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  • Lani Hansen

Downing conquers the runway for Native Fashion in the City



United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians tribal member Krissa Lee Downing walked the runway during the Native Fashion in the City event in Denver, Colorado, on March 23. She wore pieces from Designers Louisa Harjo of Mvskoke Aesthetic and Carrie McCleary of Plains Soul. COURTESY/BAZHNIBAH PHOTOGRAPHY

TAHLEQUAH – When Keetoowah member Krissa Lee Downing went to audition, she faced only a one in five chance of being selected to walk the runway as a model for Native Fashion in the City.

“I didn’t know if I was going to be selected,” said Downing. “There were more than 50 beautiful Native women, men, and children and only seven to 10 would be selected. The auditions were held in Oklahoma City. I wasn’t quite sure where the show was going to be until I was at the audition.”

The experience was almost a near-miss, as Downing said she only knew about auditions after being tagged in a Facebook post by a family member.

“My cousin’s wife Emily tagged me in a post on Facebook,” she said. “(Afterwards) when they announced who would be going to Denver for the show and called my name I was at a loss for words. I’ve always wanted to be a part of something like this but never found a way to do so. I am very blessed for this opportunity and will remember it forever.”

Downing officially walked the runway on March 23 in Denver.

According to its website, Native Fashion in the City is a developmental program that aims to support Indigenous fashion designers, stylists, models and photographers by giving them a platform to showcase and foster their talents in a professional environment.

The program encourages Indigenous “contemporary and traditional designs” that could be marketed to the mainstream fashion industry.

The program can assist participants by offering little to no cost business mentoring, educational seminars, webinars and coaching.

The event is also an opportunity for participants to network with others in the industry across Indian Country.

“While at rehearsals and the day of the show, I made my rounds of getting to know other models, designers, makeup artists, and photographers,” said Downing. “Everyone was very welcoming and friendly and Native! I have always promoted my Native American background and this just allows me to expand further into the Native world. I connected with many of them on various social media sites like Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. Staying in touch with the many people I met will help me put my stamp on the fashion industry.”

It was during the first day of rehearsals for the Denver March Powwow that Downing was called to meet with Designer Louisa Harjo of Mvskoke Aesthetic. On day two Downing would also be asked to model for Designer Carrie McCleary of Plains Soul.

“I had two favorite pieces of the designs that I wore,” said Downing. “One was the Plains Soul leather belt with the words ‘Still Here.’ I loved that. We are still here. We are the resilience. The other was the Mvskoke Aesthetic skirt I wore to the fashion preview and show. It was hand painted by my designer in honor of the Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women. It was also high waisted and had pockets!”

Krissa Downing models a skirt from Designer Louisa Harjo of Mvskoke Aesthetic honoring the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women movement. COURTESY/DOWNING

Downing’s trip to Denver was helped made possible by Tahlequah District Representative Jeff Wacoche and fellow UKB members who hosted a volleyball tournament to raise funds for her travel expenses.

“The volleyball tournament held for me by the UKB really opened my eyes on how much our

community loves one another,” said Downing. “I didn’t expect such a large turnout. It really made me proud of my Keetoowah people. I am very thankful and grateful for all the support I received.”

Downing hails from Hulbert and didn’t always have the confidence to model, though friend and family support has made all the difference.

“Growing up my parents, family and friends have told me that I could be a model and who knew? They were right,” she said. “I never thought I could be especially coming from such a small town. I realize now that I can do what I set my mind to. I am beautiful and I can be a model.”

“I do plan on furthering myself in the fashion industry,” she said. “I wish to model for all the designers and all the companies that I can. I want to be a part of this as much as possible. I definitely plan on dipping into creating my own Native clothes. Maybe I will be in the show as a designer next year. I love embracing my Native American culture and dressing up and ‘looking cute’ has always been a keen interest of mine.”

Downing encourages other Keetoowah members with big dreams to pursue them.

“I say go for it! If you feel like it’s too far out of reach to do something, do it any way,” she said. “You will only be disappointed in yourself for not allowing yourself the opportunity. You will always fail if you don’t try, so always tell yourself that you can do what you set your mind to. Think positively about something and that positivity will come back to you every time. Never give up on your dreams because you can achieve them!”



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