The nine-to-five grind wasn’t working for Melissa Attagutsiak. She was bored working various government office jobs in Iqaluit, and unsure where she was headed. “Someone asked me what my dream was,” she says. She didn’t know the answer.
“I’ve always known my whole life I wanted to work for myself, but it took a little while.”
So, Attagutsiak traded office-casual for haute couture runways. Three years later, the 25-year-old self-taught designer brought her Nuvuja9 styles to the Indigenous Fashion Week showcase held beneath the Eiffel Tower during Paris Fashion Week in March.
Like those artists, Attagutsiak’s work blends traditional Inuit fashion materials and designs with modern styles. Her Nuvuja9 line (“nuvuja” means “cloud”) focuses on custom jewellery and formal wear. In Paris, her collection featured a champagne-and-white gown with sealskin straps paired with earrings made from polar bear cub claws.
“I thought it would be really good to dress [the Indigenous models] and create pieces that make them feel empowered while they show the world what we’re here to do,” she says.
Following her dreams to Paris wasn’t always easy for Attagutsiak. She left behind her life in Iqaluit to live and work in Ottawa, which gives her access to more fabrics, tools and easier travel to industry events, but at the cost of being away from home. Attagutsiak’s designs are the threads keeping her tied to where she came from. “I feel really connected to home in that sense.”