10/29/2020 10:19:09 AM
When she was 6 years old, Delina White started doing beadwork taught to her by her grandmother, a master beadwork artist. Now, 50 years later, beadwork is an integral part of the clothing, scarves, jewelry and other fashion accessories that White designs for her business.
White officially launched her business IamAnishinaabe this year, although she has been developing her label since 2015. She creates apparel based on Indigenous culture and traditions. White has received numerous awards, fellowships, and local and state recognitions for her artistry and design work, and was named one of the Star Tribune's 2019 Artists of the Year.
She received business funding through the Minnesota Indian Business Loan Program (IBLP) administered by DEED. This program supports the development of American Indian-owned and operated businesses. White is a member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe and lives on the Leech Lake Reservation.
"Everything I do is based on my culture," White says. "That's the foundation."
She loves to do elaborate beadwork for traditional social and ceremonial apparel pieces for her family – and she receives many requests.
White has started making fabric from her beaded designs which she sews into apparel for today's market. It is a business strategy that allows her to create apparel for a larger market, with easier accessibility and more affordable prices than the beadwork itself.
Her online store, iamanishinaabe.com, is where she sells made-to-order mix and match separates, scarves, jewelry, her specialty T-shirts and one-of-a-kind apparel. She plans to add clothing for men soon.
White also makes jewelry using natural materials indigenous to this area, such as birch bark and other highly valued items traded with other Native Nations such as wampum, dentalium, mother of pearl and abalone shell. Vintage and contemporary items are also used in her jewelry such as ribbon, copper, brass, and glass beads traded with the Voyageurs during their travels throughout the Great Lakes region centuries ago.
With her loan funds, White was able to build up her inventory and build a small shed as a much-needed warehouse. "That is really liberating for me," she says. "I can't think with all the chaos and clutter taking over my small live-in studio."
She also plans to use part of the loan funding to buy a van to haul her crew and apparel to fashion shows and art gallery events around the country – although those events have been put on hold for now because of the pandemic.
"I bring a handful of essential models as a core team who understand my mission, philosophy and presence that I require for showing the precise movement to build momentum and excitement necessary in presenting my artwork to a live audience," she says.
"As a Native people trying to build businesses, we face a lot of financial barriers," she adds. "I want to help other artists through my business.
"It's important to understand that Native Americans have highly complicated and complex conditions that make our status unique, and that means we require specialized assistance to access appropriate financial, technical and educational opportunities to improve our chances at self-sufficiency and to grow the reservation's economy."
Talking about the loan, she said, "I'm very grateful. Without this loan, my business would have folded."
Particularly useful is the one-on-one coaching she receives through Leech Lake Financial Services, the financial institution that handled the loan.
"The coach was able to help me with the financial spreadsheets and business decision-making," she says. "It's so important to run the numbers. Sometimes it's different than what your heart is telling you to do because your passion, alone, may not create the income you need to pay your bills."
White would like to see more people from Indigenous communities receive support to start businesses. "We have ideas and the wherewithal to develop a business – but there needs to be more resources and access to capital."
Only tribal members of the 11 tribal nations located within Minnesota are eligible to apply for a loan through the Minnesota Indian Business Loan Program. Other DEED loan programs with broader eligibility include the Emerging Entrepreneur Loan Program.