Inspired Natives – Not Native Inspired sets standard for companies working with cultural art
SEATTLE — Louie Gong, founder of Eighth Generation, is a Nooksack tribal member who started off customizing shoes in his living room. In just six years, he has grown his business into one of the most recognizable and influential Native American brands. Now he has turned his attention to helping community-based cultural artists achieve the same success.
The Inspired Natives Project aims to help highly skilled and motivated artists shift from either the handmade or gallery-based model of selling art to an arts entrepreneurship model where artist participate in product development and distribute to markets around the globe. With a goal of regional diversity, the first artist in the Inspired Natives Project was Acoma Pueblo artist Michelle Lowden. The most recent artist, launched on November 04, 2014, is Sarah Agaton Howes, an Ojibwe artist and teacher who specializes in floral designs.
The line features cell phone cases, blankets, pillows, jewelry and other gift items. Many are made in Louie’s Seattle studio with the help of Native apprentices and family. Product prices range from $29 to $99 and items can be purchased directly from www.eighthgeneration.com. Most items are available for wholesale distribution.
Gong, who has previously worked on licensing agreements with Paul Frank Industries, Manitobah Mukluks and Vans, has built upon his experiences to create a more progressive model for aligning with Native culture, art and themes. According to Gong, the Inspired Natives licensing agreements honor the power of collaboration and the potential of Native artist rather than perpetuating the pattern of the Native artist as subordinate in the business relationship. “We will help each other grow,” he said.
“I see the artists as partner,” Gong said. “They are capable of anything and hungry for ways to make their cultural art more sustainable. The challenge is that the business experience and capital needed to get something started is largely absent in our communities.”
While the capacity building elements of the Inspired Natives Project vary depending on the goals and current situation of each artist, Gong personally mentored Howes through the process of creating a business structure, e-commerce website, marketing strategies and numerous other tasks in setting up a strong foundation for a business. Once the website is in place, artists are mentored through online sales, where they can generate income without depending solely on labor-intensive handmade goods.
“I feel like I won the Native art lottery,” said Howes, who held a launch party on November 21, 2014. “Our community deserves to do more than survive. We can thrive. I’m on the edge of my seat for the future.”
Ultimately, Gong believes that by building business capacity of Native artists and educating the public about the tangible costs of cultural appropriation, the Inspired Natives Project will empower Native artists – as opposed to large, non-Native companies — to capitalize on the popularity their unique artwork, values and history.
Here’s a link to information about the Inspired Natives Project:http://eighthgeneration.com/pages/inspired-natives-project
Here’s a link to Sarah’s products at the Eighth Generation website:
Here’s a link to Sarah’s very first website, which we developed collaboratively. After only a few weeks of guidance, she is managing all aspects of the website herself:http://houseofhowes.com/