Take it slowly | Features

Anishinaabe designer Jenna Wood talks about art, creativity and slow fashion
By Jillian Manning | September 10, 2022

The fashion industry – particularly fast fashion, defined by trendy and cheap items – has been spotlighted in recent years as one of the biggest polluters in the world. Earth.org, a Hong Kong-based nonprofit, reports that 60% of clothing is made with plastic-based materials like polyester, and 85% of all textiles produced end up in landfills each year.

That’s a lot of waste in the long run just so we can wear our $5 “Pumpkin Spice and Everything Nice” t-shirts twice a year.

“I would be an advocate for slow fashion, swapping clothes and saving money,” says local Anishinaabe designer Jenna Wood, explaining that “slow fashion is about creating something yourself as well as fixing clothes we had or reusing things we had before. …essentially a paradigm shift of what this world could be.

Not exactly what you would expect from someone with a degree in clothing and textile design. Wood acknowledges this, noting that there’s a fine line between doing what she loves and having to make a living.

“I’m still trying to figure out my path and what I want to do,” she says. “I love that other Indigenous artists are featured, with their beautiful patterns and all that, but I think conceptually that kind of work doesn’t necessarily resonate with me because overconsumption and fashion have an impact on this world. .”

To take off
Wood has been an artist and designer since her earliest memories, which include sewing pillows, stuffed animals and doll clothes with her grandmother.

But Wood’s real start in the fashion and design game came at a time of great upheaval at the start of the pandemic. She was working with feather boxes – intricate and delicate containers decorated with porcupine quills – when the idea of ​​making a feather mask came to her. This mask (pictured), continued to appear in the Dennos Museum Center Close to the house exhibit (2021) and is now in a traveling exhibit by MSU.

Wood calls the mask project “transformative for my career” and says quills in general have a special place in his heart.

“By looking at the materials, and how they’re put together, and how they’ve changed over time, and the colors people used in the past, you can trace the lineage back to the designs,” she explains. . She says her type of quills is not only specific to her tribe (the bands of Odawa Indians of Little Traverse Bay), but that the degraded quills of Midwestern porcupines are unique to those in the rest of the country.

To slow down
Featherboxes inspired her, a mask put her on the map, and now Wood is leaning towards a mix of edgy fashion and environmentally-focused art. But all of this work is done slowly and intentionally, in keeping with her desire to avoid the fast fashion trap.

“I want to encourage slow fashion because the process of collecting, dismantling and reassembling materials is a very slow process,” she says. “That’s definitely what I’ve found in my work – basically taking it apart and putting it together in smaller pieces to create this bigger, crazy, textured, dramatic piece.”

Wood describes his creative process as kind of free-for-all, at least at first. “The design stage is where you can have the most imagination because you don’t have the burden of gravity or space,” she says, noting that her first attempt at a new design or… Artwork doesn’t have to be “completely logical”, and that even mistakes or bad ideas can “lead to something more beautiful and connected to the concept”.

She favors asymmetrical silhouettes to allow for more movement and calls herself an “abstract artist-designer” rather than someone who focuses on perfection. In addition to porcupine quills, some of his favorite materials to work with include birch bark and other rustic, colorful fibers and natural products.

“The reason why I wanted to combine fashion and my natural materials is that I could appeal to a wider audience, because I think the younger generation is particularly attracted to fashion.” said Wood. “I also think fashion can be socially transformative.”

make the change
Social transformation – and the important conversations that drive it – is another point of passion for Wood. His work is currently featured in an installation titled I SEE YOU at the Children’s Museum of the Great Lakes in Traverse City. his piece, Nibii, depicts a loon and a sturgeon, two Anishinaabe aquatic spirits. She says the purpose of the collection is to raise awareness of Enbridge’s Line 5 project.

“I went out west last October and was talking to some people, and they had never heard of Line 5. So I was like, ‘Oh, I really want to do something that can just raise awareness people about it.” I’m not trying to impose opinions on anyone, I just want people to know that this is something that exists. Like it or not, it is a threat to our natural environment. … I really wanted to open up lines of conversation.

Speaking of conversations, our conversation with Wood takes place as she completes an artist-in-residence program on Mackinac Island at Mackinac State Historic Parks. This fall, she is traveling to Cross Village for the Good Hart artist residency. In both residencies, she will create what she calls “the traditional artwork” which focuses on creating a visual voice for nibii (water) through art and design. Meanwhile, Wood is also building an online store for his work.

Her final piece of advice as we return to the concept of fashion is to take the time to do it right…or do it yourself.

“I think when you create an item of clothing that’s a nice color or fabric or something, and you put your time and energy into it, you’re also better able to take care of it. It’s a whole other level of connection and relationship that you have,” she says.

“I also think anyone can design their own clothes. A lot of people think, “Oh, I don’t have the patience for that” or “I could never do something like that.” I’m not creative.’ … I think it’s a myth, because creativity is [in] the eye of the beholder.

Find Jenna Wood’s work on jennamwood.wordpress.com (portfolio) and @fibersnquills on Instagram.

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