On the February morning of the New York Fashion Week runway show exhibiting a collection of Iñupiaq parkas, designer Bobby Brower (Alaska Native Iñupiaq) awoke in Manhattan to snow.

“All of my models were so happy,” Brower, 36, told Native News Online. “They're like ‘finally! An appropriate thing to wear on the runway.’ It was perfect for my collection.”

Eight professional models donning Brower’s designs are captured in photographs strutting down a rooftop catwalk in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, comfortably adorned in the felted parkas with elaborate fur hoods and trim as the snow dusts down.

Want more Native News? Get the free daily newsletter today.

But the coats aren’t just meant to look warm, Brower said. They’re meant to keep wearers warm in subzero temperatures, down to -50 Fahrenheit. 

“It's part of our culture,” Brower said. “Being Alaska Native and growing up in the Arctic, it’s survival gear. It’s not just, ‘I killed these animals so that I could wear fashion.’ It's about keeping my kids warm and keeping my family warm.”

Brower, the designer behind Arctic Luxe, traveled over 4,000 miles last month to make her career dreams come true. After she learned she’d been accepted into New York Fashion Week last April, she began preparing eight atigiit, or parkas, at her home in Anchorage, where she’s recently relocated from her hometown in the Arctic, Utqiaġvik. 

One of the male coats was made from sealskin pelts Brower salvaged from a big storm last year, when around 40 dead seals washed up on the beach in Utqiagvik. Brower and her brother were able to skin nine of them, and used the meat to feed animals at the beach.

“It was like I was recycling,” she said. 

That coat will now be shown on loan as part of a nine-month long exhibit at The Museum of International Folk Art in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

To make up the cost of travel to New York—plus the $6,000 venue space—Brower hosted fundraising events and had fundraising events for her handmade parkas.

In the end, she said the exposure from New York Fashion Week was well worth it.

“I'm a single mom of four kids. So it was really hard for me to hold on to all my parkas because it took me about a year to prepare everything,” she said. “But I didn't only do this for myself, you know, I feel like I represented Alaska Natives as a whole. I think it was really needed for people, especially our young people.”

Although Brower wasn’t able to bring her own models to the show, her next big event— Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, Canada this June—will showcase her work on exclusively Indigenous models. She said that the more exposure her contemporary Iñupiaq wares gets, the better it will be for young Natives like her children.

“There's still a lot of racism and hate towards Natives,” she said. “Being able to show that I went to New York Fashion Week and showed Alaska Native culture on the runway is crazy. I don't know what will come out of New York Fashion Week. I can't wait to see what things are going to come next.”

More Stories Like This

Phoenix Suns Celebrates Native American Culture in Full Colors
Casting Call Out for Netflix's "Rez Ball"
Here’s What’s Going on in Indian Country, Jan. 27 — Feb. 2
Here’s What’s Going on in Indian Country, Jan. 19-Jan. 26
Native American Projects are Getting a Piece of $34M in NEA Grants

Do you appreciate a Native perspective on the news? 

For the past decade-plus, we’ve covered the important Indigenous stories that are often overlooked by other media. From the protests at Standing Rock and the toppling of colonizer statues during the racial equity protests, to the ongoing epidemic of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW), the attacks on tribal sovereignty at the Supreme Court and the past-due reckoning related to assimilation, cultural genocide and Indian Boarding Schools, we have been there to provide a Native perspective and elevate Native voices.

Our news is free for everyone to read, but it is not free to produce. That’s why we’re asking you to make a donation this month to help support our efforts. Any contribution — big or small — helps us remain a force for change in Indian Country and continue telling the stories that are so often ignored, erased or overlooked.  Please consider a recurring monthly donation of $5 or $10 to help fund us throughout the year. Whatever you can do, it helps fund our Indigenous-led newsroom and our ability to cover Native news. 

Donate to Native News Online today and support independent Indigenous journalism. Thank you. 

About The Author
Jenna Kunze
Author: Jenna KunzeEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Staff Writer
Jenna Kunze is a staff reporter covering Indian health, the environment and breaking news for Native News Online. She is also the publication's lead reporter on stories related to Indian boarding schools and repatriation. Her bylines have appeared in The Arctic Sounder, High Country News, Indian Country Today, Tribal Business News, Smithsonian Magazine, Elle and Anchorage Daily News. Kunze is based in New York.