Giinawind Co. showcases ribbon skirts designs in fashion show

Many models and designers dream of the glitz and glam of a Paris runway.

But an Indigenous-run art collective in Thunder Bay is bringing another dream to life, in the form of the cedar runway.

As Indigenous History Month kicked off last week, Giinawind Co. held a fashion show for their 13 Moons Exhibit. Thirteen First Nation designers were invited to create their own ribbon skirts, along with a few ribbon shirts, with each one representing a different phase of the moon.

Fawn Meshake is a cultural outreach worker at Giinawind, and said she got the idea during one of their weekly drum nights.

“I was sitting here listening to the drumming and I had a vision of the skirts hanging on the walls here because I always thought it’d be nice to fill it up with more artwork,” said Meshake.

“There’s so many skirt makers in Thunder Bay, there are a lot. And when I [saw] that, I envisioned it.”

Fawn Meshake drums while her daughter sings a song before the fashion show. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

Meshake, who also worked with Genevieve Desmoulin on the idea, brought it up to Giinawind founder Jacenia Desmoulin who turned it into the show it became.

“We’ve been planning this, I believe, since April. The most important thing and the hardest thing was finding people to make some skirts and shirts. I mean, without them, we wouldn’t have tonight at all,” said Jacenia Desmoulin the day of the event.

Desmoulin said she put a call out on Facebook and Instagram for interested designers and had many inquiries, but had to narrow it down to 13.

“I think we have a lot of creative events in Thunder Bay, but I think we lack … Indigenous focused events, especially when it comes to fashion and higher art,” said Desmoulin.

“Being Indigenous founded and established, I feel like that’s such an important thing for our community to grow on and to and to keep developing. So I wanted to be a part of that and it’s always been important to me.”

The event began with a prayer from an elder, followed by a hand-drumming and song performance by Meshake’s daughter.

Matthew Wapoose walks down the runway modeling a ribbon skirt. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

Matthew Wapoose was a model for the show, and said they saw the advertising for two-spirit people and women, and they wanted to honor their female side.

“I’m a little nervous, I’ve never done anything like this before. But, you know, there’s a first time for everything,” said Wapoose before the show.

“Honestly‚Ķ I didn’t grow up with my traditions and the knowledge of my culture. But I’m learning and yeah, I thought I’d challenge myself by doing this and by, you know, honoring my female spirits. So it’s kind of scary, but I feel excited.”

Wapoose said the events Giinawind hosts, like the fashion show, make them feel seen and included when taking part.

“I feel like I actually have a community. So, like, it’s really nice.”

The skirts and a few shirts will be on display at Giinawind for the month of June for people to admire, but are also for sale to the public. So once the exhibit is over, the items will be shipped to their new owners.

A model shows off a ribbon skirt on the runway at Giinawind Co. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

Meshake plans to have another event like this in the future, but with ribbon shirts as the main focus.

“I just want to be able to see more and to see like everybody else’s vision, really, of how they interpret it in their minds,” said Meshake.

Meshake said she felt honored and blessed to see her vision come to life.

“I’m really grateful to have a place like Giinawind, you know, where visions like this can come true. And then it becomes a realistic thing, not just for my eyes, but everybody’s eyes around us.”