Yukon designer takes on New York City

A young fashion designer from the Yukon is taking the world by storm. Sho Sho Esquiro presented her latest collection at Couture Fashion Week in New York City last Friday.

A young fashion designer from the Yukon is taking the world by storm.

Sho Sho Esquiro presented her latest collection at Couture Fashion Week in New York City last Friday.

“Ever since I was a little girl, it was always a dream to do a show in New York, in the city, so it was pretty much a dream come true.”

Esquiro, 33, hails from Ross River. She describes her ancestry as Kaska Dena, Cree and Scottish.

She moved to Vancouver as a teenager, but she says she still feels a strong connection to the Yukon.

“I’m a very proud Yukoner, so I feel like I’m not only representing native people, but I’m also representing the Yukon.”

Esquiro’s designs use traditional materials in a contemporary and cross-cultural way that pushes the boundaries of what First Nation fashion looks like. Her style is urban, bright and colourful.

Her latest collection was inspired, in part, by Mexican artist Frida Kahlo and the Day of the Dead.

The idea that on the Day of the Dead lost loved ones can come back to celebrate with the living really resonated with her, said Esquiro.

“We’ve lost a lot of beautiful women from the Yukon, a lot of beautiful young women.”

Esquiro made one piece in particular in honour of those that have been lost. It’s a jacket with seal skin and moose hair tufting on the front. The sleeves are made of bright woven raw silk. And the back is colourful Pendleton wool, with a Day of the Dead skull design.

That jacket won best of show at the recent 93rd annual Santa Fe Indian Market in New Mexico, said Esquiro.

“I miss all my beautiful young native women from the Yukon that have passed away recently and in the past years, so that jacket was a dedication, and honouring them. It was really cool to have won with that jacket because I feel like I’m really celebrating with them now.”

While last week’s show was her biggest in terms of audience and reach, there are others that have been just as meaningful, said Esquiro.

In June she was in Whitehorse showing her work as part of the Adaka Cultural Festival.

“That was amazing, to see the elders there that have helped inspire me, to see the youth there, to show them, ‘Yeah, you can do this, too.’”

Esquiro’s mother is an artist and taught her to follow her dreams, she said.

“She always encouraged me to do my art, but I was more interested in fashion, so I wanted to find a niche where my fashion could be viewed as art,” said Esquiro.

Ironically, it was the lack of fashion options in the North that helped nurture Esquiro’s interest in clothing.

“Growing up in the Yukon in the ‘80s, your choice is usually the Sears catalogue,” she said.

“Usually I’d say, ‘Oh Mom, I like this,” and my mom, because she also sews, she’s like, ‘Aw, I can make that.’ Usually she did and I’d help. We didn’t have a TV or cable so I would be making doll clothes, Barbie clothes.

“In high school I really didn’t do very well. The only class I did well in was sewing. That’s where I really enjoyed myself. Having a mom as an artist, you see somebody doing what they love every day, and so that’s very important, to find my faith to be doing what I love.”

While Esquiro is currently based in Vancouver, she has ambitious dreams to show her designs around the world.

Her goals as a designer are different from many in the fashion world, she said.

She would like her clothes to be viewed primarily as art and is focusing on getting shows in museums, she said.

Esquiro has just been asked to exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum in Massachusetts in 2015.

Despite the global attention her designs are getting, she never stays away from the Yukon for long, she said.

“I was hoping to get up there later this month and maybe go hunting with my family, if I can.

“One of my next goals is to further learn moose tufting, to learn quill work. I want to be able to tan my own hides. So I really think it will be important to tap into all that beautiful traditional knowledge that our Yukon elders have.

“That’s really important. I’ll definitely be going up there a little bit more often.”

She is currently working on a grant so that she will be able to pay the elders for their teachings, she said.

“I really am just a girl from the Yukon,” said Esquiro. “With the support of my family, just being dedicated and keeping my eye on the prize, I’m here. It’s really exciting.”

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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