Jewelry designer and metalsmith Margaret Jacobs has a hard time finding the perfect venue for her work. “When I’m presenting at markets or craft shows, I find it challenging to find the right space for my jewelry,” explains the New Hampshire-based Akwesasne Mohawk artist. “A lot of people and institutions have very specific and stereotypical ideas of what they consider to be Indigenous design, which is mainly beadwork and silversmithing.” Jacobs’ jewelry, on the other hand, centers on powder-coating brass—an industrial finish more commonly associated with bicycle frames and automobile parts. “My work is also nuanced and interconnected in a way that cannot necessarily be interpreted through a Western lens,” she says. “So I feel that it isn’t understood and appreciated the way that it could be.”
Model Maija Erickson wearing the Sage Protection Pin by Margaret Jacobs.
Erickson wearing Margaret Jacob’s Elk Antler Earring and Ring Set.
Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO), which kicks off on Thursday, is tailored to designers like Jacobs. The four-day virtual event showcases Indigenous-made designs from emerging, established, and under-represented artists, giving audiences a wide and authentic view of First Nations fashion and design. It was created by Founder and Artistic Director Sage Paul to challenge outdated perceptions, explore innovative ways to present and consume fashion, and amplify the visibility of Indigenous designers. Paul founded the biennial event with a team of collaborators in 2018 after years of feeling like she didn’t fit in. “When I finished fashion school in 2006, I found it extremely difficult to break into the industry,” relates the Toronto-based designer, who is a member of the Denesuliné English River First Nation. “I found the mainstream fashion system to be elitist and misunderstanding of fashion outside of the Euro-Western construct. I didn’t understand at the time that the structure was built to maintain a class system that didn’t include me.”
“I have been overlooked…because when people learn that I’m an Indigenous jewelry maker, they assume I must only make beaded earrings.”
Paul’s inspiration for the event came in 2011 when she released her first…