShow in Oxford, England. She was the only Native American artist, as well as the only artist from the United States, represented at the show. She won second place in the category Best Runway Collection.
There may be even more opportunities ahead. She’s applying to show her work at a second show in England. She’s also trying to get accepted into an arts show in Paris.
More than a hobby
As exciting as it’s been to have her work displayed for such large audiences, her artwork is much more than just a hobby or source of income. As a victim of domestic violence, her artwork has been a way to deal with some of the trauma she’s experienced.
“It’s helped with depression; it’s helped with my anxiety, the PTSD that I have. . . It’s put a lot of different things at ease,” Mountain said about her art.
As Mountain continues to hone her craft, she hopes her daughter will realize just how much opportunity there is available to pursue. Her daughter already sews and even helped create several of the pieces they showed in New York.
Mountain went on to explain how she hopes her daughter looks to her and realizes that there are ways to thrive and overcome the many difficulties in life.
“I want to show her that there’s more to life than going out there and doing drugs -- more to life than going out there and getting into any sort of gang violence," Mountain said.
Mountain said one of the next big tasks she would like to take on is a bridal collection. Her team also has been working on a catalog of casual and formal wear.
That said, Mountain is the first to say she doesn’t work alone. Coming from a whole family of artisans, she has to take a moment to count up all the people from her family who contribute in one way or another to her business.
In addition to her family, though, she’s also had help from her students that she works with through The Children's Healing Center. Like her daughter, her students helped her complete some of the pieces she showed in New York.
“It’s got my youth really excited to work with their own types of projects,” Mountain said of her students.