October 2023 Fashion/Stylist
D a n t e B i s s -G r a y s o n
Sky Eagle Collection
Fashion Designer & Artist Veteran-Native-Osage
What inspired you to start your journey as a fashion designer and artist ?
I am inspired by the beauty of the world around me. I believe that fashion can be a powerful tool for self-expression. Also, I believe that it is important to honor one's heritage. I am proud to be a Native American designer. I founded the Sky Eagle Collection with my wife, Yanti, who is my muse and the premier of the Fashion House. We named the brand after our daughter. It is more than just a fashion brand. It is a celebration of Native American culture and a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. Together, we are building a legacy that honors our heritage and inspires others to follow their dreams.
What does the name Sky Eagle represent?
I am from the Osage Nation, and my clan is Eagle. My Osage Name is Wa-Sa-Ta, which means First Son of the Eagle Clan. My daughter is also part of the Eagle Clan, and our people are from the Sky and Earth People. I see the Eagle in the Sky as hope and inspiration, just like my daughter.
Why do you think it is important to integrate art into your fashion designs?
I think it is important to integrate art into fashion designs because it allows designers to express themselves creatively, and to create unique and interesting pieces. Art can be used to convey a message, to tell a story, or simply to create something beautiful. When integrated into fashion, art can add a new dimension to a garment and make it stand out from the rest. In your case, it seems that art has always been a big part of your life. You grew up in the fine art world and studied fashion design at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. It is no surprise, then, that you would want to integrate art into your work. Fashion is a visual medium, and art can help to make your designs more visually appealing. Additionally, art can add meaning and depth to your designs. When you use art in your work, you are not just creating a garment, you are creating a piece of art.
" Art can be used to convey a message, to tell a story, or simply to create something beautiful".
How has your culture impacted your life as an artist?
As an artist, I am grateful for the ways in which my culture has impacted my life. I am proud of my heritage and the strong sense of identity it has given me. My Osage culture has influenced my art in many ways, both consciously and unconsciously. For example, I am drawn to certain themes or symbols that are important in Osage culture, and I use traditional Osage art techniques in my work. My culture is a source of great inspiration for me. I am grateful to be able to share my story with others.
"My Osage culture has influenced my art in many ways, both consciously and unconsciously. For example, I am drawn to certain themes or symbols that are important in Osage culture, and I use traditional Osage art techniques in my work".
Where is your art studio located?
We are located in Taos, New Mexico, right next to the Taos Pueblo.
How would you describe your artistic style?
Expressionistic for Art. For Fashion, more classic and yet bold. And for Poetry, new Zen.
Tell us more about the fashion shows you have attended. What does the start to finish process looks like preparing for a fashion show?
I have attended and produced fashion shows in New York, London, Cannes, and Denver. Also, I produced three sold-out shows in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The process of preparing for a fashion show is long and complex. It starts with months of planning and scouting for a venue. Once a venue is secured, the next step is to book models, hair and makeup artists, and musicians. The show's logistics must also be carefully planned, including the transportation of clothes, models, and equipment.
On the day of the show, there is a lot of last-minute preparation. The models must be dressed and styled, and the clothes must be hung on racks. The sound and lighting must be tested, and the runway must be cleared of any obstacles.
The show itself is a whirlwind of activity. The models walk down the runway, and the audience applauds. After the show, there is a reception where guests can mingle with the models and designers.
I love producing fashion shows. It is a lot of work, but it is also very rewarding. I enjoy seeing my vision come to life and seeing the audience enjoy the show.
I use my military planning prowess to plan for shows, as if we are going to war! There are a series of planning and scoping meetings, then details such as models, sound, lighting, makeup all have to be attended to. Then you have promo and press releases. A good show takes time to plan and execute, and building a team to make your vision a reality is key.
Are there any challenges you've had to overcome as a designer?
As a fashion designer, I have faced many challenges. One of the biggest challenges is the exploitation that occurs in the fashion industry. Models are often treated horribly and not paid fairly. Hair and makeup crews are also often treated poorly. I want to be a beacon of change in the fashion industry, and I believe that treating people with dignity and respect is the first step. In my shows, I always pay my models and crew fairly, and I make sure that they are treated well. I hope that other fashion designers will follow my lead and help to create a more ethical fashion industry.
What are some words of advice that you can give to future designers who want to
integrate art into their designs?
Don't wait to be discovered: Take initiative and put yourself out there. Don't wait for opportunities to come to you, go out and find them.
Have a great long term strategic plan: Know what you want to achieve and make a plan to get there.
"Don't wait to be discovered: Take initiative and put yourself out there. Don't wait for opportunities to come to you, go out and find them".
Work hard: Don't be afraid to put in the hard work. Success doesn't come easy.
Be flexible: Be prepared to adapt your plans as needed. Things don't always go according to plan, so be willing to change course if necessary.
Have fun along the way: Enjoy the journey! Success is more rewarding when you enjoy the process of getting there.
Outside of your businesses, what are some other hobbies that you enjoy?
I am a big fan of chess, I enjoy the mountains and skiing, and I am a huge football fan!
P r e & P e r i
What inspired you to start Pre&Peri?
As a child, I enjoyed dressing up, drawing different clothing designs, and watching Fashion Television. My mom signed me up for sewing lessons where I took an interest in costume design. My choices from there moved me toward different creative elements of the film industry, so I went to college to become a hairstylist. After developing chronic pain, I completed the program, but decided to go to a university to develop my academic skills due to my physical limitations. Still, I couldn’t get away from the desire to be with fabric, so when I had the opportunity to take a program offered by the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI), I took the chance. Their Fashion Your Future (FYF) program focused on developing a fashion accessory line. I came away from the program with an amazing foundation for building a fashion brand, which I transferred to a clothing line four years later.
