Indigenous Fashion Week: Mohawk Mocs

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 Mohawk Mocs. Join us and be inspired by Indigenous art and culture. IFWTO runs November 26 – 29 at

Melanie Squire, Co-Owner, Mohawk Mocs IFWTO Marketplace, until November 29

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

Mohawk Mocs has been in operation under that name since 2016 when we decided to create a Facebook page to share our work, but my mother Nancy has been making moccasins for friends and family for over 30 years. My mom has decided to take a bit of a well-deserved break so I have taken over the Owner/Designer role.

If you were to take a look back to 2016, my technique has definitely changed (and definitely improved!) Typically, there are 4 of us (myself, Angus my Husband, my mother Nancy and my Aunt Tye) who produce moccasins for Mohawk Mocs and each of us have developed our own ways of doing things. I would say we each have our specialties. My mom is great at pattern making and it’s something I have started to be able to do on my own. My Aunt is great at prepping orders to be sewn and Angus’ speciality is our signature Work Boot moccasins. I think my niche is baby and women’s moccasins because those allow for a bit more colour and creativity. In a typical day in my workshop (my mom has her own at her house) you’d find both myself and Angus working on orders. The morning is when we prep completed orders and head to the post office to ship them out. Since I prefer to do beadwork at night, when things are quiet, afternoons are usually spent prepping orders for sewing. Prep consists of: cutting out, hole punching, attaching a rubber sole and adding the lining. Those steps are time-consuming and take a few hours but once that’s complete, I can generally sew up a pair in about an hour. Definitely the step that takes the longest is the beadwork. Depending on what design I’m beading, it can take hours to days. It’s never as simple as just choosing bead colours and beading the design. I find myself changing and having to “rip out” my work and start over a lot. I like for each pair to be unique and I work extremely hard at making the work my own. I don’t try to emulate work that others do, which can be difficult since everyone obviously beads the same things like flowers and strawberries, etc.

What distinguishes you from other footwear brands?

I think what distinguishes us from other brands is that we do custom, made to order moccasins. Some clients are very specific in what they want and others give me free artistic rein. It’s definitely helpful to know what clients envision, as long as I can put my own creativity into it. We hand draft our own patterns, so new styles are always emerging and tweaks to older styles happen very often.

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

Traditional Iroquois raised beadwork inspires me, it’s so beautiful and I love that it adds dimension. My Great-Grandmother beaded a more traditional style of raised beadwork in the 1920s (that won her an award at the CNE). My aunt has the piece framed and it inspires me every time I look at it. I definitely gravitate to that style of beadwork, but mine would be considered contemporary because I like to use all types of beads in a piece rather than just seed beads.

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

Mohawk Mocs is definitely known for a few signature styles. We offer regular height, mid (just above the ankle), high (half calf) and knee-high options. Styles come in lace-up, wraps. More custom options include fur cuffs or fringe. We are well-known for our signature “Work Boot” moccasins – our take on boots that Ironworkers wear. Both my family and my husband’s are Ironworkers so it’s a nice nod to our roots.

I also use a huge variety of patterned and colored leathers to create exciting baby/toddler moccasins which are really popular as well. A challenging pair I’ve made was a custom request from one of our local (Six Nations) singers who wanted what I called “high/low” moccasins. While on stage performing, she wears them knee-high, and after, she can detach the calf wrap and they become a regular pair. It’s always fun creating one-of-a-kind pieces.

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

Footwear is definitely a very important form of expression, and in a lot of cases, what people notice first. Moccasins specifically are hugely important in Indigenous culture because all Nations have their own traditional styles. Some clients have moccasins made to match their traditional clothing so it’s always really important for me to be able to create a design that will match, especially if they’re for a traditional wedding. That’s what’s great about making customs, everyone has different tastes and it allows for more creativity.

How does community play a role in your vision for Mohawk Mocs?

Community is integral to our vision - to create quality, custom moccasins for the entire family. Because there are tons of moccasin makers not only in our home community, but throughout Turtle Island, we know that our products cater to specific clients. For the past few years, we have been asked to make entire graduating class pairs for one of our community schools and it’s always such an honour and will always be special each year. I always look forward to making moccasins for clients for Six Nations’ annual “Baby Show” as well. It’s so awesome to get photos from proud parents whose little newborns are wearing their very first pair of Mohawk Mocs.

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

My goals for Mohawk Mocs is just to continue at a comfortable pace. Since we hand cut, hand sew and bead every pair, we can only accept so many orders per month in order to ensure the highest quality. Oddly, during the pandemic, we were very busy! Our vision remains the same, just to produce great quality, custom moccasins for the whole family.

What gives you joy and satisfaction in your work?

Satisfaction comes when each pair is complete or when a client sends me a photo of them wearing and enjoying their moccasins. I always photograph each pair and add to our social media pages and it’s always nice to get “likes” but I definitely find joy in just being able to sit and create.

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

Our social media is kept up to date and you can find us on: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter

Orders can be placed by sending us a DM on all platforms. However due to the volume of Christmas orders, our next intake of orders will not be until the new year. We have some great pairs that are available for purchase during IFWTO’s online Marketplace from November 26-29, 2020. Local orders may be picked up or, we ship worldwide.

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