It's been a year since Nooksack artist and entrepreneur Louie Gong first launched Eighth Generation's line of wool blankets crafted by Native American artists. At the time, he told The Stranger he hoped his store would "influence the way consumers experience products featuring Native art. We want them to ask themselves if their dollar is supporting more Inspired Natives or 'Native-inspired.'"
The message seems to be sinking in.
On Saturday, Gong will open Eighth Generation's first brick-and-mortar store in Pike Place Market.
Gong's choice to set up shop in the heart of touristy Seattle isn't just about making a profit, it about showcasing Native artists because they're "hardworking professionals who can do amazing things,” he told Sarah Stuteville of The Seattle Globalist.
Eighth Generation's flagship store just above the Gum Wall "is 1,300 square feet of stereotype busting,” he told the news outlet.
“A lot of the time, business owners selling cultural art will look to make consumers feel good about the stereotypes they already have,” says Gong. “That’s why Native people are often represented as symbols of ancient history or symbols of the natural environment, instead of contemporary, skilled, hardworking professionals.”
With that in mind, the Eighth Generation store also has a workspace and community room where people can see Native artists “kicking ass” on site.
“I look at art like any other natural resource,” says Gong, as he cheerfully fends off a stream of people knocking on the doors hoping to sneak a peek at the new store. “If people keep taking from it and taking from it, without nurturing the environment that created it in the first place, then eventually you kill it.”
Some companies just slap a Native-style print on a flask, call it "A Navajo Hipflask," and then move on with their lives. You may remember that the Navajo Nation filed a lawsuit against Urban Outfitters for doing that exact thing. Selling "Native Inspired" stuff in the way that Urban Outfitters does is a particularly egregious form of cultural appropriation. In this case, companies are profiting from and saturating the market with cultural art they didn't make. This practice makes it especially difficult for actual Native artists, ones who know how to use the materials and prints respectfully, to participate in those markets.
See you at the market this weekend, folks.