BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
HULBERT – The sewing machine sat by itself on the table, too much of a temptation for young Krissa Downing to resist.
“Whenever I was little, my mom would always be sewing. She worked in a sewing factory and she would always make our skirts and our dresses for the stomp grounds and everything,” said Downing. “Every now and then, if she wasn’t using it and it was still on the table, I would get some scrap fabric and make a little dress for a doll. One time I tried to make a t-shirt. It never fit right!”
Though those days are long past, Downing’s passion for sewing has remained firmly in place and is now finally taking off.
“I was interested then, but I put it off for years until just this past March. I was like, ‘I’m going to make my own skirt, mom.’ And I did and she taught me how to do the ruffle because I didn’t know how to do that. From there, I really just started going at it,” she explained.
Downing is now the proud Keetoowah owner of the ribbon skirt business, The Sweetest Native.
“I was trying to think of something in Cherokee to say for it and I was like, ‘you know what? I’m already called the Sweetest Native. I might as well have the Sweetest Native skirts,’” she said.
Since launching her brand, Downing has made a name for herself creating both traditional and contemporary ribbon skirts, even shipping her works out to places such as New York and Canada.
“I love that there are so many Indigenous women who want to be able to show who they are through my skirts,” said Downing. “If you look on my page, I make traditional skirts and contemporary skirts. I make skirts that the modern, average teenager or young woman could go out in. But I also make the skirts that could be worn at the stomp grounds and for ceremony that are more traditional, like the length they’re supposed to be.”
Currently Downing operates her business out of her home, with a small sewing machine for company and her culture as the driving force.
“Making ribbon skirts just makes me so happy. At home I have my little radio going or my phone playing music and I’ll just be sewing barefoot because I can’t sew with shoes on. I can’t feel the peddle. It’s a really touchy thing,” she laughs.
Her dresses can feature a variety of materials and ribbons, including glitter ribbon. She also offers the option to sew pockets in the skirts for customers, a feature inspired by her own desire for cultural wear with practical use.
“I really wanted to put pockets in my own, so that’s really where it started with the pockets on my own skirts,” said Downing. “That’s the best, when you find out a skirt or dress has pockets!”
Sometimes her designs are highly planned out by customers, while other times customers give her creative freedom to do as she likes. However, each skirt has her own touch.
“I never try to copy anyone. I want this to be my own thing,” said Downing. “Even if someone sends me a picture of a skirt and they’re like, can do you this and I tell them, ‘I can do something like it, but I won’t do the exact same thing. That’s what that artist did and they put their own personal touches in it and I don’t want to be the same.’ I have friends who make ribbon skirts too and I feel like you can see their own touches in it. I want that for me.”
Prices for her ribbon skirts vary depending on material and rows of ribbon.
Typically, infant sets are $25, while toddler skirts are $35 and youth sizes are $45. An adult small is $65, a medium $70, large $75 and plus sizes are $85. Downing also offers “Mommy and Me” sets for $80 and up. Extras like pockets are $5, while lace overlays are an additional $15.
Shipping is also available and Downing also offers her customers that make larger orders a flexible payment option to split payments up into two lump sums. Once payment is made in full, her skirts are shipped quickly.
“I wanted to make something that showed me more and showed my culture more,” said Downing.
“That’s why I started my ribbon skirts. Being able to express who I am through my culture is a blessing. My ancestors fought and died for me to do what I do today. I stay true to tradition, but I also bring in some of the newer ways of life for my skirts. I’m pretty sure my ancestors would be so proud of what I’ve created here.”
For more information about The Sweetest Native, visit www.facebook.com/TheSweetestNative or on Instagram @TheSweetestNativeBrand.
The toddler and adult skirt on the mannequin are both up for grabs in a giveaway between The Sweetest Native and the United Keetoowah Band. To enter, participants have until Friday, December 27 at 3 p.m. to complete a 10-question survey for UKB Media. The survey can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/r/83WVL3T.