How I Made It

Heather Dickson, Fashion Designer

Based in Whitehorse, Heather Dickson is a Tlingit and Nuxalk First Nation fashion designer who is best known for her hand-beaded headbands. Here, she tells FLARE how she made it

Heather Dickson; @dicksondesigns

How do you describe your job to your family?

I’m a fashion designer who infuses modern designs and materials with my traditional Indigenous culture. I’ve also added entrepreneur to my resumé by employing other Indigenous women from all over northern Canada.

Where did you go to school and what did you study? 

My first schooling experience was on the land, hunting and trapping, and at my grandmothers’ and aunties’ sewing tables where I learned the values and teachings of my people. I also went to the International Arts Institute of Vancouver where I received my diploma for fashion design and fundamentals of design. I was 17, and it was a huge culture shock moving from the Yukon to the big city for the first time.

What was your BIG break? How did you land it? 

I was invited to a youth entrepreneur conference called Up Starts in Whitehorse, and at the end of the day, they had this Dragon’s Den-style pitch competition. I ended up winning, and it felt like confirmation from the business world that I had something worth pursuing.

What would you say has been your most significant setback, career-wise, to date? How did you bounce back? 

Stereotypes. It’s insane to me that anyone would try to tell me what my culture is. Indigenous art is about teachings that have been passed down from generation to generation—love in every stitch. These works are pieces of authentic Canadian history, and that is grossly undervalued.

Name one piece of career advice you always give.

It’s ok to ask for help and advice—every successful person started out as a beginner!

When you’re feeling low about your work, what’s the one thing you always do/watch/read/listen to bring yourself back up again?

I like to reconnect to the land when I’m feeling low: berry picking with my aunt, hunting with my dad, cutting fish with my uncle or simply going for a walk.

How would you describe your industry in terms of representation and inclusivity? 

There is way too much cultural appropriation. But, I have seen some positive change in the past few years with a growth in talented Indigenous designers—like Jamie Okuma, Meghann O’Brien, Yolonda Skelton, Trickster Designs, Sage Paul and D’Arcy Moses—reclaiming their designs and showing that it’s not all about headdresses and buckskin with fringes.

What’s the most pressing issue facing women in your industry right now? What would fix it? 

People don’t take me seriously as an entrepreneur because I’m a young Indigenous female artist. They offer business advice and call what I do “cute.” At first I would be polite, let them share their advice and just walk away annoyed, but now I like to challenge what they have to say. It often leads to more questions about what I do and most of the time ends with respect and understanding.

Looking to the future, what excites you the most about your career? 

I get to practice my culture everyday and inspire others to do the same. It excites me to think I have helped to make sewing cool again in the north and have showed people that it’s possible to build a career from a cultural practice.

What worries you the most about your career?

Being an entrepreneur really is a gamble, income is never guaranteed and fashion is always evolving—but it’s a gamble that’s totally worth the risk!

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