Sho Sho Esquiro closed out the inaugural Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week in July. She was sewing up until the last minute—the final zipper was attached on the car ride over. A week later she was booked in Santa Fe, New Mexico for the historic Indian Market.
We spoke just before that, as Esquiro put the finishing stitches on a high-waisted skirt of cutout leather appliqué that features stingray and beaver tail, along with calf, lamb, caribou, moose and deer hide. “And that’s all just on the skirt,” she says. The accompanying belt was adorned with metallic embroidery and 24-carat gold, turquoise and mother of pearl beading. The intricate skirt epitomizes the designer’s style: from the land, with nothing left behind. “That’s true to my culture,” says Esquiro. “It’s kind of just who I am and how I carry myself.”
Kaska Dene from Ross River, Yukon, Esquiro was raised around hunters, trappers and seamstresses, aware of the time they put into their work. Last summer, she was in the Yukon for a month beading with elders. She also spent four days watching her nonagenarian uncle Amos skin and prepare beaver pelts. It’s not the typical expedience common in today’s fashion industry, but for Esquiro, it’s the only way.
“If you’re sewing someone a pair of mitts and they’re out on their Ski-Doo and it’s 40-below—if you haven’t done it properly, they could lose a finger,” she says. As well as function, this quality makes Esquiro’s fashion couture—high-end and constructed by hand from the first stitch to the last. And her dresses, skirts and jackets are getting noticed far beyond the Yukon and her current home outside Vancouver. The Smithsonian Institution in New York and the Peabody Museum in Massachusetts are both showing Esquiro’s creations—as are runways around the world.
“Where I fit in is I want to make beautiful pieces using our traditional techniques and apply them in a contemporary way. And it’s so cool to be a Yukoner and carry that wherever I go,” says Esquiro. “I was in Portland and a guy asked me if I was a bush person and I said, ‘Indeed, I am.’”
In 2014, Sho Sho Esquiro brought her “Worth our Wait in Gold” line, honouring missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls to a runway show at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. “That was an amazing platform and I really wanted to make that meaningful,” she says. “For a big show like that, I did interviews with people from Dubai, China, Vietnam and that was when Stephen Harper was [prime minister] and I was able to say, ‘He is denying an inquiry.’ It was a political statement for me as well.”