Courtesy Etkie
Megan Red Shirt-Shaw (Oglala Lakota Sioux), partnerships director and spokeswoman for Etkie. Beyond work, she enjoys living in the Bay Area, learning about projects for Indigenous youth and the idea that a college education opportunity can change one’s trajectory forever. Her favorite phrase her mother ever taught her in Lakota is “Weksuye, Ciksuye, Miksuye” meaning “I remember, I remember you, Remember me.”

How Etkie Beaded Bracelets Financially and Socially Empower Native Women

Lee Allen
6/4/14

Etkie turns beads into fashionable dreams by helping at-risk Native women gain financial independence and pride.

If one footstep can begin a lifelong journey, so too can a single piece of jewelry. 

A new start-up firm comprised of several Native women, Etkie, is hopeful their line of hand-beaded bracelets is the start of such a journey. 

“As contemporary Native America sees a re-emergence of artists, designers and social advocates in communities with Indian populations, our company is committed to the financial and social empowerment of Native American women in New Mexico,” says founder Sydney Alfonso. 

The leader of the Etkie team was raised (by Kerry, the mother half of the mother-daughter team) in rural New Mexico where she grew up surrounded by inspiring, determined and talented women—a childhood that begat passion about social consumerism, financial inclusion and gender equality in the workplace. While Sydney and Kerry had many adventures collecting wearable treasures from around the world, they understood that some of the most unique and culturally important jewelry could be found in their own backyard.

Kerry (Sydney's mom), Lead Designer Dru Chackee (Navajo) and Founder Sydney Alfonso (Courtesy Etkie)

“It wasn’t like I just woke up and said, ‘Let me do this’, it was a gradual process in realizing the battle I wanted to fight. We’ll work with Native female artisans who lack accessibility to public markets, to bridge the gap between the mainstream fashion industry and artistry to continue to thrive in traditional Native communities,” she says. “Their products will sell at fair prices in order to earn a higher income and eventually attain financial independence.

“I believe in empowerment of Native American artisans and entrepreneurs and through development of formal partnerships with artistic creators, women who exhibit traditional talent, we will have the power to change mainstream concepts of what it means to be a contemporary indigenous woman today. Across the country, there should be more companies focusing on undiscovered talent of those who deserve America’s support.”

The company’s web page references documented Bureau of Indian Affairs statements about Native American women facing gender inequalities and notes, “By assisting individual women with opportunities to increase financial independence, these women can enhance their creative voice and confidence as contributors to the global economic community.” 

Founded in 2013, Etkie recently completed a successful start-up fundraising campaign that has allowed them to deliver the first set of micro-loans to artisans including lead designer Dru Chackee (Navajo). While beading is historically a Plains Indian tradition, other Native communities have adopted it as a means of resilience to support their families, and this fledgling facility wants to follow that trend.

The care and commitment seen on every piece that Dru and other women from her community bead is incomparable to what’s seen in mass markets, says  Megan Red Shirt-Shaw. (Courtesy Etkie)

Etkie bracelets are hand-beaded on a traditional Navajo loom, made with high-quality seed beads sewn onto genuine deerskin linings sourced from a New Mexico leather company, and finished with custom buttons. The leather ties can be untied and adjusted to allow for modification of the six-inch-long bracelets to most wrist sizes. Each wrap bracelet is handcrafted and takes between four and six hours to make.

“Launching a new business from nothing can be intimidating and I’m impressed with what Etkie has accomplished thus far with limited resources,” says Dr. Jessica Metcalfe (Turtle Mountain Chippewa), who not long ago took the entrepreneurial plunge in establishing Beyond Buckskin Boutique. “Both our companies will work with individual artists to launch and grow their own businesses.”

RELATED: Beyond Buckskin Boutique, Online Store Featuring Native-Made High Fashion, Launches

Back-to-School and Father's Day Gift Guide ideas

The successful Metcalfe foresees success in the Etkie effort:

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Michael Madrid's picture
Michael Madrid
Submitted by Michael Madrid on
I'm always happy to see a new art-related business open up in my home state, even happier if it's Native owned. I wish them luck and will do what I can to support them.
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