In the world of fashion and apparel, the intrigue of the new and now is paramount. New styles, new cuts, new fabrics, new trends. We often think of our closets as revolving doors, ever expanding with the newest must-have from the ranks of fast fashion. With how inexpensive clothing has become, why not accumulate? Aside from the rare special occasion piece, a consideration for “heritage” couldn’t be further from our closets. But even in an industry built on consumeristic clamor, the tides are beginning to change, winding back the clock on our clothes-crazed culture to a time when garments were designed to be long-lasting rather than short-lived, made for quality rather than consumption.
Few brands have taken on this fashion impossibility quite like husband and wife Erik and Amanda of Ginew (gah-noo). Ginew is a heritage-driven exploration of the couple’s collective past, drawing inspiration from the legacy of their Native American grand and great-grandparents, and from the path they’ve forged together. And would you believe it all started with a buffalo? As we sit in Erik and Amanda’s new home in Portland, Erik stretches his hand up to begin the story. “Ginew began right there,” he says, pointing to a pair of buffalo horns hanging above the mantle. “That was our wedding buffalo, the one that my dad and I shot for our ceremony. We shot it, hauled it, skinned it, fleshed it, and tanned it with our family. In the end we had the hide left over, and Amanda and I wanted to make something really unique with it for the people who participated in our wedding. We ended up making buffalo belts for everyone.” It was a gift wrought from their deepest values, that would in turn provide new ways of harnessing their past into a future purpose.
While making those first few belts, Erik went to Austin, TX to brush up on his technique with an experienced leatherworker. “My great grandfather used to work with leather, so I had all of these tools that my dad gave me of his. They were a link to a past that I wondered about.” The spark of mystery and connection he felt working in the leather shop soon surpassed their wedding date. “It was in our early Texas years, not even a year married when things started to gather some momentum. That’s also when we met Natalie [Davis of Canoe Goods], who provided so much great mentorship.” From bouncing ideas off one another and swapping techniques with Natalie came other introductions within a small, close-knit community of makers and creatives in Austin, including the folks behind Folk Fibers, L A N D, Ft. Lonesome, Petrified Design, KKDW, Salt & Time, Garin & Mel Fons, Dana Falconberry, Cobra Rock Boots, Garza Marfa – and the list goes on. “The influence of the collaborative community that we entered through chance that began with meeting that group in Austin cannot be overstated.”
From the beginning of Ginew, Erik and Amanda were fascinated with the process of connecting to their relatives who had passed. “Neither of us got very much time with our grandparents, or any with our great grandparents, so we’ve both often wondered about them. To me it was about connecting to what their daily lives would have been like: their hobbies, their interests, things they did, where they grew up.” Even the name Ginew references this transcendental hope. It’s a part of Erik’s tribal name, which translates into “golden eagle,” but it is a reference to the eagle Native Americans acknowledge as the being who guards the entrance to the spirit world. Those who wish to enter will look up to the eagle sitting in a great pine tree beside the gate and speak their tribal name so that it might allow them in. “In that way Ginew is part of what we’re trying to do. We’re wondering about and trying to access the lives of those who have gone into the spirit world that we didn’t get to meet.”
After working with his great-grandfather’s leather tools for over three years, an idea suddenly sprang to life that would launch them even deeper into that curiosity. “One day, we were hanging out in Marfa, TX and I wondered, “What would have our great grandparents been wearing in weather like this? I remember sitting in El Cosmico and just drew out what I wanted to make.” That drawing would become Ginew’s first jacket, a hardy wool-lined chore coat inspired by a legacy of hard work. “The reality
for our family was hard-working sawyers, machinists, lumberjacks, welders. Instead of trying to recreate regalia, it inspired a different side of the story by delving into the lives of our ancestors, by understanding the languages they spoke, and the things they used to get through their daily life. That’s what really drove the clothing.”
True to this vision, they specifically chose threads and fabrics made in the US. “We also chose Pendleton for the wool because it has a very special role in our family and community. Pendleton blankets are synonymous with paramount life events, be it births, passings, celebrations, or accomplishments. People are honored by being given a blanket, so a Pendleton is often a symbol that’s given in a community as a great honoring. It tied us specifically to that part of our past.” Their second piece, the Rider Jacket, was directly inspired by Amanda’s grandfather, a welder for Harley Davidson in the 1950’s. It was a difficult era for him, as a Native man in northern Wisconsin looking for work, until he was hired by Harley Davidson to be a welder in Milwaukee, a five hour drive from the reservation. To commemorate that sacrificial character and tough-as-nails work ethic, Erik and Amanda reimagined the Harley club jacket of the era, with some thoughtful Native twists. “The old club jackets were made from old jean jackets that were cropped and modified. We took inspiration from that, and made it from the toughest fabric we could find in honor of him.”
