Indigenous Fashion Week: Justin Louis, SECTION 35

As Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto (IFWTO) goes completely virtual, we wanted to take the opportunity and introduce you to five extraordinary Indigenous designers. Each day we’ll feature someone new and ask the same set of questions, from what gives them joy to how important community is. Our series will showcase their stories, offer a glimpse into their signature pieces and hear their personal visions for the future. Today let's meet SECTION 35.  Join us each day and be inspired by Indigenous art and culture. IFWTO runs November 26 – 29

Justin Louis, Co-Founder, SECTION 35 Runway showtime: Nov 26 at 7pm EST

Can you tell us the story behind Section 35? How did the company get started and what is your role?

My first creations started from redrawing old sports logos of teams from my reserve back in Alberta and selling them to friends. This branched into an idea for an Indigenous clothing brand. Back in 2013 there wasn’t a whole lot of brands like us and none in Canada. I met a friend in Vancouver who owned a print shop and I started using his shop to make some things before we decided that we had all we needed in the shop to start a brand. After 2 years of networking and small-scale sales we decided to push the brand out on a big scale to the world and in March 2016 launched our first website. From the start and to this day we are still a small team and I’ve been the creative director and driving force behind the brand since we started.

As a streetwear brand, what distinguishes you from other streetwear creators?

As a streetwear brand I think we have a unique story and we bring the struggles and dreams of our ancestors with us. In an industry where everything is about appearances and who’s who, we do our best to just keep it real with what we do. We’ve made a commitment to work with other Indigenous artists and creatives to support and push each other to the forefront and we do our best to maintain that commitment through every piece of our business. Because of this, you get to see a glimpse into the Indigenous world view through our art and creations, and without appropriation.

What has inspired you? How do you incorporate this into your designs?

I’m constantly inspired by politics, sports, art and fashion. I am inspired by certain streetwear creatives as well as my Indigenous creatives. I love to see creatives pushing the boundaries on what they can do and how they do it. Watching our people and friends of mine stand up for our rights and for the earth and water has inspired me immensely and continues to inspire me. And of course, being an old collegiate athlete, I am without a doubt inspired by sports and sportswear. I lived some of my most formative years in Southern California and the street and surf/skate culture live in a lot of my work and what I like to create.

Can you point out a few signature pieces and tell us about them?

I think some of the jackets I create have become some of our signature pieces. The Kill Mascots Save the People Camo Jacket was a piece I designed and was the first time we stepped into outerwear and not just printable items. From there I’ve gone on to make numerous custom denim jackets and hand painted leather jackets for fashion shows which I am extremely proud of. Our talking feather items have been a staple. From our hoodies to our custom New Era Fitted hats, the logo is strong and remains our signature.

Do you see clothing as an important form of expression? In what way?

It is, for me, 100 percent expression. This is my voice and my spirit. Everything you see is a reflection in some way of me and how I feel or was feeling when I was designing that item. I am inherently driven to create and share my art with the world, and that is how I express myself.

How does community play a role in your vision for Section 35?

Community is everything for us, and without community we are lost. From the very start of SECTION 35, I made sure that community was part of that vision. I wanted to be successful, but I also wanted to share that success and use it to give back to community. We run numerous fundraising campaigns every year to support different organizations, and use our growing platform to help amplify voices and messages that are important to us and our community. I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished to date and I hope to continue to expand as we grow. Without our community, we would not be where we are today and that is something that we never forget.

What are your goals for the brand? Has your vision changed with the pandemic? If so, in what way?

I have numerous goals. One of my main goals is to become a more sustainable and eco-conscious brand on every product we make. We are already making strides in that direction but it is a challenge that remains when it comes to affordability and pricing for small business.

Some of my other goals revolve around collaborations and people I would like to work with. I really want to do a shoe collaboration with a big footwear player, I’ve lobbied some folks I know with one of those companies, but it hasn’t got me there yet LOL.

While I wouldn’t say the vision has changed with the pandemic, I do think it has slowed down more than anything due to the challenges of the pandemic but also my role as a dad and being present during this time. I can proudly say that we are getting back on track and will continue to the extent that this pandemic allows.

What gives you joy and satisfaction in your work?

I think almost every part of this process from the concept, to the final production, to seeing it shot in photos and someone wearing it in public. I don’t know anything besides being a dad, that beats having the full creative freedom of making your own art and designs to release to the world. Knowing that I’ve created this brand and everything we do from the ground up on our own is extremely gratifying and knowing that we’ve inspired numerous other artists and creatives to follow in our footsteps is really dope and humbling.

Where can our readers see your designs and purchase your products?

Social Media: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

You can purchase our products online at the following on our website or Below the Belt

You can also find a list of SECTION 35 current in-store locations at the link below with more on the way here

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