Ginew’s story sounds like the beginning of a superhero tale. Married duo Erik Brodt and Amanda Bruegl spend their days helping sick patients—as a family medicine doctor and women’s oncology doctor, respectively. But on nights and weekends they design and run the country’s only Native-owned, premium denim collection.
Erik Brodt, cofounder of America’s only Native-owned denim brand Ginew, had been thinking about it for awhile. “We just didn’t see many native people existing in that space,” he says. “Someone quipped wouldn’t it be great if we had a completely Indigenous session.
So he and his Ginew partner/wife Amanda Bruegl (who are also family medicine doctor and women’s oncology doctor, respectively by day) set about assembling the crew. At the time they didn’t know any Native photographers or have crew to reach out to, so the search began. They quickly brought on photographer Kari Rowe and slowly filled out the crew.
The day of the shoot, with members of eight different federally recognized tribes on site, Brodt says amongst the flurry of lights going up and clothing being steamed they brought everyone together. “We did traditional introductions, which is very common in our communities, but it was really awesome because five different languages were spoken during that. One of the models turned to me and said, ‘I've never seen anything like that before,’” he says of the greetings exchanged. “Hearing that means a lot. Because we’re trying to express ourselves in a contemporary context within the fashion ecosystem. Rather than being the inspiration for somebody's collection, we're the ones who are inspired to create. And we're the ones who are participating in the creation. That was really a big shift in the day for us and doing those in introductions in a traditional way I think they really set the tone.”
Brodt says the project was important to them, but also that they hope the representation is impactful to other Native folks who see it, noting the lack of Indigenous people they’ve seen in creative positions within the industry.
“Almost every place Ginew’s ever been, we're a little bit of an anomaly. We're like this cute little sparkly thing. Like, ‘Oh look, there's a couple of American Indians here too.’ Here we were over-represented instead of disproportionately underrepresented in a space,” he says. “Having this experience visually for our brand is good, but then on a broader scale looking at the visibility of contemporary indigenous people in media, in fashion, and in culture, I think there is a larger voice to this entire conversation. That's the vision we're trying to ascend to and aspire to increase indigenous visibility while also figuring out ways that we can incubate the talent of indigenous youth who might be interested in pursuing careers and becoming professionals within this space.”
The photoshoot showcases Ginew’s classic style: from their Japanese selvedge denim jackets with color bursts from Pendleton wool linings to down vests emblazoned with strawberry patches because of their significance to the Oneida Nation.
“It was really fun. I've never seen anything like that before and I don't know where else this has existed,” he says. “One thing that Amanda said about the day that was pretty powerful was, ‘We're not trying to shout anybody down with our ideas, but it's a form of quiet resistance.'”
Photographer & Creative Director: Kari Rowe / Co-Directors & Producers: Erik Brodt & Amanda Bruegl / Hair & Makeup: Camille Rowe / Styling: Denim & Gin / Set Assistant: Sunshine Dwojak / Model: Aaron Tellez / Models: Haatepah, Katie Harris & Mariah Makalapua