Sometimes, the phrase “meteoric rise” is overused. But it’s a fitting description for Rebecca Baker-Grenier’s last two years as a fashion designer.
Since the Kwakiutl-Dzawada’enuxw-Skwxwú7mesh creator won a YVR Emerging Artist scholarship in 2021, her professional life has been a buzz. It began when her dress, “Wazulis”, was displayed at Vancouver International Airport and then at the Museum of Vancouver.
Baker-Grenier unveiled her first full collection of her Kanayu brand at New York Fashion Week in September 2022. The same year, she presented it at Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week. This was followed by an invitation this year to the Santa Fe Indian Market Fashion Show to show her we are warriors collection.
On Tuesday (November 21), Baker-Grenier showed we are warriors at Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week.
“It’s inspired by our ancestral warriors who fought to protect our communities, our families, our cultures,” Baker-Grenier tells Pancouver by phone. “It pays tribute to all of us as Indigenous people as we continue to revitalized our cultures and our cultural practices—and continue to heal from the ongoing effects of colonialism.”
She says that collection pieces were inspired by warrior armour and copper materials.
“It’s considered to be a living metal,” Baker-Grenier explains. “It changes colour from brown to blue to black. So, all of the colours are representative of the theme of copper.”
A career highlight came last year when she was featured in the ultra-chic Vogue along with 10 other designers at Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week. She reappeared in Vogue this year. Baker-Grenier also made an Elle Canada list of “5 Indigenous Fashion Designers You Need to Know”.
“It’s always such an honour to be considered for opportunities like that,” she says modestly.
Baker-Grenier comes from family of artists
It’s not just the magazine world that’s taken notice of her. Baker-Grenier is one of many young Indigenous artists whose works are on display at the Bright Futures exhibition at the Bill Reid Gallery.
“I have another piece that’s going to be on exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History in New York,” Baker-Grenier adds. “That one feels like it’s not even real to say it. I’m very excited.”
Perhaps all of this success shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, given her ancestry. Baker-Grenier’s grandfather was legendary Kwakiutl artist and hereditary chief Tony Hunt Sr. His work is featured at Thunderbird Park and the big house at the Royal B.C. Museum. (Last year, Pancouver interviewed Baker-Grenier’s great-uncle and master carver Richard Hunt, one of Tony Hunt Sr.’s brothers.)
Baker-Grenier says that she loves being a fashion designer precisely because it’s connected to art.
“I think that is just ingrained in me coming from the family and lineage that I come from.”
However, it hasn’t been an easy road for her family. She grew up away from her ancestral territories because her mom was adopted at birth as part of the Sixties Scoop. Her mom reconnected with her Indigenous heritage, so Baker-Grenier was raised knowing about this.
Her fashion roots can be traced back to childhood days playing in her mom’s sewing room.
“She taught me how to use a sewing machine and I made my first dance regalia at the age of 11,” Baker-Grenier recalls. “And I just loved it.”
From regalia to fashion design
“Sometimes, we use geometrics; other times, we use floral,” Baker-Grenier reveals. “I think to become a master at it takes a lifetime—and sometimes more. So, I think I’m still very much learning formline.”
In 2021, Baker-Grenier ventured into fashion because she wanted to push herself creatively.
“I reached out to my Auntie Pam Baker and asked if she would mentor me,” she says.
At that time, the aspiring fashion designer was leaning toward including a lot of black in her designs. However, Baker, a celebrated fashion designer in her own right, advised her that while black is nice, it’s also a very safe choice. As a result, Baker-Grenier avoided this colour, choosing more vibrant colours for her first full line, while incorporating the principles of formline in the patterns.
“It’s definitely a lot of work to design, but it’s all fun,” she states.
When asked where she sees her career going from here, Baker-Grenier replies that she’s already brainstorming ideas for the next couple of years. Plus, she just released her first ready-to-wear collection this month.
“I think making Indigenous fashion more accessible and at a lower price point is important,” Baker-Grenier says. “Because for me, wearing something that represents Indigenous identity can be so powerful.”
Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week continues on Thursday (November 23) with the Spirit of the West show at Queen Elizabeth Theatre. It features designs by Musqueam artists Debra and Aleen Sparrow, Tsuu T’ina Nation (Dee) designer Livia Manywounds, Nuxalk and Onondaga designer JB the First Lady, Haida artist Corey Bullpit, and Lutsel ke Dene First Nations designer Tishna Marlow, Metis Nation of Ontario member Jason Baerg, and Northern Tutchone and Tlingit artist Kaylyn Baker. Tickets are available on the website. Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week will conclude on Saturday (November 25) with an after-party at Performance Works on Granville Island.