ACONAV Founder Loren Aragon on Building a Couture Fashion Brand and Designing for Disney

Traditional Acoma Pueblo pottery inspires the designs of ACONAV gowns. (Courtesy ACONAV)

For 13 years, Loren Aragon (Acoma Pueblo) designed military applications and weapons simulation programs in Phoenix, Arizona. He couldn’t sew a gown, much less a shirt.

Today, his gown is on display at Disney’s Epcot Center at Walt Disney World Resort in Bay Lake, Florida.

Aragon, founder of couture label ACONAV, is among seven Native artists featured in the Epcot exhibit titled “Creating Tradition: Innovation and Change in American Indian Art.” Aragon’s unique design serves as the centerpiece.

Native actresses including Grace Dove from The Revenant and Tinsley Corey from Twilight have adorned themselves in ACONAV dresses. (Courtesy ACONAV)

Native actresses including Grace Dove from The Revenant and Tinsley Corey from Twilight have adorned themselves in ACONAV dresses. (Courtesy ACONAV)

The gown mirrors a traditional Cinderella-like silhouette, featuring an antique Acoma Pueblo pottery design. It’s directly inspired by an 1800s Acoma pot taken from the vaults of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. The pot’s black and off-white pigment dictated Aragon’s color palette for the gown.

“The pottery and gown will be displayed side-by-side to showcase and tell a story of how these traditional designs can be translated into something different,” Aragon said.

ACONAV aims to reflects traditional Acoma Pueblo and Native pottery, art and culture into wearable, luxury designs. The name ACONAV actually represents a cohesion of cultures—a mash up of Acoma (“ACO”) and Navajo (“NAV”), his wife Valentina’s roots.

Second Career

Transitioning from engineering to couture fashion design certainly required a leap of faith. But to Aragon, an artist at heart, it felt like a natural transition.

A 2008 first-time visit to the Santa Fe Indian Market inspired him to reconnect with his passion for drawing. He quickly found himself sketching fashion designs, and he turned to his mother to teach him to sew.

Aragon started small scale, submitting pieces to fashion shows while holding down his 9-to-5 job.

He participated in his first fashion show at the Pueblo Grande Museum in 2014. His breakout moment came in 2016, when he submitted his first 20-piece collection to the Santa Fe Indian Market.

In 2017, he officially and successfully launched his brand at the acclaimed Phoenix Fashion Week, where he was named Couture Designer of the Year.

Turning a Profit

Aragon continues to bring in the majority of his revenue from fashion shows and Indian markets, such as the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair and Market, and the American Indian Arts Marketplace at the Autry Museum in California.

“Those are still very profitable for my brand. People get to see, touch and buy certain inventory off the racks. I work mostly on a made-to-order basis. Everything is a sample. With couture designs, I create it for their body type,” Aragon explained.

An e-commerce component on ACONAV.com lists spring / summer 2018 collection designs for sale from $4,075 at the high-end to $975 at the low end.

“Our target customer is around 34 years old. She’s an entrepreneurial woman or holds a leadership position. She’s looked up to by a lot of her peers. She’s established in all that she does. She’s in the income level of around $80,000,” Aragon said.

Female Empowerment

ACONAV is rooted in reverence for women. “Really what captures these women is the idea of empowerment—what our brand represents. ACONAV is a celebration of the strength and empowerment of women through positive ideas that are expressed through modern-day fashion and couture designs,” Aragon said.

He added: “We really express a lot of the Acoma matrilineal beliefs [through fashion]. A woman adorned in an ACONAV dress, we want her to feel that empowerment as a celebration of her own strength.”

Aragon emphasized that ACONAV isn’t just for Natives. “It’s for everyone. Part of my intention is to create some unity between what we believe and what the rest of the world believes,” Aragon explained.

Growing ACONAV

ACONAV’s tight-knit crew includes Aragon’s wife, Valentina, who serves as his operations manager. His mother acts as master seamstress for big orders. Aragon also turns to an advisor based in Phoenix and an intern, a recent UCLA graduate currently working from the Hopi Reservation. “She wanted to get back into the textiles scene, so we offered her an opportunity to build her brand alongside helping me get garments made,” Aragon said.

What’s next for ACONAV? Aragon’s aspires to expand with a physical location, beyond his current home studio, and hire a staff.

“In five years, I see ACONAV as a full fashion house—a place where you can shop collections, but in the background a place where everything is produced,” Aragon said. “I also want to get our clothes into boutiques, so people can have more access to what we design, manufacture and produce—to have a piece of what we celebrate.”

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