Community & Heritage with Bethany Yellowtail
If you’re looking to understand your creativity and how it connects to your roots, this interview will surely spark some ideas and inspiration for you. Bethany Yellowtail is an influential Native fashion designer who shares her Crow and Northern Cheyenne heritage with the utmost sensitivity and care. When our host first stumbled upon her, Majo was struck by Bethany’s work and its beautiful celebration of Native American culture (without the ickiness of appropriation).
They cover what it was like for Bethany growing up as one of the only Native girls in a mostly white public school, how she envisioned her brand and met her co-founder, and the inspiration behind her artist collective. Not only is she carving out an entirely new space in the fashion industry, but she’s doing so in a way that is positively impacting Native communities.
It’s about community.
— Bethany Yellowtail
Majo: I noticed you started an artist collective. Can you tell us a little more about your vision behind that?
Bethany: I had gone home and was at a gas station, and this man came up to me and said, “I was wondering if you wanted to buy these earrings?” I looked at them and was like, “Oh wow! These are beautiful, how much?” And he said, “Uh, fifteen dollars? I just need gas money.” At first I thought, Awesome, fifteen bucks? Okay! But then I felt really sad. These earrings were so beautiful, he probably spent so much time, and he just wanted fifteen dollars because he needed gas money.
And that’s the reality — there’s an “art hustle” in our communities. Which on the one hand is cool because people are still practicing their art and their beading… A lot of my relatives do the same thing, they hustle for just a little bit of money but their work is worth so much more. There’s a number of reasons why they have to do that, not only because of location and access, but the people they’re selling to don’t have a lot of money so you can’t sell them for what you would in other parts of the world.
Unemployment on the Crow Reservation is forty percent. I want to be able to employ my own people to sell my garments and help manufacture them so they can make a good living. It only makes sense. And yet, there really isn’t anywhere else in Indian country where something like this is happening.
There are challenges to building something like this, but I know it’s what I’m supposed to do. And that’s how the collective was started. We’re sending really great paychecks home to our community and to people who, for years, have sold their work for a sixth of what it’s actually worth. I’m excited to keep building it, the collective is where my heart is really at because I see the bigger picture and how it can impact these communities.
- Bethany as a little girl: An old soul growing up on the Crow Indian Reservation. [4:43]
- On her parents and Native heritage, and dealing with racist mentalities that still exist to this day. [8:52]
- The extreme culture shock of her college years in L.A. and the emergence of her unique brand. [12:51]
- Bethany’s business partner who arrived via “divine intervention” and the launch of their first ecommerce products. [17:26]
- Her point of view around authentic Native representation in fashion, plus the lessons she learned working for other companies. [21:21]
- How Bethany’s work is a way of sharing her culture, and how she deals with criticism. [25:03]
- On the theme of reclamation and how it relates to modern-day issues impacting Native communities. [31:39]
- Bethany shares about the inspiration and vision behind her artist collective. [33:31]
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