WHY PENDLETON® FABRICS?
The following is an excerpt from an interview with Leia Pellot of NYU's Fashion In/Action
I’d like to start by thanking you for agreeing to participate by lending your work and being our keynote speaker at the Fashion In/Action Symposium. Your Split Shot mask was the first of your designs that I discovered on Instagram and I was struck by the beauty of the work you produced. I was also impressed by the attention and care you put into producing each piece by hand. Pendleton® fabric has an interesting history, as a non-Indigenous company whose products have become a big part of Indigenous culture.
You use a lot of Pendleton® fabrics in your designs, including in the Split Shot Mask; how does this history speak to you creatively? How do you want it to speak to the people who purchase and are interested in your work?
Thank you for having me and for including my work in the exhibit. It’s been an honor to work with you all on this initiative and bring attention to imperative issues through the lens of dress.
My work is an amalgamation of lived experiences as well as rooting into my own histories and drawing from my visual arts background. My use of Pendleton® fabrics, while more recent, has now become a cornerstone of the EMME Studio visual. When I was growing up in Oregon, Pendleton® blankets were everywhere. We had them all over my house - some gifted, some won through powwow raffles. While the company itself is not Indigenous-owned, the blankets have become a sort of pan-Indigenous cultural indicator. They’re prevalent on the powwow circuit, in your Auntie’s house, and are often shared, gifted or traded within community. My first Pendleton® blanket was gifted to me upon graduating high school and still lays on my couch to this day.
The Pendleton Woolen Mill was originally opened in 1895 in Pendleton, Oregon. Weaving blankets and robes inspired by Native trade blankets, the Bishops, a white settler family, saw a market in creating these blankets and selling them to neighboring tribes. The mill’s co-option of Indigenous designs, skilled weavers and its support of local wool shepherds going back generations has solidified their 150-year-long success. It should also be noted that the jacquard weaving craft itself was directly taken from Indigenous nations in Oregon and used to mass-produce and acquire capital from those same neighboring nations.
Today the blankets and designs have become synonymous with the visual identity of Indigenous people. And its history does not come without controversy. While they’ve maintained a sort of symbiotic relationship, many Indigenous creatives have called attention to the company’s vapid cultural appropriation, by taking symbols, art and ideas from Indigenous people without immediate credit or compensation. Indigenous people who choose to use Pendleton’s pan-Indigenous cultural indicators walk a fine line between representation and appropriation. I don’t want that conversation to be dismissed, because it’s something I unpack daily in my own work.
It wasn’t until the ‘90s that Pendleton actually began hiring Indigenous creatives to partner with. And they have since implemented initiatives to support Indigenous communities, designers and share profits, most notably to the American Indian College Fund and The National Museum of the American Indian.
So the question still remains, why do I personally choose to use Pendleton fabrics in my design? As we’ve watched non-native brands from Lindsey Thornburg to Opening Ceremony profit off the use of our traditional work, be it inspired or not, there is a sense of reclamation in being an Indigenous designer working with these fabrics that are still so prevalent within our communities. I have the opportunity to create pieces for all people. We’re at a time when so many consumers are asking, “Can I, as a non-native person, wear this?” The resounding answer we give is YES, because the design is not rooted in ceremonial practices or tradition. If it were, I wouldn’t sell it to you. I wouldn’t sell it to anyone. I wouldn’t sell my traditions for capital.
Also as a child of the Pacific Northwest, there is a sense of pride working with these materials that are hand woven in my home state from local wool shepherds. The company is committed to sustainable and renewable practices and recognizes the inherent circularity of their product. Something that is extremely important to EMME Studio.