Growing up on Whitefish Lake First Nation, Derek Jagodzinsky was always interested in art and design. But he doesn’t recall a particular person or influence that guided him to his current path as founder of LUXX Ready To Wear — a clothing designer is pretty much what he’s always been.
Talking in his downtown loft, surrounded by fabric and clothing made from elk, buckskin and even fish leather (with classical music playing softly in the background), Jagodzinsky reflects on his 10th year as a Cree fashion creator. “I feel like I’ve found my voice, and it’s what I would call a modern Indigenous vibe. Each collection is an ideal version of real life,” he says. “Growing up, it wasn’t very in vogue to be Indigenous, and that’s kind of why I do it, to create a new visual language to help strengthen new Indigenous identity.”
His voice has certainly found an audience, with his designs being featured in Western Canada Fashion Week, as well as the Native Fashion Now exhibit that toured throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian National Museum. But he finds his biggest challenge is the same all independent designers face. “Due to mass production, I feel like fashion is a dying art, and that’s really sad. It’s appreciated by some people, but Gucci, Armani and Versace and all those remain at the forefront because they have huge financial backing.”
The idea of overcoming the destruction done by the rich and powerful is not just familiar to Jagodzinsky, it’s something he’s used to fuel his art. His 2019 Spring/Summer Rainbow Warriors Collection’s theme was based around a prophecy about everyone coming together at a time of planetary destruction — led largely by profit-seeking corporations — to restore harmony between people and the Earth. “It’s certainly apocalyptic, but it’s also trying to be inspiring, to say we have to work together to fix what’s been done here. Because the environment is not just an Indigenous thing, it’s a human thing.”
Jagodzinksy grabs a print that sums up that cultural cohesion in a single image: The encircled busts of two women, one Indigenous, one Japanese, facing each other, expressing the same sentiment in their different languages. “They’re both saying, ‘We will succeed,’” he says. “It’s a dialogue between them, and a mantra for all nations. Because we’re all different tribes, but we’re all together and, as Cree people, we want to share our culture.”