Visibility through fashion

Rez Famous began as a saying printed on a t-shirt. But after its official launch last year, the clothing line turned into a way to make Indigenous culture more visible.

Talon Simon, a University of New Brunswick student from Elsipogtog First Nation, is the creator of Rez Famous.

“I’ve been getting a lot of youth that are so happy just to see what I’m doing because they see something in the bigger culture now reflecting them,” said Simon.

“That’s been kind of the goal for me.”

Simon creates shirts, sweaters, hats and toques with the words “Rez Famous” across them. He has an online store thats ships across Canada, a stationary store in Elsipogtog First Nation and a traveling store. He also does small, special orders internationally.

Simon said the name Rez Famous came after he attended a wedding at Abegweit First Nation in Prince Edward Island in 2017 and entered a dance competition. He competed against some of the best dancers in the province and came in second place, sparking the nickname “Rez Famous.”

                               Simon (above) pictured wearing items from his brand, Rez Famous. (Twitter: Rez Famous)

One of the ideas behind Rez Famous was to show the positive side of reservations, said Simon. Sometimes he’d hear people say “Oh, that’s so rez” to describe something negative. But to him, reservations are where the culture is.

Simon said he loves being able to go home to visit his aunties and grandmother and hear them speak fluent Mi’kmaq. He said outside of the reservation, it’s hard to find fluent speakers.

“This is where we have been put. Our elders, our knowledge and language is here,” he said.

“We are still here and we are rooted in our culture.”

Simon first debuted his shirts at a Tobique First Nation powwow. From there, he and his mother went to other reservations to sell his shirts and her handmade jewelry.

Simon said one of the ideas behind Rez Famous was to show people the positive side of reservations. (Twitter: Rez Famous)

Simon said he wasn’t sure how many shirts he sold, but it was enough to cover his expenses to travel to the Toronto area to sell his products during the summer.

Balancing school and owning a small business hasn’t always been easy, Simon said. When his business first began to take off, he attended Nova Scotia Community College Ivany Campus for journalism, radio and television. He was at school five days a week from nine to five. On weekends and holidays he’d promote and sell his work.

Along with the busy schedule, Simon decided to transfer to UNB because of their Indigenous courses like Mi’kmaq language studies since he’s not fluent in the language. It’s a personal journey of his to reclaim his language so he can have conversations with his grandmother and mother in Mi’kmaq. He was also interested in Wabanaki world view to expand his knowledge because he grew up with a Mi’kmaq world view.

“I just wanted to do something that was good for me spiritually while I’m also going out here with the business,” he said.

Simon ships his shirts, hats and sweaters across Canada and the United States. He wants to expand Rez Famous by working with other Indigenous businesses on reserves. By sharing products, Simon said it would help the local economy and display other cultures, creating a thriving Indigenous market.

Since he first began, Rez Famous’ style has changed. Simon has moved on to Indigenizing popular fashion brands like Adidas. The traditional three stripes of the Adidas logo are coloured red, white and yellow and the top of the triangle has three feathers. Below the design are the words, “Rez Famous.”

Simon isn’t worried about being sued by Adidas because his design falls under fair use and parody. The European Union also ruled the company doesn’t have ownership of its signature three stripes, so there’s no trademark issues.

“The biggest thing with my logo is that it draws attention, it definitely creates a little controversy,” Simon said.

“I’m cool with that … The people who support me, they’re really happy with what I’m doing.”

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