Acclaimed visual artist Jordan Bennett's first foray into the fashion world has been a sellout success within a matter of hours, and no one is more surprised than Bennett himself.
"It's pretty amazing, a bit overwhelming, and exciting to see these Mi'kmaq designs go into the mainstream fashion world," Bennett said of the whirlwind launch of his two scarves, a collaborative project between the Stephenville Crossing artist and online giant eBay.
Bennett's designs went on sale on eBay's website at midnight Tuesday. By 7 a.m. NT the entire initial run of 20 scarves, priced at $75 a pop, were spoken for.
"I was expecting that they would kind of be purchased here and there, and people would be pretty excited about them, but I wasn't expecting this kind of outcome," he told CBC News.
From spam to scarves
Perhaps most exciting for Bennett was to take part in the project highlighting Indigenous fashion at all: the collaboration had seemed too good to be true when it first landed in his email inbox.
"I get this email, I see 'eBay collaboration' in the title, and I was like, oh wow — some type of spam," laughed Bennett.
A careful second read showed eBay wasn't joking around: it really did want Bennett to design two limited-edition scarves, as part of a collection pairing Canadian Indigenous heritage with modern aesthetics.
"They emailed me back, and it was very legit and very exciting. They reached out to me and they enjoyed my designs and my paintings and carvings, and asked if I was up to the challenge of putting it into the form of fashion."
The Grenfell Campus fine arts graduate, fresh off a master's thesis that involved exploring Mi'kmaq imagery, used the eBay offer to delve even deeper into that work. He chose Mi'kmaq quillwork — a traditional craft that uses porcupine quills to create colourful, stylized designs — as the starting point for the scarves.
Bennett researched various quillwork designs, drawing on friends, family and other artists for what he calls a "reawakening" of aspects of the Mi'kmaq art form.
"A lot of the motifs that you see in the porcupine quillwork, a lot of the meanings are not known or they're forgotten. So it's been working with the community and working with colleagues to bring them back to life, and give them another chance to speak."
For his colourful scarf Red Porcupine Quill Mountain, Bennett used stylized motifs he says echo the dramatic mountains and oceans of where he grew up.
"On the west coast of Newfoundland, it's nothing but mountains and shorelines, so this is kind of a story, a snippet, of our history," he said, although he added that fashion-wise, the monochrome design of his scarf Seasons Through Black and White fits better with his wardrobe.
Helping a local cause
Bennett has so far enjoyed dipping his toes into the world of commercial goods, and all the more so because he got to pick the charity that would enjoy the scarves' proceeds: the St. John's Native Friendship Centre.
"It was kind of a no-brainer for me," he said of his choice, adding that as a high-profile member of the province's Indigenous community, he wanted to give back, especially in light of tough economic times that have organizations like the Friendship Centre tightening their belts.
"I try to represent our community as strongly as I can and as respectfully as I can."
Bennett's scarves, along with two others created by Patrick Hunter, an Ontario-based artist of Ojibwa heritage, are on sale until Oct. 18, with eBay Canada set to make more of the sold-out designs available on as they are requested.