Artist and designer Jessica Wiarda saw a gap as she observed different fashion weeks taking place in Utah.

"There was no Indigenous-specific fashion week this year. I was seeing all these other cultures represented, but Indigenous wasn't there," said Wiarda, who is Hopi/Tewa.

The realization came as Wiarda began wrapping up a yearlong artist in residency program through nonprofit Utah Diné Bikéyah and the Leonardo Museum. Instead of a farewell event celebrating just her residency, Wiarda decided to gather other Indigenous artists and models for Utah's first Indigenous Fashion Week.

This year's fashion week will consist of one night featuring work from artists representing half a dozen tribes — including Hopi, Navajo (Diné), Ute, Northern Ute, Apache and Anishinaabe Ojibwe — as well as a section featuring powwow regalia. But Wiarda hopes the show will be the start of an annual tradition.

"It just is going to get bigger and better," she said, adding that the event is entirely Indigenous-led and -run.

"There are no stereotypes here; it's just us as ourselves — and that's why it's a really important event," she said. "It's open to everybody and it's a rare look into something that I feel like a lot of people are afraid to ask questions about because it's such a marginalized community. We're still here and we're reclaiming our culture through fashion."

Michael Haswood, a Diné artist who is helping organize the show, said although the event will very much be a modern fashion show, many of the pieces will incorporate traditional designs.

Participants practice their walking as they rehearse for an Indigenous fashion show at the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City on Sunday.
Participants practice their walking as they rehearse for an Indigenous fashion show at the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City on Sunday. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"Every Native American is raised to be proud of your ancestors and what they've done and this is the reason why we're having a fashion show because we want to show the old art and the old designs," he said.

Haswood added that although fashion week happens on the Navajo Reservation, there's nothing similar in Salt Lake City.

"We want to bring that energy, that power and that art up here," he said. "I think Salt Lake City needs something like this, to have the Native Americans voice who they are now. We're still here; the Native Americans are still here. We're still thriving, we're teachers, astronauts, baseball players, designers and artists.

"That's one thing I want to say is that we're here, we're proud and we're still thriving in the community."

Michelle Brown, an Indigenous designer who will be modeling during the show, agreed that the event will be impactful for Salt Lake City.

Rhianna Russell and Michelle Brown practice their walking as they rehearse for an upcoming Indigenous fashion show at the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City on Sunday.
Rhianna Russell and Michelle Brown practice their walking as they rehearse for an upcoming Indigenous fashion show at the Leonardo Museum in Salt Lake City on Sunday. | Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

"I think it's a really important event for Salt Lake City to have because we are so attuned to looking at European designers or New York designers, but there's not a lot of Indigenous representation here in Utah where you have so many talented designers from several tribes putting out their work," she said. "There's so many designers across Europe and the U.S. that borrow Indigenous designs when they weren't really permitted to do so. So I think it's really important to see firsthand what First Peoples are producing and the stories that they're still telling."

Brown encouraged those attending the show year-round support for the artists, a number of whom will be selling their work before and after the show.

The fashion show will take place on Saturday, April 15, from 6 to 8 p.m., at the Leonardo. Tickets are $5, and the profits will go towards paying the models and staff and to the Hopi Education Endowment Fund.