Aaniin, an Indigenous pop-up fashion hub, opens in downtown Toronto

Aaniin Retail Inc. is a collective of about 25 designers and artists in Toronto’s shipping container market, Stackt.

Pop-up in Stackt shipping container market to feature work from 25 Indigenous creators,

Storefront with a canopy of coloured umbrellas.
Aaniin opens Saturday at Toronto's Stackt Market, where it will remain until January 2025. (Robbie Harper)

Chelsee-Marie Pettit was walking in downtown Toronto when she thought she recognized another Indigenous person because they were wearing Ojibway syllabics on their clothing. 

"I felt very seen in Toronto, a feeling I've never really felt before as an Indigenous person," Pettit said, having recently moved there.

But when she got closer, Pettit realized it was just a triangle. 

"It made me just realize, like, why don't we see indigenous languages more regularly? There's so many words," she said.

This was the inspiration for her clothing shop aaniin retail inc. 

Aaniin, a collective of about 25 designers and artists, including Pettit's streetwear collection, opens Saturday in Toronto's shipping container market, Stackt. Aaniin did its first pop-up at Stackt in October 2021 and sold out in a weekend.

Woman wearing red sweatshirt and hat.
One of the shirts with Ojibway syllabics that spell aaniin (hello). (Robbie Harper)

Pettit is from Aamjiwnaang First Nation near Sarnia, Ont. Her mom is white and her dad is Ojibway.

"I'm always trying to think of how to integrate both sides and how to walk in both worlds," said Pettit.

The majority of her customers are non-Indigenous and she wanted them to feel comfortable supporting Indigenous people, but also to find a way to make it so Indigenous people don't need to always educate them.

Two women, standing in store, smiling for a photo.
Aaniin retail inc. founder Chelsee-Marie Pettit and designer Lesley Hampton. (Lesley Hampton)

There are QR codes on the bottom of all of aaniin apparel so wearers can readily find the translation and ideally, share that information. 

Simple Anishnaabemowin phrases are embroidered or printed onto the streetwear such as aaniin (hello) or mino giizhigad (it's a good day) or gaawiin geyaabi (no more.)

Pettit said she wanted to be able to switch the initiatives her company supports based on the needs of her community, so gaawiin geyaabi can refer to things like no more unclean water or no more stolen sisters.

Evening wear rentals

Pettit said her company values are community, collaboration and connection.

"I try to integrate those into all aspects of the business whether it's an event that we're doing, a social media post or a new collection," she said.

Lesley Hampton, an Anishinaabe Toronto-based designer, is one of those featured in the collective. Her designs have a wide range, from evening wear to occasion wear to athletic leisurewear. 

She's launching something different at aaniin: a VIP styling session. 

"You're able to go in and rent our evening wear samples if you have an event that you need to go to and you want a glam gown," said Hampton.

"We don't all have the funds for a $1,000 custom gown."

Hampton said aaniin is filling a need for an Indigenous fashion hub where anyone can learn about Indigenous people and support their work with confidence, knowing they're supporting Indigenous-owned brands, and everything is done authentically and appropriately. 

Angela DeMontigny, who is Cree-Métis, owns Lodge Soy candles, another of the brands featured at the shop.

Someone holding a burning candle.
Lodge Soy Candles is one of the brands featured at the shop. (Angela DeMontigny)

She's also a fashion designer who was forced to close her clothing boutique in Hamilton after six years and pivot to online sales during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She said it's time for a shop like this.

"I'm so, so proud of all of the young Indigenous entrepreneurs like Chelsea who are, you know, working really hard and and really doing amazing things," said DeMontigny

Aaniin will be at Stackt until January 2025. 


Candace Maracle is Wolf Clan from Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Toronto Metropolitan University. She is a laureate of The Hnatyshyn Foundation REVEAL Indigenous Art Award. Her latest film, a micro short, Lyed Corn with Ash (Wa’kenenhstóhare’) is completely in the Kanien’kéha language.