First Peoples Fund Artist Leaves Corporate Job Behind To Start Her Own Native Fashion Line

Bethany Yellowtail (Northern Cheyenne/Crow) has a problem on her hands, and it's a good one.

After working in corporate fashion design in California for several years, the 26-year-old from the Crow Nation in Montana took a leap of faith. She quit her well-paying job and started her own fashion line called "B.Yellowtail."

It was the right decision.

"It's so busy—we are just filling orders all the time," said Yellowtail. "I just don't want it to slow down."

Yellowtail, who is a 2015 recipient of a First Peoples Fund Artist in Business Leadership Fellowship, now has her sights set on growing her business to include staff, a variety of merchandise and possible franchises.

"I see the vision for what we're able to do," she said. "I can't wait until I have a full team. But we're just a start-up right now."

Yellowtail moved to Los Angeles, California, in 2007 after she graduated from high school to attend college at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandise. After graduating in 2009, she stayed in the area, working in the corporate fashion world and working on her own designs on the side.

"I was building my brand and clientele," she said.

Yellowtail said she learned valuable skills by working in the industry, but was discouraged by the cultural inaccuracies perpetuated about Natives through "ethnic-inspired" clothing lines in mainstream fashion. It spurred her desire to start her own line, and become an advocate for Indigenous fashion and storytelling.
When she decided to branch out on her own in January, she was prepared but nervous.

"Fortunately, I had paid my dues and built my way up," she said. "But it was hard to leave the corporate structure. I was making good money and it was security."

But since then, there's been no looking back.

Her online sales skyrocketed her first week and the buzz about her line has spread far and wide. The fellowship from First peoples Fund was a part of that as she was able to fund a marketing campaign that included a fashion campaign that employed Native models, photographers, assistants, and editorial writers.

Most recently, Yellowtail dressed Inez Jasper for the MTV "Rebel Music" special, something she has done for the Native artist multiple times. But the best thing about her new endeavor, she said, is being able to weave a story through fashion.

"The imagery is what inspires me and what story I want to tell," she said.

Some fashion designers design fashion lines based on the current trend of colors or themes. "They might decide 'summer romance' is the theme," she said. "But I take a more in-depth look. I want to tell the story of where I'm from."

That oftentimes takes her right back to Montana and the reservation. At the beginning of the design process, she creates a design board with images of her ancestors, family, people she grew up with and traditional regalia.

"I start connecting the dots for the textiles, the color pallet, and the beadwork," she said. "I'm trying to be careful and meticulous."

Yellowtail was able to share her work with fellow Native artists at a recent First Peoples Fund training in Santa Fe, New Mexico. "I felt so much more confident to know that there's a place for what I do," she said. "It's hard when I'm in L.A. and brands fit in a certain mold. It's cut from the same cloth and I'm not. It's hard not having someone you can relate to."

The trip with First Peoples Fund changed that. She was inspired by the artists she met, and instantly felt a connection with their work and lives. "It's a different medium, but we all have the same vision," she said. "It's about moving our culture forward. To know that I have those resources, I can't even put a value on that."

For more information on Yellowtail, visit www.byellowtail.com.

To see her fashion short film, visit www.youtube.com/watch?v=IGRiAWzqIPc&feature=youtu.be.