House for Native fashion
After working as an engineer for 3M, Patricia Columbus-Powers, a Dakota woman, was struck by the lack of fashion options that would allow Native women “to represent our culture in a positive light” while remaining comfortable in the workplace.
Columbus-Powers says she sought out accessories she could incorporate into her work attire, but was frustrated to find nothing but ceremonial jewelry and culturally appropriated knock-offs.
Fortunately, Columbus-Powers was finishing her M.B.A. at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management and found herself positioned to address that need. Last spring, with support from a Sands Fellowship, a SEED (Scholarly Excellence in Equity and Diversity) Award, and other sources, she started developing an idea for a high-end fashion house that showcases Native American design and craftsmanship and helps end the wholesale cultural appropriation of Native American fashion.
Launched with jewelry during Minnesota’s 2017 fall fashion week, Siobhan Powers (Siobhan is Columbus-Powers’ middle name) remains an invitation-only brand. “I want to build the brand strategically over time,” she says. Columbus-Powers, whose business plan took first place in the U’s Acara Challenge last spring, eventually plans to add designs from other tribes.
She says the philanthropic support she received was meaningful in many ways. “When people are investing in my ideas, it’s a validation of my work.”