After Offensive Fiasco, Paul Frank Collaborates With Native Designers


Imagine this: After producing an event offensive to Native Americans, Paul Frank is now working with Native American artists and designers — going from cultural appropriation to cultural appreciation.

This time of year about 150,000 people descend on Santa Fe, New Mexico for Indian Market and it’s a pretty big deal as leaders and artists from the United States and Canada get together for an extreme exchange of creative thoughts. This past Friday evening before the official start of Indian Market, about 200 fashion-forward folks gathered at the Museum of Contemporary Native Arts to celebrate the release of the “Paul Frank Presents” collection, featuring work by four Native designers.

Unlike previous get togethers, this one didn’t include tomahawks, “war paint,” or cocktails with tacky neo-native names. Instead it celebrated a high profile “win” for all who challenge cultural appropriation.

The event launched the collection and included a panel discussion and receptions with some of the movers and shakers involved in the Paul Frank/Beyond Buckskin/Native Appropriations saga proved that sometimes social change can be an outcome of fashion design, blogging, and community action. Whoa. The event centered on a dynamite panel with the collection’s designers (Candace Halcro, Plains Cree/Metis, Louie Gong, Nooksack, Autumn Dawn Gomez, Comanche/Taos and Dustin Quinn Martin, Navajo), powerful female writers and bloggers Adrienne Keene, Cherokee, and Jessica Metcalfe, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and VP of Design for Paul Frank, Tracy Bunkoczy.

Part academic, part celebration, the atmosphere at the beginning of the event was serious: a quick 10-minute rehash of previous events, including the party Paul Frank held where Native appropriation was flaunted, in front a mostly Native crowd was likely the source of Bunkoczy’s cautious nervousness. “It must be hard to sit here and listen to this over and over again,” Keene playfully said of the rehash to the group in attendance from Paul Frank. However Keene also noted that the ladies from Paul Frank really spent extra time working with Metcalf, Keene and the artists to make the collaboration line a reality.

“This happened because of people in the Native American community and our allies who want us to be represented properly in popular culture,” said Dr. Metcalfe.

“I’m not used to there being any sort of response back to me….I was just blown away, ” says Keene of Paul Frank’s large-scale action, which included facilitating a licensing webinar for those in the industry as well as extensive action on items that had already been licensed.

After a recap of the previous transgressions, the artists spoke to the audience about their work for the collaboration inspiring laughter and head-nodding from the audience. Gomez, wearing a crown from her Paul Frank line, stressed a duty to her community while Gong said his work for the line was directly inspired by the situation that led to the collaboration including “sustainable relationships.” Canadian designer Candace Halcro, with a hairstyle that likely was the inspiration for Miley’s new ‘do, said she loves looking “crazy and cool and trendy.” She’s known as the “sunglasses girl,” and experimented with how to incorporate Julius, the Paul Frank mascot before deciding to stay true to her brand’s most well known look. Dustin Quinn Martin, the first designer to speak ended his portion with this thought: “I hope especially the Native people in the crowd are proud of what we came up with, and feel like there’s a little bit of us in every single one of these designs and that we didn’t sell out to the man.”

Indeed, you might be wondering what the deal with profits is here, since it was earlier noted that the designers “consulted” for free. At the event it was revealed that the designers themselves will receive the profits from the new line, but also that much of the work concerning the manufacturing and creation of the items was left to the artists. This wasn’t out of the norm for the female designers, since none of their work can easily be mass-produced. Still, the items showcasing the graphics that the male designers created essentially needed to be outsourced for mass production. “Normal” Paul Frank collaborations involve a split of the profits between the company and the other designer. This time around Paul Frank will not profit from the sales and all of the profits from the collection will go to each of the designers. The items are sold through the Beyond Buckskin Boutique and the Paul Frank items at the MoCNA seemed to be selling well and attracting attention this weekend.

Autumn Dawn Gomez; Dustin Martin; Candace Halcro.

The crowd was a who’s who of creatives in Indian Country and Santa Fe. Just like any other fashion party, guests were anxious to mingle, meet the designers and try on items from the line. This time though, everyone in attendance was appreciative of the work and aware of what can happen when a community challenges appropriation.

The artists and panelists pose with the Paul Frank crew.

Kate Crowley is a blogger in the Southwest who writes for New Times’ Chow Bella and Jackalope Ranch blogs. Follow her on Twitter: @KateCrowley.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Share Tweet Submit Pin