Cree Nisga'a Clothing offers a modern take on traditional footwear

A family run business modernized the traditional mukluk to create unique hand-painted boots that have heart as well as sole.

A family business has modernized the traditional mukluk to create unique hand-painted boots that have heart as well as sole.

Cree Nisga'a Clothing is based on the Tzeachten First Nation in Chilliwack B.C., where a mother, father and son create custom made mukluk type boots.

They are made out of various hides including cow, bison and elk and painted with Nisga'a or Cree designs.

Linda Lavallee and Patrick Stewart are the owners and designers behind this fabulous footwear.

"I started when I was younger. I became pregnant at 18 and my dad said I had to learn a trade and that's what I learned, how to make mukluks," explained Lavallee.

"I just really wanted a pair, couldn't afford them so he said, 'well, learn.'"

Her mother taught her how to make them and at first, Lavallee was happy to make them for herself, friends and family. But she found that the wraparound style of the moccasin kept falling down. So she began experimenting with different construction styles. 

"I wanted something to just stay in place so that's where we got our first concept of boots," recalled Lavallee.

'My very first pair, I think we just sold right off my feet.- Linda Lavallee, creator and owner of Nisga'a Cree Clothing

"People would just stop me and say, 'Where did you get your boots?' So we thought well, let's just try selling them."

The rest, they said, is a shoe success story.

Since that first pair, Cree Nisga'a has been selling custom built, hand painted designs to shoe lovers all over the world.

Each pair of Cree Nisga'a boots is unique: custom-fitted, hand-sewn, and hand-painted. (Duncan McCue/CBC)
They have made boots for celebrities like Michelle Thrush and even for a young girl named Brianna Nebeker who presented a particular challenge.

"This young girl, she was born with a deformity and both feet were amputated," Stewart said. 

Nebeker's parents had seen the company's boots and got in touch with them. Stewart said they made a custom pair with just the upper part of the boot, a cap on the bottom and lined them with sheepskin. 

When the young client received her order, she was overwhelmed. "She just cried," said Lavallee. "The artwork we did was from her home community."