Inuit 'wear their culture on their sleeve, literally': Inuk designer gears up for Indigenous fashion week

Inuk designer Nooks Lindell didn't always feel like he fit in in Arviat, Nunavut. Now, the 28-year-old is heading to Toronto for the city's inaugural Indigenous fashion week.

Nunavut designer Nooks Lindell mixes modern and traditional Inuit style

Nooks Lindell is one of the co-owners of Arviat-based Hinaani Design, which will be featured at Toronto's inaugural Indigenous fashion week starting May 31. (Nooks Lindell )

In Arviat, Nunavut, where the hunting culture draws Inuit boys and men to the land, and function rules over fashion, Inuk designer Nooks Lindell didn't always feel like he fit in.

"You could kind of still feel it that men are supposed to be the hunters and the providers and not really caring about what kind of clothes you wear as long as it's warm," said Lindell

Now, the 28-year-old is heading to the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, where 22 designers — including at least six Inuit artists — from across Canada, the U.S. and Greenland will come together.​

"I've always been interested in [fashion] but for a lot of my youth I kinda had to hide it or kind of mute what I was wearing."

Combined fashion and culture

Once Lindell realized he didn't have to choose between fashion and embracing Inuit culture, he fused the two. He's the co-owner of Arviat-based Hinaani Design, along with Paula Ikuutaq Rumbolt and Emma Kreuger

Their street-style clothing — hats, bomber jackets, pants and T-shirts — mix modern with traditional Inuit style.

"We noticed Inuit like to really wear their culture on their sleeve, literally," said Lindell.

"We're seeing a lot of people buying clothes that are similar to the Inuit traditional tattoo ... or things that are kind of shaped like ulus [traditional Inuit knives]."

Leggings designed by Hinaani were inspired by traditional Inuit clothing. (hinaani.ca)

Fighting cultural appropriation

Organizers and artists alike feel it's time for Indigenous designs to be showcased by Indigenous designers.

"It seems like we should have been doing this a lot sooner, especially with mainstream media and fashion often appropriating our culture," said Lindell.

"It's really empowering to see us having our own Indigenous fashion show."

The four-day event, which launches May 31, will feature dozens of artists whose authentic work simply needed a spotlight, says founder and artistic designer Sage Paul.

"It gets exhausting having to constantly call out ... and say this person's appropriating that person," said Paul.

"I realized how much energy was being spent on that when we have hundreds of artists and designers creating our own work and we just needed to have that stage."

Ottawa-based Inuk artist Martha Kyak's designs will also be featured at Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. (Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto)

Could be annual event

Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto will feature runway shows, a marketplace, workshops and panels all designed to elevate and celebrate Indigenous artists and to connect them with industry stakeholders.

The event will celebrate Indigenous fashion through more of an artistic lense than a commercial one, says Paul who hopes to make the event an annual one.

"To be able to have us all in one space is just, I'm going to be incredibly moved and overwhelmed with joy."

That's a feeling Lindell is looking forward to as well — he says he couldn't have imagined this event two decades ago. He hopes Inuit youth who care about fashion and design will hear about the event and feel like they belong. 

"It's OK if you're not the best athlete, if you're not the best hunter but you still love your culture; you can draw it, you can create art through it.

"I really struggled with my self-esteem, I know when I'm wearing what I really want to wear it really helps with my self-esteem. You look good, you feel good."

About the Author

Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary reporter

Meghan Grant is the courts and crime reporter for CBC Calgary.