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The artist Haudenosaunee has projects at The Bay

There are so many layers in the history of Haudenosaunee artist Britt Ellis and how his projects ended up at The Bay that it’s hard to know where to start.

From being the first Haudenosaunee artist to have a collection at the retail giant, to how it came to fruition, her story is certainly as inspiring as it is fortuitous.

It was the fall of 2020. The world was in the midst of the pandemic and most of the business was conducted online.

Indigenous Fashion Week continued that year, even online. Ellis attended the sessions, and so did The Bay.

Shortly after, she was approached by The Bay who told her to come up with a proposal.

His work was chosen. She has since designed an entire line of home decor sold exclusively by The Bay, all inspired in one way or another by his indigenous identity.

Ellis, who lives in Toronto and is a member of the Six Nations, worked on his designs for 18 months before the home décor line was launched this spring.

“I’ve always been art in one way or another,” said the 35-year-old artist from Onondaga.

She started working with beads in college and has since become her favorite medium.

“Beads was like the thing that I felt was an instant connection,” he said. “It’s something deep and intrinsic – the lessons that beads teach. It seems like he should always be a part of my life. It always seemed like a form of communication. It’s so specific to the nations, to the individual who’s making the pieces. “

Ellis, who is also a tattoo artist, said her pieces have sold very well at The Bay.

He designed sheets, pillows and towels, among other items.

Bedding has been very popular, she said.

“It’s selling very well.”

Ellis has 100% artistic ownership of the drawings.

“I was worried, at the top of my mind, that The Bay didn’t have the property. I really wanted the people of Haudenosaunee to see themselves in the objects.

The items are available in around 20 locations across the country, including smaller locations in more rural areas so they are more accessible to indigenous customers who may not live near major cities.

There are four sets of duvets, four sets of sheets, eight variations of tea towels, two variations of runners, placemats and napkins, as well as beach towels, a rug, outdoor pillows, baskets, a blanket and indoor pillows.

“I really wanted to use this opportunity to give visibility to our community. The important thing for me was for people to see our stories amplified and celebrated. “

He incorporated traditional imagery into the designs (including birds and butterflies) and the colors are earth tones.

“The color palettes I chose were all the colors of the earth and medicine.”

The pillows have been the best sellers so far.

One of the designs is a moon phase medallion.

“They are all printed on velvet as a nod to our pieces.”

Another pillow features a gold finch and a lumbar pillow features tobacco.

The line was launched in April, delayed due to COVID.

“With COVID, the launch wasn’t as big as I thought. It was so well received. Some stores have huge beaded pieces printed on the decals on the walls. It was amazing to see the beads so visible in a space like The Bay.

And the packaging has a story too. His pieces are wrapped in luxurious, high-end packaging, but they’re all packaged in a way that Ellis determined would be environmentally friendly. The packaging uses reused leather scraps and the bags are reusable.

“All of this was really important to me, in terms of sustainability”.

He hoped to create as little waste as possible.

“I reuse the bags where the lines have come in for all kinds of things.”

It’s still all a little hard for Ellis to believe.

“There is something truly humbling and incredible to wake up in my room and see my work around me. I’ve never seen us represented in this way “.

The irony of her work being sold to The Bay has not escaped her.

The Bay is one of Canada’s oldest businesses, with a history rooted in exploitation and colonialism.

“This was a good opportunity to show some nuances and try to hold them accountable – put their money where their mouth is,” he said.

“They are aware of their past. The fact is that they founded their business through the work of the indigenous people ”.

Which makes his line even more significant: not only does it guarantee Haudenosaunee’s representation on a national scale, but it is also a one-way reconciliation with one of the largest corporations in the country.

The materials are all manufactured in Canada and the items are assembled in a company in India that has a proven track record of good working conditions – something else Ellis said was important to her.

“Everyone is paid a fair wage,” he said.

She was asked to design pieces that incorporated beads, but because she knew the items should have been made by machines at some point, she declined, saying she just believes that the beads should be made by hand.

Perhaps the most touching part of his success and story is that it’s also a living tribute to his father, who passed away in 2020 just before the pandemic.

Her work and success have been a healing journey for her.

“I really miss my dad,” she said. “He would have been really proud of that. It was a very important way to keep him with me. It’s all for my dad. I hope I have managed to do a good job.

“It is communication for the indigenous people. It is the communication for my story ”.

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