‘By the people, for the people’: Mi’kmaw brand fuses tradition with fashion

Two women from Nova Scotia’s Millbrook First Nation are combining Mi’kmaw tradition with modern fashion for their new clothing and accessories company.

Jennifer Denny, 26, and Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade, 29, are set to launch their brand, L’nu’k Clothing Co., this weekend. 

The longtime friends are hoping to share their traditions with the masses in an effort to have people of all backgrounds embrace and connect with Mi’kmaw culture.

“This is a clothing brand for everybody, not only First Nations people,” said Denny, wearing a camouflage crew neck sweater emblazoned with the company logo.

“We want our buyers to feel connected to the Mi’kmaw culture and we want them to feel connected to the land and we want to bring people together through fashion and we also want to educate people through fashion.”

Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade, left, and Jennifer Denny teamed up one year ago to start L’nu’k Clothing. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

The idea for L’nu’k Clothing was born four years ago while Denny was attending school for fashion design in Vancouver. She was tasked with creating a logo and wanted it to be in the Mi’kmaw language.

L’nu’k means “the people.”

“I wanted it to be a brand that was by the people, for the people,” said Denny, adding that she joined forces with Isaac-Gloade one year ago to bring the concept to life. 

L’nu’k Clothing is three pronged: the women have created a ready-to-wear apparel line, a couture line and also a line of accessories.

The couture garments and accessories are all handmade by Denny and Isaac-Gloade, both artists and seamstresses who have been creating Mi’kmaw regalia — traditional clothing worn during ceremonies such as powwows — since they were young.

Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade, left, and Jennifer Denny started beading when they were young. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

The couture line will feature handmade traditional Mi’kmaw clothing with intricate beading. Isaac-Gloade said the plan is to eventually also have ready-to-wear apparel that reflects the couture pieces.

The accessories — such as beaded earrings made with birch bark — also stay true to Mi’kmaw tradition, but with a modern twist.

“Every piece, collection, garment we release has stories behind it and intents behind it and we hope that reaches each person that purchases our garments,” said Isaac-Gloade, who is originally from Listuguj, Que.

These are some of the items featured in L’nu’k Clothing Co.’s couture and accessory lines. (Submitted by L’nu’k Clothing Co.)

Denny quelled the concerns of potential buyers who may be worried that wearing their garments would amount to cultural appropriation.

“You can have cultural appreciation by purchasing items that are handmade by Indigenous people, that are authentic Aboriginal art, authentic Aboriginal fashion,” said Denny.

“That’s what we have to offer and that’s when it’s OK and that’s when it’s accepted by our people as appropriate for non-Indigenous people to wear the things that we love the most.”

The co-founders of L’nu’k Clothing hope to reach the masses with their designs. (Submitted by L’nu’k Clothing Co.)

Denny and Isaac-Gloade are still in-demand artists outside of their new company. They were recently asked to create a formal regalia-inspired garment for Lorraine Whitman, president of the Nova Scotia Native Women’s Association.

Whitman wore the piece — created over the span of four days — during a party in her honour on Treaty Day on Oct. 1.

Lorraine Whitman is shown with the piece Jennifer Denny and Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade recently created for her. (Submitted by Cheyenne Isaac-Gloade)

A launch party for L’nu’k Clothing is being held on Saturday at the Millbrook Cultural and Heritage Centre at 7 p.m. Attendees will be able to preview the collection and purchase items.

Sales on the company’s website will go live to the public on Sunday.

The women said they also hope to inspire youth in their own community and beyond to pursue their dreams.

“There’s not a large number of Aboriginal entrepreneurs, females especially, and we want to encourage other females,” said Denny.

“If you have a creative idea, whether it’s fashion or sciences or education, and you have some sort of concept — go for it.”

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