Jamie Gentry’s handmade moccasins are more than a product – they’re a way to connect. The artist uses her platform to share her experiences, spotlight other creators and raise awareness about cultural appropriation. A finalist in the Doing Good category of the 2020 Tales of Triumph Contest, Jamie explains what her art is really about and how Jamie Gentry Designs came to be.
What was the inspiration for your small business?
I’m from the Kwakwaka’wakw Nation and I was fortunate to grow up immersed in culture and surrounded by talented artists. My whole life I was drawn to the arts, music, dance, but I was particularly drawn to working with my hands – whether it was sewing, beading or weaving.
I learned how to make moccasins about six years ago. I was lucky enough to land a seat in a workshop offered by the local band, and it just took on a life of its own from there.
I’m a stay-at-home mom with three children and I had been looking for a way to contribute financially to our family. Initially I was making upcycled quilts and children’s clothing, but once I started making moccasins, I couldn’t stop. But I never anticipated that I could make a living doing this.
Growing up, I didn’t see Indigenous artists or Indigenous business owners growing and making a living off of what they were passionate about. I’m so grateful and I hope it inspires other Indigenous people to follow their heart, their passion, and know that they can do this, too.
Want to learn more and see Jamie’s handmade moccasins?Visit her website
Tell us about the products you create
I make traditional, custom-made moccasins for modern day living. My focus is on style, comfort and durability with an emphasis on sustainability. Each pair is cut, beaded, sewn and carved by hand and infused with love. I don’t cut into my hides until I know who the moccasins are for so I can put thoughtful, specific intentions into each pair. From my heart to your sole.
My goal is to create meaningful connections through moccasin making. When we connect with the maker and the product, we are more likely to hold that product close, and it is less likely to end up in a landfill.
How did you transform your passion for making Indigenous art into an online business?
When I started making moccasins, I was accepted as a Storyboot Artist with Manitobah Mukluks. That involved me sending them my work. They would photograph, list, promote and sell it for me, and then 100 per cent of the sale came to me. Their reasoning for offering this is that, as an Indigenous company, it’s part of our culture to share the wealth. This is what we do.
I originally had an order form on my website for people who were coming directly to me. They found me on social media and they knew what they wanted. But there were a lot of flaws with the order form. There weren’t pictures and so sometimes there was a misunderstanding of what someone was ordering. People could make changes to their orders, which is really hard to keep up with because they would often message me on Instagram and not send me an email. It was just too much for me to balance and juggle on my own, so I recently decided to open an online shop on my website.
The online store has moccasins without beadwork or embossing. So, the online store is a limited option right now as I figure out how to move forward with adding in different colours and other styles. This is just phase one. It’s definitely a work in progress. It’s a lot of work, and it’s humbling.
What were some of the challenges you faced as you got your small business going?
Having to learn the business side of this has been a challenge. Having to market, promote, sell, create the product, ship the product, package it – everything is done by me. That was a really big learning curve.
I did have help with my website, but otherwise I am an introvert. I spent my life being a wallflower, trying to blend into the background, so promoting my work and myself required stepping outside my comfort zone.
You were a finalist in the Doing Good category of the 2020 Tales of Triumph Contest. How does doing good underpin your work?
We live in a fast-paced society, where people expect immediate gratification. My goal is to remind people to slow down, appreciate and put thought into where their money is going and who is benefiting.
There’s an abundance of appropriated and “inspired by” Indigenous items available for sale. These products not only take away from our cultures, they are dehumanizing. There is no significance behind them other than being a cute accessory. I want to raise awareness and create connection so that our cultures are valued and respected.
I use my platform to educate as well as promote other artists. I want to share their work to encourage others to purchase “Indigenous made” not “Indigenous inspired.” Purchasing authentically made Indigenous work gives back to community, promotes cultural connection and ensures that purchases aren’t appropriated.
Having an online platform allows me to share educational resources and raise awareness around Indigenous rights, history, art and life. On my social media I share educational resources as well as places to donate to social movements. Before the pandemic I received a lot of backlash from people who felt I was just being another native looking for a handout, or that I should just get over [cultural appropriation]. Now people thank me for sharing.
Many people are looking to learn and understand right now, and I want to do everything I can to help, so we can heal. So our people can finally be valued and respected.
There’s more where that came from!
Discover all the incredible finalists of the 2021 Tales of Triumph Contest.Meet the finalists