Indigenous Elegance Brings Modern Fashion with Indigenous Influences to Milwaukee’s Harbor District

Born Fashionable

Sabrina Lombardo grew up in Milwaukee creating looks for her mother and other family members while feeding her passion for fashion with various art forms such as painting and sculpting. Coming from a working-class family, Lombardo was always told her dream of becoming a fashion designer would be unobtainable or unprofitable but it was fashion that pulled her out of times of uncertainty and depression.

Lombardo has since then developed her clothing brand Native Nation Designs. Her brand aims to create genderless clothing that can be presented as works of art, taking much of its influence from nature and childhood experiences and letting the clothes speak for themselves.

“I feel like people should just be happy and be able to express themselves, their full selves,” said Lombardo. “My take on fashion is we put genders on garments it’s not that garments have genders, so I really try to be pretty fluid with what I do.”

Culture is often woven through Native Nation designs and Lambardo pays homage to not only her own culture as a Raramuri and Tigua woman but also others that have impacted her life and experiences.

Designer and founder of Native Nation Designs, Sabrina Lombardo. (Picture by Native Nations Designs)
Designer and founder of Native Nation Designs, Sabrina Lombardo. (Picture by Native Nations Designs)

Lombardo was the first student to graduate from the Edessa School of Fashion in Milwaukee’s Third Ward and has had her work shown at New York Fashion Week. 

Walking in the Harbor District

The Indigenous Elegance Showcase featured Lombardo’s work at the Harbor View Plaza in Milwaukee as a collaboration between Native Nation Designs and the Harbor District. The showcase was a chance to expose the Milwaukee community to the world of high fashion and what it can look like when applying techniques in a new way.

“Oftentimes when we hear couture, we think of France and Europe,” said Lombardo. “So I’m really trying to showcase that Indigenous fashion can be very elevated and it can be couture.”

The idea of a fashion show came from Nora Godoy-Gonzalez, the place-making director at the Milwaukee Harbor District, as she applied for the Joy Engine Community Arts grant. She wanted to make space for BIPOC groups at the Harbor View Plaza, the first waterfront park in the district, and shift the reputation from its industrial history to its relationship with Indigenous communities. She wanted the arts and fashion to be the focus of this event.

“I was like well there’s a piece missing, the Indigenous history of the harbor district and the natural environment pre-colonization,” said Godoy-Gonzalez. “I remembered my loved ones, my family members and again just remembering that Indigenous people aren’t at the table, that’s where I was inspired to reach out to Sabrina.”

The free event featured varying Indigenous businesses alongside the fashion show including Little Earth Creations, Sweetgrass Beads, Yenepa Herbals, Felonee Marie Artistry, and more. The event will also be food vendors including a frybread vendor, a staple for many Indigenous communities across the Americas. 

Indigenous Fashion in the Mainstream

When talking about Indigenous fashion the conversation centers around how a piece connects to and preserves culture. Techniques such as beading, ribbon appliques, quilling, and patterns resulted in modernized pieces of clothes that resemble traditional regalia for many nations.

“I say I create Indigenous fashion, and some people think that has to look very traditional,” said Lombardo. “But I am so mixed, and I’m an urban native, I didn’t grow up on a reservation, so I have a different view on fashion than what some other people might and I don’t feel like Indigenous fashion has to look a certain way.” 

Designers are now moving to bring their influence and culture into the contemporary fashion scene with the Indigenous Fashion Arts Festival, founded in 2016, and have celebrated the first-ever Native Fashion Week

Founded by the Southwestern Association for Indian Arts, the show was held in Santa Fe and welcomed 300 guests from across the United States and Canada to celebrate Indigenous designers, culture, and fashion.

Fashion and design have become a new pathway for Indigenous culture and designers to make waves in the mainstream media.

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