“Injunuity,” a local Anishinaabe business from Rainy River First Nations, is set to take centre stage by participating in Toronto's inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week from May 31-June 3.
The family business was created in 2001 by Cheryl Copenace and her late husband, Samuel.
“We started off as a home-based business, just selling crafts and supplies for people to make regalia and traditional items,” Copenace explained.
Over the years, word-of-mouth made Injunuity popular, especially on the pow-wow trail.
The family used to travel every weekend for pow-wows, and eventually started to set up shop and sell their products at the events.
Between dancing and selling merchandise, the family was busy so they ultimately eased back on vending. But that didn't deter others from getting their hands on Injunuity products.
Copenace said people would call and ask if they would be at a specific pow-wow and request certain items.
“They would pre-order and we would deliver at pow-wows," she noted. "It worked out good.”
She added she feels it drew a lot of dancers to the area, as well, as they would travel out of their way to get to the store.
“We'd try to make every effort to be around for them,” Copenace remarked.
Customers also began to ask her to make items for them, such as skirts, ribbon shirts, and regalia.
So a decade later, the family opened a store at the junction of Highway 11 and 71. Then in 2015, a website was created, which led to requests for online purchases—so they did that, too.
“Over the years, we just became known for our sewing and beading,” said Copenace.
“We get a lot of requests in," she added. "We sew in bead for people all across Canada and the United States.”
When she saw advertising for the IFWTO, Copenace suggested to her husband they should apply to sell in the fashion show marketplace.
While filling out the marketplace application, her husband found the runway application and told her she should apply.
After some hesitation, they filled it out.
“I kind of knew that we would get accepted for the vendor market," said Copenace. "But I was totally shocked when we got chosen as one of the 23 designers for the runway.”
“On that scale, we probably should have started something smaller," she admitted. "But you only live once!”
After her husband passed away unexpectedly about two months ago, Copenace and her daughter, Carissa, decided they would go ahead with the show but pull out of the marketplace.
“We decided just to go with the runway in his honour," she explained. "Put the marketplace aside for this year, it was just too much work.”
“We're really excited," she added. "It's kept up busy, it's [given] us something to focus on.”
The mother-daughter duo left yesterday for the airport in Winnipeg, where they'll board a flight for Toronto.
Injunuity's style has been based on traditional wear such as regalia and, ribbon skirts, and shirts. But for the fashion show, the duo decided to venture out from their norm.
“We moved into contemporary daywear that Anishinaabe women can wear to work or can wear out to a special event,” Copenace explained.
“It's a little bit of a departure from what we normally do and we want to see how it's received.”
Carissa Copenace added she wears the style to work every day in Kenora.
“We figured other women might want to wear skirts or a dress or something nice to work that represents our identity,” she reasoned.
At the moment, Cheryl Copenace said they're only concentrating on women's wear for the runway as it “reflects the strength and resiliency of the Anishinaabe people and being proud of who you are, whether you're walking in a non-traditional world or in your own world as a traditional person.”
The styles they'll be taking with them to Toronto are based on Anishinaabe designs, such as traditional floral, Anishinaabe geometric design, and “a missing and murdered indigenous women skirt that honours our women that are lost.”
“We're the only mother-daughter team," noted Copenace. "So that's kind of exciting and honours our relationship between women.”
In addition, the duo did not make any garment under a size 10.
“We wanted to portray an average-sized woman," Copenace explained. ”We didn't want to go high fashion.
“We wanted something that people can be comfortable in, and move around in.”
Other notable artists, Sherona Seymour of Kenora and Delina White from Minnesota, are both Anishinaabe women and also will be at the IFWTO this week. “So there's three strong Anishinaabe women who are going to be there,” said Copenace.
“I'm really happy that we're all there representing and supporting each other,” she enthused.
“It's going to be great.”