Loren Aragon, from Acoma Pueblo, New Mexico, is a Native American fashion designer and multimedia artist. He grew up on the Acoma reservation surrounded by family, art, and traditions. Loren was influenced by his grandmothers’ pottery, garments created by his aunt, and jewelry-making from his uncle. His mother was especially influential on his artistic journey, as she was an artist, a seamstress, and teacher. His grandfather encouraged his educational career and inspired him to study science and technology. Loren graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Arizona State University. While working as an engineer, he was inspired by technology and incorporated it into his art. As he emerged into the Native American arts scene, he began to re-explore his artistic roots and the use of modern techniques to reimagine traditional designs of the Acoma Pueblo people to create illustration, sculpture, jewelry, and fashion design. In 2016, Loren co-founded ACONAV, a fashion brand celebrating the strength and empowerment of women, showcasing collections culturally fueled by the traditional pottery art and shareable beliefs of the Acoma Pueblo culture. Loren has achieved recognition for his talents in various Native art markets and a collaboration with Walt Disney World. He was also named the 2018 Phoenix Fashion Week Couture Designer of the Year.
“The appropriation of Native culture in the fashion industry has diluted the true meaning behind cultural attire, adornments, and ultimately the beliefs and values of Indigenous people. The intention for every piece in every collection I have created has been to instill Native justice in fashion. The purpose of my work is founded on ideas that are meant to propel a movement toward just and proper representation of Native fashion. We are at the birth of discovering our freedoms to express our culturally fueled fashion talents in a peaceful movement against misrepresentation.” —Loren Aragon
What does the idea of “justice for Native communities” mean to you?
Truth, voice, proper representation, awareness, rights, freedom of expression, freedom of culture, freedom, harmony, balance, and peace. All these words come to mind when I think about Native justice. To me, Native justice is exercising our right to be heard, to create our own awareness to the world about our continuing existence. It means counteracting and educating on what was appropriated or misrepresented with an authentic voice and narrative. It means to be recognized and seen as an equal in all of humanity. In my profession, the growing representation of Native fashion by Native designers on the runway is an active expression of Native justice.
What do you think needs to happen in the world to achieve justice for Native communities?
The world needs to continuously be aware of the existence of diverse communities. There needs to be more voice to the injustices we continue to face and the threats to our quality of life in Native communities. We cannot be afraid to speak out. I strongly believe we are collectively making our stories and truths be told in an authentic voice through the global reach of social media. We are seeing more collaborations with those who carry a stronger voice or reach, who share in the same ideas of the peaceful coexistence of humanity.
How do you express justice through your artwork?
I believe my work to be a visual representation of justice on the runway. For years, Native people have been misrepresented and often degraded by non-Native designers who try to justify their work as an honoring of our culture. I sought to change that and to visually vocalize the ideas of my culture to create an awareness of my thriving and continually existing Pueblo culture in the Southwest. The idea of knowing we have the very right to represent ourselves and our culture is what fuels my creativity. Every little detail in my fashion work carries a meaning, tells a story, and is a representation of my cultural identity.
Is there anything else you would like to share about Native justice and your artwork?
Native designers belong on the same runways as the more recognizable fashion brands and houses. We are in control of our own narratives, we are the true storytellers of our tribal cultures, and we know what to share and what to hold sacred. I humbly believe we speak our greatest truths about our injustices through Native art. There is a meaning in the work we do as artists that carries a voice resonating from our ancestral ties.