“He was the definition of resilience, and sacrificed so much for his family. He was so committed and loyal. These values are what we think of as the Native man from our family, so we tried to put those things into the jacket. The stitches and the seams, for instance, we wanted to have it made with the utmost integrity. We didn’t cut any corners on the construction, made sure it would fit right, and last as long as humanly possible. We incorporated so many meaningful things into that jacket to try to recreate something that actually would have been worn by our great grandparents, but also incorporated things from who we are in the small touches. Some people ask, what’s Native about this jacket? To us, everything.”
Something to understand about these two and how Ginew went from a family project to the full line of high end design it’s grown into today is their insatiable drive. As practicing physicians, they’re avid list makers and compulsive list checker-offers, dedicated to a standard of acute excellence. With Ginew gaining momentum season after season, they’re resolute in maintaining a foot in both worlds. “We both have spent a lot of time and personal energy into this health-related profession, and believe in promoting the health and wellness of Indian people. Our medical professions are both geared toward that, so I can’t see either of us giving that up entirely,” Amanda tells us. As part of his role, Erik also focuses on workforce development within Native communities. “I feel like the more inclusion you have of different ideas and perspectives you have the better solutions to challenges you can come up with.”
The substance and intent of Ginew cannot be separated from Amanda and Erik’s own distinctly Native identities. From inspiration, to fabric, to their brand philosophy, each of their tribes are represented in every detail. Erik is Ojibwe, or as the pronunciation has morphed over the last century: Ojibwe, Ojibway, Ojibwa, Chippewa. Amanda is of both the Oneida and Stockbridge-Munsee tribes, both of which now reside in Wisconsin but are originally from the East Coast. When it comes to expressing the details of their Native influence, Amanda makes it clear that Ginew is about sincerity, integrity, and giving people the whole package. “We don’t want to sell culture as a tourist trap. We wanted it to be reflective of who we are, which is Native, but there’s plenty more depth to us than just that. We wanted it to reflect all the pieces of who we are.”
Regardless of their patrons familiarity with American Indian culture and history, to wear a Ginew product is to dive deep into Native Americana. The very box chosen to deliver the Heritage Chore Coat hints at the intricacy of what you are about to open. It’s made of smooth cedar, cut and grooved (by friend and Austin-based woodworker KKDW) specifically to match the dimensions of the item, and to impart a hint of its woodsy aroma to the contents. The etching on the outside spells out the same phrase in both Erik and Amanda’s tribal tongue. “Minobimaadiziiwin” in Ojibwe, followed by “Yohahi-Yo Sathahita?n,” in Oneida, or “Walk the good path.” Translated wholistically, Ginew offers the advice and blessing of their ancestors to, “Go along your path in a good way.”
This phrase is a thematic statement for Ginew as a whole. “Live in such a way that you live in balance and connection with everything,” Erik further translates. But it’s also a philosophy of a spiritual journey, as Amanda explains. “Most native cultures have some permutation of the same phrase, like the Navajo, ‘Walk in beauty.’ I think that’s something that has continued to resonate with us as we’ve developed Ginew, and lived our lives.”
The nature of Ginew is in every way representative of this commitment to beauty, excellence, connection, and balance. It’s highly collaborative, too, so much so that you can bet that whatever you see Erik wearing he can give the name and a story about the person who made it. The details of their own products like the chain-stitching from Ft. Lonesome in Austin, or the hand-etched, solid forged brass belt buckle on the Oneida Sky-Dome Beltecho this camaraderie they share with other makers. “Collaborating that way makes it feel more like an artistic piece than something we did for the business,” Amanda explains. “It’s fun to solve these problems and bring teams together to create this thing that’s so special to us,” Erik adds. “I love supporting what our friends are doing, too.”
Moving forward with Ginew, Erik and Amanda are taking on more collaborations and a new piece to their line: a waxed canvas vest lined in Pendleton wool, with a few surprising touches like a new design for the closure snaps. “The new snaps incorporate historic symbols from both of our tribes. The one we drew from Amanda’s tribe is a symbol encompassing their teachings on the creation story as well as their existence as a people.
There are three marks that represent the Three Sisters, or corn, beans, and squash. They’re integral to the spirituality and sustainability of their community. Encircling the Three Sisters are a series of triangles, an old Ojibwe symbol for an ain-dah-yung, or our dwelling place. So it encompasses our creation, our subsistence, and our home – where our heart is.”
From those first belts to now, the success of each new design is marked by the connection they’ve derived through the process. It isn’t an easy task they’ve set out to accomplish, providing such intricacy in detail, integrity in material and process, all the while creating a piece with legacy interwoven in its very fibers. They’re creating goods not only built to last a lifetime, but to grow in their value, and develop a deep emotional durability. “And it’s just so fun, Erik reminds us, in the midst of such gravity. “It’s frustrating and hard some days, but it’s passion-driven. ‘Hard on yourself, easy on others.’ That’s what my Grandpa used to tell me.” As is and will be the Ginew way.