An Anishinaabe-Lebanese woman is creating street savvy powwow jackets with ribbons, thrifted fabrics and upcycled denim.
Rebecca Lyon is a PhD student at Trent University in Peterborough, Ont., and in her small amounts of free time, she’s creating colourful jackets inspired by ribbon shirts and traditional regalia but with a streetwise style.
She said the idea for the design came to her in a dream this May.
“One of the reasons why I think it came to me was because I was really feeling frustrated with our PhD program, being that it’s so research-based and it’s very much reading and writing all the time,” said Lyon.
She said she needed a creative outlet and made her first jacket for herself in May, with pink iridescent ribbons hanging from the sleeves and a rose-covered patch across the back of the garment.
Across the top in pink letters it reads “oginii waabigwankwe” which Lyons said means “pink rose woman.”
People began asking her about the jacket so Lyon decided to start up an Instagram account to showcase the pieces she’s created. The account has been gaining traction and she now has over 1,000 followers.
“I didn’t think that it was going to just blow up like that,” she said.
“It’s a passion project for me.”
Reconnecting with culture
The jackets have served multiple purposes for Lyon. While they’re a creative outlet and a break from her academic work, the creative process has also helped her reconnect with her Anishinaabe culture.
“My dad’s side is Lebanese and my mom’s side is Scottish and Anishinaabe, so we grew up not really knowing too much about my mom’s side, because we didn’t really know her family,” said Lyon.
“She left home when she was quite young.”
Lyon said it’s not something her family talked about much until she and her sister were older.
“And once I started going to university I realized … this is really important for me to to learn more about this,” she said.
Both her mother and sister are crafty and Lyon said that she shares that with them. Learning about culture through art is something that she said makes her feel more whole.
‘I wanted to keep everything sustainable’
Finding the time while studying has been a challenge for Lyon and she said she is forced to limit how many pieces she’s working on, although she’s already made about 25.
Part of the process of creating the pieces is finding jackets and material to put them together.
“I wanted to keep everything sustainable. That’s important to me. I’m a big thrifter,” she said.
“The only time I will buy new jackets is for specific sizes.”
Lyon said she’s been struggling to find larger jackets so she’s had to purchase plus-sized ones new.
“I also try to use all used fabrics so either sheets, pillows, fabric discards at the thrift store or at the fabric store or anything like that,” she said.
To attach the ribbons and fabric to the jackets she uses strong fabric adhesive.
She said it’s amazing to have the opportunity for people to see her work, and even better that people like it and want to purchase it.
“It feels it’s kind of like a dream come true,” she said.
Lyon recently created a piece for Chippewa and Potawatomi artist Chief Lady Bird.
“I really wanted to make her something because I often find that I get inspired by people,” she said.
Chief Lady Bird’s jacket is denim adorned with multicoloured ribbons and a matching fabric patch. Across the top, her traditional name Ogimaa Kwe Bnes is written with black fabric.
“I love wearing my powwow jacket because it makes me feel playful,” said Chief Lady Bird.
“The ribbons on the sleeves remind me of fancy dancers, who dance like butterflies, which is a really playful, fluttery movement. And when she made my jacket for me, she used colours that show up in my paintings and illustrations, so it feels like an extension of my creative energy, which makes me feel really good to be able to wear that.”
“She embeds her creations with a really beautiful and grounded energy, and you can really feel it when you wear it.”