After two years, Phoenix Fashion Week emerged out of the waning pandemic to produce a two-day fashion event at Chateau Luxe – a venue destination nestled in the desert landscape of North Phoenix. The weekend’s itinerary included an assortment of fashion designs by both emerging designers and established brands from around the world including the United States, Italy, Kuwait, and the Philippines.

In the emerging category, two Indigenous designers, Red Berry Woman and House of Mae Noir, competed alongside lifestyle brands, Senti Designs and Sunlight Lover, in a rigorous digital bootcamp spearheaded by Executive Director, Brian Hill. The aim of the education program is to teach young brands about the business side of fashion including marketing, brand development, retail, and manufacturing. 

Photo: Niya DeGroat

During Saturday’s program, 40-year-old Norma Baker-Flying Horse (Hidatsa, Dakota Sioux, and Assiniboine), from the Fort Berthold Indian reservation in North Dakota, earned the coveted title of Designer of the Year with her 10-piece Red Berry Woman collection. The ready-to-wear line featured skirts, maxi and balloon dresses made from suede, silk, and upcycled material in a color palette of warm neutrals and soft earthy tones. She hand-painted her signature horse motifs to most of the designs which pays homage to the shared “horsemen” culture of the Plains tribes she belongs to. 

Photo: Niya DeGroat

Other traditional elements in the collection included a cropped jacket made of buckskin and imitation elk teeth and accessories such as a beaded clutch handcrafted by her husband, Elmer Flying Horse, along with a studded belt by her brother-in-law, James Moran, and jewelry made of dentalium shells by Moran and other Indigenous artists she partners with.

“I wanted to showcase the range that Indigenous inspiration can have on fashion,” said Flying Horse. “To show that no matter your style, whether it is formal or casual, indigenous design can complement it.”

Photo: Niya DeGroat

The fusion of traditional and contemporary elements allowed Flying Horse to experiment with new fabrics and printmaking using digital software. “Living in remote North Dakota, I have limited access to fabric stores and manufacturing needs, so I use a lot of found material orscraps, and I also rely on online shopping,” she said.

With the partnerships she has acquired through Phoenix Fashion Week, and the $10,000 value prize package that comes with winning the competition, Flying Horse looks forward to exploring new technology to help streamline her design process, but she admits, she will continue to do custom orders when it comes to her handcrafted artistry.

Photo: Niya DeGroat

“There is a lot of traditional storytelling and cultural teachings embedded in my work. I feel like my brand can provide a better understanding of who we are as a people without oversharing the sacred aspects of my culture.”

In fact, prior to her runway showcase, Flying Horse invited two local Pow Wow dancers, Elyza Roberts and Lara Lasley, to perform for the fashion week audience. The team behind Phoenix Fashion Week also invited local dance troupe Indigenous Enterprise to bless the event with a touching tribute to the art of Indigenous movement. And in a Phoenix Fashion Week first, director Brian Hill, acknowledged the traditional homelands of the Tohono O’odham nation that the event was taking place on. Red Berry Woman is also the second Indigenous designer to be named Phoenix Fashion Week’s Designer of the Year following in the footsteps of couture fashion brand ACONAV who earned the title back in 2017.

Photo: Niya DeGroat

“Watching these artists represent their tribes and showcase their work on the runway was truly phenomenal. I’m so happy that there are more of us Natives who are taking over these types of spaces,” said Flying Horse. 

“It’s one thing to hear people say, ‘the first two, the first two’ and it’s great that we are breaking barriers. But I hope I live long enough to see us all dominate these spaces by sharing who we are and where we come from. To have Phoenix Fashion Week highlight Indigenous artists says so much about this organization and I’m very proud to say that I’m now affiliated with them.”

Photo: Niya DeGroat

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