Looking at American brand Faherty today — with its Indigenous-led “Native Initiatives” — depicts a relatively airtight picture.
But the road to inclusion was marred with cultural misfires.
Prior to cofounding Faherty with her husband Alex and taking up the role of chief impact officer, Kerry Docherty was a lawyer with a background in human rights. She “never really thought [she] would have a job in retail,” but contends Faherty isn’t the average retailer.
And reconciliation long past a calendar signal like Indigenous Peoples’ Month (November in the U.S.) is one reason why. “I always like to lead with what we did wrong,” said Docherty. “The fashion industry isn’t always able to say ‘appropriation.’”
The brand — reminiscent of the American Southwest with its rustic flair and comfort priority — was initially using Indigenous textiles “as inspiration with our clothing,” in Docherty’s words.
She went for the heart of the brand’s missteps: “Saying the art honors the community without them benefiting is kind of like throwing a birthday party and saying, ‘You’re not invited.’”
That was three-and-a-half years ago.
The time since has been a turning point for Faherty as the brand transitioned away from its harmful, erasing language of “native-inspired” to “native-designed” by ingraining partnership, learning and reciprocity, according to Docherty. Native designers and artists like Bethany Yellowtail (who is Northern Cheyenne/Crow), Doug Good Feather (Lakota) and Steven Paul Judd (Kiowa-Choctaw) now represent the front-fold of talent.
“When I think about activism and climate change, the Indigenous community has really always been the gatekeepers and led the way and protected what most needs protecting. A big part of what we do is highlighting the people who already have the knowledge,” Docherty said, pointing to the importance of the land-back movement, or the just return of land back to Native people.
While today, just 5 to 10 percent of Faherty’s assortment is applicably Indigenous designed, each artist determines their involvement. Docherty maintained that it “depends on the designer and what works for them,” underlining this reciprocity as “part of having a decolonized partnership and listening to the designer.”
Inclusion is more than a moment, a campaign or a handout.
While the brand’s ongoing partnership enabled the Lakota Way Healing Center (founded by Good Feather) to purchase more than 220 acres of land to expand Indigenous spiritual practices, and helped Yellowtail upgrade to new office digs, Docherty clarified: “I always like to reiterate this is not Faherty helping the Indigenous community — this is changing the thinking.”
With an eye to future stewardship, Faherty built an internship program that prioritizes Indigenous youth. On the brand’s impact team, two Indigenous employees help guide the company’s evolving mission, and Docherty’s friend and IllumiNative founder and chief executive officer Crystal Echo Hawk (Pawnee), sits on the company board. IllumiNative is a Native-led, woman-led social justice organization that is one of Faherty’s partners.
Marking Paths Forward
The brand has made strides on inclusion that speak to more than a marketing push.
“Faherty is such a great example where they’ve been incredibly receptive to criticism and reworked the way they function as a company. They’ve made space for Native people in their company,” Leah Salgado (Pascua Yaqui), chief impact officer at IllumiNative, told WWD. “They aren’t just licensing a design or a pattern, [they’re] ensuring the product that is being sold is deeply connected to the community.” She reiterated that “you can’t have a ‘native-inspired’ design [as opposed to ‘native-designed,’ where Native artists have a stake in design direction] and have it be authentic in any way.”
But the inclusivity work fashion needs can’t be done by just a single brand.
“When we think about the fashion, for many folks, it is where we see shifts and changes in popular culture,” Salgado said. “Fashion hasn’t always been kind or accepting or accrediting to Native people.”
Salgado pointed to this year’s Met Gala as a major misstep on Native inclusion. “You can’t think about American fashion without thinking about Native people,” she continued. “The Met Gala is a really great example. There was one Native model [Quannah Chasinghorse] who was on the carpet, and there was one native designer [Korina Emmerich] in the exhibit — but there wasn’t native [representation].”
By creating space for accountability and reconciliation, fashion can find deliberate paths forward so long as ESG measures don’t just rope the Indigenous community in as an afterthought. “When it comes to folks doing [ESG] reports, not including Native people when doing this only speaks to this erasure,” said Salgado. “It becomes part of the norm to leave us out of the conversations that impact our communities.”
In moving toward a more just and equitable society, Salgado reiterated that: “It’s not about having one Native person on their board, but they have work that they’re putting forward and pathways forward for the fashion industry.”
On the flip side, Salgado said, “It’s up to consumers, too, to ask the right questions.”