How has your culture and heritage influenced your journey as an entrepreneur?
When I started the FYF program, I just wanted to make something pretty; I didn’t have any specific direction. They advised us to use our personal lives as influence to make something more meaningful. I’ve always identified as Indigenous (Anishinaabe specifically) and been proud of it, but I didn’t grow up with Anishinaabe traditions. I had some exposure to my culture from going to powwows and some programs at the Indian Friendship Centre, but that is a tiny drop in the bucket of the rich culture of my ancestors. Over the years, I’ve taken steps to learn more by going to sweat lodges and other ceremonies, seeing Traditional Healers, completing a minor degree in what was then called Aboriginal Studies, and visiting art galleries and museums to see works from Indigenous artists. These activities do not compare to growing up living the culture in daily life, but they have influenced me in many ways, including creatively. My motifs are inspired by traditional teachings, dreams, Woodland Art, and Nature. I combine these with mainstream graphic art trends and use the resulting designs to decorate various items of clothing to create everyday wearable Indigenous artwork.
On a more personal note, being an entrepreneur has helped me push my limitations as a shy and reserved person, leading to me being more actively involved in the Indigenous community in Toronto. The growing sense of community I’m now experiencing is enriching my daily life.
"My motifs are inspired by traditional teachings, dreams, Woodland Art, and Nature. I combine these with mainstream graphic art trends and use the resulting designs to decorate various items of clothing to create everyday wearable Indigenous artwork".
What does the "Pre and Peri" represent in your brand name?
Pre- and peri- are prefixes meaning “before and during” making Pre&Peri a fitting name for a brand that merges pre-colonial Indigenous traditions with our current “peri-colonial,” everyday life.
Where are you located?
I operate Pre&Peri out of my home in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Do you have an online store?
Yes, I have an online store with shipping across Canada and the United States. I hope to one day ship to all countries around the world!
Why did you decide to focus on selling streetwear apparel?
People have been dressing more and more casually for all occasions over recent decades and the pandemic really solidified that. While I still love dressing up for special occasions, I wanted to create clothing that people could wear every day. Also, I have a newfound personal bias now that I am a full-time mom to a toddler - t-shirts and leggings are my daily uniform!
How do you integrate art and Nature into your clothing designs?
All of my motifs are nature-based. Animals and plants native to Turtle Island (North America), such as turtles and trilliums, occur frequently in my designs. Trilliums are Ontario's provincial flower, which I would see on hikes through the bush where I grew up in Northern Ontario. The segmented floral artwork style I use is influenced by Indigenous beadwork that I would see at powwows as a child.
"All of my motifs are nature-based. Animals and plants native to Turtle Island (North America), such as turtles and trilliums, occur frequently in my designs. Trilliums are Ontario's provincial flower, which I would see on hikes through the bush where I grew up in Northern Ontario. The segmented floral artwork style I use is influenced by Indigenous beadwork that I would see at powwows as a child".
What does 'Made in Turtle Island' mean?
Turtle Island is the name that many Indigenous nations use when referring to North America. When sourcing materials for Pre&Peri, I believe in keeping as much of our production as possible within Turtle Island in order to maintain a clearer supply chain, ensure the social equity of the people involved in the various stages of production, support our local economy, and reduce our carbon footprint by reducing shipping distances during production. Currently, all of our apparel is made in the Greater Toronto Area, including the fabric, while our socks are knitted in Alberta and our headwear is made in British Columbia."
Are there any challenges you've had to overcome as a CEO?
As a sole proprietor with no employees and no background in business, I have had to learn how to do every role myself, including marketing, running a website, negotiating deals with potential retailers, sourcing suppliers, learning the laws about labeling textiles, collecting taxes etc. Initially, I found it difficult to find relevant resources online – my Google searches didn’t return many resources for running an Indigenous clothing business or even a Made in Canada clothing business. Thankfully, I’ve since connected with other business owners facing similar challenges and that sense of community is a huge help. The longer I work at my business and engage with other business owners and customers, the more resources I have been able to find.
What are some words of advice that you can give to future entrepreneurs who want to open a clothing store?
Seek out resources like fashion incubators for guidance, go to trade shows, attend webinars about the business of fashion, and see what other brands are doing to help you find what resonates with you. Once you have developed and tested your product, be authentic and consistent with your branding and marketing and you will find the people who will become loyal customers.
"Once you have developed and tested your product, be authentic and consistent with your branding and marketing and you will find the people who will become loyal customers".
Can you leave our readers with daily motivational advice about how they can begin connecting back to their heritage?
It isn’t an option for everyone, but if you can, ask your family members. Find an organization or group that focuses on an element of your heritage, such as language or dance and get to know the people there. That will lead you to another experience and then another and so on. Specifically, for Indigenous people in Canadian cities, you can visit your local friendship centre or attend a powwow. If you are in a rural area, then there are social media groups for people looking for connections to their heritage. Taking that first step might be scary, but it will launch you on your unique journey of rediscovering your roots.
Outside of your business, what are some other hobbies that you enjoy?
I don’t have much time for hobbies these days because I am a full-time mom. This only leaves me a few hours on weekdays plus weekends to work on my business. When I get a little time to myself, I listen to historical fiction audiobooks while playing Candy Crush or Water Sort on my phone. In my pre-diaper-changing days, I liked to play piano, learn about historic buildings in Toronto, learn (but never master) new crafts and art forms, study new languages, and play board games.
Photographer: William Galeano