Reclamation in the Time of Coronavirus
Alumna Madison Craig sews, distributes masks to Native American reservations, hospitals, nationwide
Madison Craig is on a mission to help indigenous people reclaim their bodies.
Three years ago, the health sciences major-turned designer launched a handmade lingerie company focused on empowering Native American men and women. And while that’s taken a bit of a turn due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Craig is still using her passion (and her sewing machine) to make a difference for hundreds of people around the nation.
“We were planning our business launch and the pandemic hit,” Craig said. “I really couldn’t not sew and design … especially when a lot of reservations are hurting right now."
So instead of underwear, Craig is sewing masks.
The Oakland-based alumna is an enrolled member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe. A few years ago, she and her sister Jordan started Shy Natives, a lingerie and apparel company aimed at changing the narrative around indigenous bodies and the over-sexualization and stereotyping of indigenous peoples.
“Our biggest motivation was to create a safe space for indigenous men and women to express themselves and feel sexy and safe,” Craig said. “There’s so much awful history about native women in terms of rape and abuse and … there really hasn’t been a safe brand or space for Native American people to steer the conversation away from that.”
To figure out where the need for masks was highest, Craig and her sister went to Instagram. Their account, featuring Native American people of all body shapes and sizes modeling ShyNative’s products, has more than 17,000 followers. Those thousands put the pair in touch with hospital workers at tribes around the country, including Navajo Nation, which has the highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate in the U.S.
And while they’ve been able to send upward of 600 masks to date, Craig said it’s hard not to see how much more of a need exists. And there are challenges, namely securing fabric and mailing costs.
Craig said her mother, who often helps her sew, salvages fabric from a thrift store where she volunteers. They’ll use anything from fabric with cats printed on it, to bedsheets.
“It’s hard because I feel like our capacity is very small, and we’re making a small dent,” Craig said. “It feels good, but at the same time, I wish we weren’t in a pandemic sewing masks … I didn’t have the motivation to create and sew underwear but I needed to do something to help.”
And while she knows there is more work to do, Craig said the past several years of finding ways to empower Native American people has helped her embrace her own indigenous identity.
“To me being indigenous is different than what it might mean for others,” she said, explaining her mother was part of a wave of indigenous children adopted by the Catholic church and stripped of their culture as part of a federal Indian Adoption Project.
“So for me, it’s trying to find, fill and connect pieces together of my ancestors and where I’m from,” Craig said. “We work with a bunch of other Native artists and models, and we lift each other up, give each other a voice and really shoot to display inclusivity and all Native bodies.”