“We noticed there was a market for Inuit specific clothing because Inuit really love showing off that they are Inuk.“
On Saturday, June 2, 2018 during Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, Inuit Art Quarterly staff met with Keenan Nooks Lindell of Hinaani Design. They talked about how Hinaani Design got started, the difficulties and benefits of working in a small, isolated community and more. Below is the condensed interview.
Inuit Art Quarterly: How did Hinaani Designs start?
Keenan Nooks Lindell of Hinaani Design: Hinaani started officially in 2016 but we had been planning it for two years before that. I started making things like ulus and jewellery because I needed something to do while I was getting sober. I had a pretty bad drinking problem and making ulus and making other items was such a perfect way to distract myself from the addiction. I really got into it and really enjoyed it because I liked working with my hands. Art and drawing have been very beneficial for me; it has always been my go to when I am stressed out or going through a hard time. It is a healthy way to escape and works things out in your head.
Three of us started Hinaani. I had been making knives mainly and me and Emma knew we wanted to start a business. We actually started in film production, I was a producer for four years, but we noticed we liked designing a lot more than we liked film production. And we noticed there was a market for Inuit specific clothing because Inuit really love showing off that they are Inuk. We knew there was a market and there wasn’t anybody doing it and we had the skills to do it. Me, Emma Kreuger and Paula Rumboldt started Hinaani. We started off with just one or two products mainly leggings and small purses and then slowly added more products. We added the jewellery, since I was already doing that. It felt like we owed it to give art a try as a business because it has been so beneficial for us. We took a chance and it has been paying off.
IAQ: What were your first designs?
HD: We started off with leggings first. And when we first did t-shirts. We did our own silkscreening and they were really simple shirts that just say ‘Inuk’ and they were super popular. It just shows how proud Inuit are to show that they are Inuks.
IAQ: Is the history of printmaking and the relationship to screen printing something that influences your designs?
HD: We are definitely inspired by the artists that came before us. My grandmother is a great artist. We actually use the Jessie Oonark Centre to do our silkscreening and they are really helpful. Jessie Oonark was one of the most famous artists in Nunavut. It is easy to get inspired by all the different artists and different aspects of our culture, like the tools, the wildlife around us and the environment around us.
It is a bit difficult working in a small town, an isolated town, as it is not like the city where you can just walk over to the craft store and pick up all the stuff you need for jewellery. You need to plan ahead of time and a lot of time you need to work with what you have. For example, when we use copper we just buy the plumbing copper because you can get it at the hardware store, and then we just pound it out and make a sheet. It helps the creative process, because you have to work with what you have. But it has it’s challenges. When we are preparing for stuff like Indigenous Fashion Week and need a certain tool and we can’t just walk out to the store and get it so it is a lot harder. When we were working on the runway line, we had a very limited supply of materials to buy. At one point the sewing machine broke down and we had to ship it out to get fixed and that took about a month. So there are definitely challenges. Then there is the other aspect, when you are in a city you can’t just drive out on a snowmobile and pick up caribou antlers or go hunting and get antlers.
IAQ: What does being part of Indigenous Fashion Week mean for you?
HD: It means a lot for us to be invited to Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto. There are so many different amazing artists in Nunavut, and we are so happy that we got chosen. At the same time there is a lot of pressure because there are a lot of great artists. For us to be chosen is both really exciting but nerve-racking because we are representing Inuit. We have a runway show Sunday, Frost Moon. We’ve been working super hard on that for over three months. We are really excited about it. Even when you are not working on the products, you are thinking about them. if you are putting your heart and soul into everything. It is terrifying but really exciting at the same time.
We have ten looks for the runway and each look different aspects to it. We tried to make everything, there are bombers, pants even the shoes we have drawn on and designed. We made a lot of jewellery to go with certain outfits. Our runway is called Traditional Modern because we are using our tradition in our modern way. Like the baseball camps and different clothing, it comes from Inuit culture and tradition and using it in a modern way.
IAQ: What is the highlight of the weekend so far?
HD: I think we’ve only been here for two days but it feels like a week because so much has happened. Getting to meet other artists is great. We are really glad to meet the delegation from Greenland. It was easy to talk to them, our icebreaker was ‘wow it is really hot here,’ and then everyone agrees and the ice is broken. We also went to Kent Monkman’s talk yesterday and he gave a great talk. We really look up to him and find him inspiring.
We are really happy to be part of the inaugural Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto but at the same time we wonder why it took so long. But we are really happy it is happening. And we are just really thankful to Sage Paul and Heather Haynes and all the organizers that got us here and the rest of the Hinaani crew. It has been a crazy month because we are coming out with our new line today, our new collection should be online today.