COO Serene Lawrence and Dev. Lead Kim Kroeker hold up a blanket design by Shirod Younker (Photo by Emilia Wronski)
Eighth Generation, a lifestyle brand owned by the Snoqualmie Tribe, is launching an Urban Manufacturing Initiative (UMI) featuring a line of high-end wool textiles made in Seattle, as well as an expansion of existing in-house manufacturing.
The UMI will kick-off with baby blankets and scarves made with 100% Merino wool, hand finished and distinguished with a special gold label. These new gold label products, which complement Eighth Generation’s existing products, are 100% Native designed.
Cultural Appreciation vs. Cultural Appropriation
In 2015, Eighth Generation shook up the blanket industry by becoming the first Native owned company to offer wool blankets and opening a flagship store at Seattle’s iconic Pike Place Market. Since then, the company’s artist-centric business model and commitment to community engagement has been celebrated as the answer to the cultural appropriation problem. “Cultural art and stories are like any natural resource,” says Louie Gong (Nooksack), the company’s Founder and CEO. “We have to be stewards of the resources we are using. If we just take and take like other companies, we risk destroying them.” The company’s tagline is “Inspired Natives, not Native-inspired.”
Textile artist Gail White Eagle (Muckleshoot and Chehalis), designed a baby blanket and scarf design called “First Light” which will be included in the initial collection. Working with Eighth Generation is different than other companies, as White Eagle notes “To have Eighth Generation take our designs and work with us through the process…It has really uplifted me. It’s been a great process.”
The Urban Manufacturing Initiative is what Chief Operations Officer, Serene Lawrence (Anishinaabe/Hopi), describes as their biggest accomplishment to date. “By adding a line of house-made textiles, we are setting an even higher standard for ethical products featuring cultural art and themes,” says Lawrence. “We know consumers who appreciate and respect Indigenous art want their money to strengthen a tribally-owned company working with Native artists, rather than support corporations with a long history of cultural appropriation.”
Investments & Opportunity
While Native art is ubiquitous in the home décor and fashion industry, Native people have been blocked from acquiring industry knowledge. The UMI, according to Gong, is a tool for acquiring priceless industry knowledge. “We pursue multiple currencies here,” Gong said. “It’s not just about making sales. We want to gather knowledge that has been inaccessible to us and share it with our people.”
Eighth Generation isn’t just creating opportunities for artists with the new Initiative. The small business, which is approximately 70% Native American, has added four new positions associated with the UMI. “Native people have lived on and cared for these lands and resources since time immemorial,” says De Los Angeles. “The Snoqualmie Tribe and Eighth Generation aren’t going anywhere. Eighth Generation’s Urban Manufacturing Initiative is an investment in Native artists, and an investment in the local Salish Sea economy.”
The company also hopes to reclaim the narrative about Native people from corporations that commonly lean heavily on outdated stereotypes when creating false stories to help sell their products. “Each Eighth Generation product, especially the new Gold Label products, carries powerful stories about Native excellence into people’s homes,” said Gong.
“The Snoqualmie Tribe prides itself on making values-based business decisions,” said Robert de los Angeles, Chairman of the Snoqualmie Tribe. “We want to provide the largest and best possible platform for talented and driven Native American artists, and Eighth Generation’s Urban Manufacturing Initiative expands our opportunities to support them.”