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Pendleton’s Connection To Native American Heritage And Their Academic Degrees

Pendleton is a company that is known for its woolen blankets and other textiles that feature designs inspired by Native American heritage. The company has been producing woolen clothing and blankets since 1863. They use the finest wool fibers and their weaving and finishing process is done in their own mills in the Pacific Northwest of United States.  

The styles of Pendleton products vary, but they are often designed with a classic, timeless look and feature patterns and colors that are inspired by the American Southwest and Native American cultures. They are popular among many people for their warmth, comfort, and durability, making them ideal for outdoor activities such as hiking, camping, and hunting. 

In addition to their connection to Native American heritage, many of the employees at Pendleton have academic degrees in fields such as textile design, marketing, and business management. These degrees help the company to create high-quality products, market them effectively, and run the business efficiently. 

Is Pendleton Owned By Native Americans? 

While Pendleton’s reputation for quality and longevity is undeniable, some have criticized the company for its use of Indigenous designs. Despite being in operation for over a century, the company has been owned by the non-Native American Bishop family for six generations, leading to accusations of profiting from Indigenous culture without proper acknowledgement or representation. 

Currently, there are some voices in the activism and fashion communities that are speaking out against companies like Pendleton, Urban Outfitters and Restoration Hardware for their practice of appropriating designs and motifs from Indigenous cultures worldwide for commercial gain. 

Cultural appropriation is sadly all too common, with those coming from higher privilege often taking and profiting without recognition or recompense of marginalized cultures. This inequality must be addressed to ensure a more equitable future for us all. 

Pendleton’s Past 

Pendleton and Native American communities have been entwined for over a century, forged by shared inspirations that shape the company’s renowned designs. From national parks blankets to classic plaid shirts, Pendleton sales directly to Native American organizations account for around 30-40% of its business – creating an alluring bond between two very special entities. 

Pendleton Woolen Mills has a unique, century-long relationship with Native American tribes that stretches back to the settlement of white settlers in America. In those early years, trading posts were opened where Natives exchanged their handmade crafts and clothing for various supplies from non-Natives. These blankets became prized symbols within tribal communities, as well as robust pieces of apparel due to their warmth and distinct designs. Today Pendleton continues this legacy by utilizing customer feedback when designing new collections each season. 

Bob Kapoun’s book, Language of the Robe, discovered a roaring trade blanket history in Oregon between 1880 and 1930. The success was thanks to plentiful local sheep wool that fueled renowned makers such as Racine, Oregon City, Capps, and Pendleton mills. During this time period, an innovative textile designer by the name Joe Rawnsley made his mark on American fashion for generations to come. He went traveling through various Columbia Plateau tribes studying their Indigenous designs with great care before venturing into Southwest America among Hopi, Zuni ,and Navajo communities gathering ideas from all around . 

Monaghan and Rawnsley ventured into the heart of Native culture to create art that was both beautiful and useful. Through passionate investigation they uncovered what colors, shapes, and designs their weavings’ audiences favored – then crafted exquisite works tailored specifically to those desires. Their efforts produced stunning tapestries appreciated not only for embodying native flair, but also meeting practical needs. 

For over a century, Pendleton has been celebrated for its iconic Native American designs. Nowadays however, the company is taking things one step further by having actual Indigenous artists create their own limited-edition artwork and weaves – allowing them to make a living while sharing their stories with larger audiences.  

Eleven such amazing talents have now partnered up with Pendleton – among them Bunky Echo-Hawk from Pawnee, Oklahoma, who used to dream of working alongside this famous brand before his work got instantly recognized in homes across America. 

In 2013, Pendleton took action to address a complaint that their blanket ‘Sioux Star’ violated the federal Indian Arts and Crafts Act. As part of its settlement, they renamed it Plains Star, made a generous $41k donation to the Red Cloud Indian Heritage Center in Arkansas and established an entire section on their website devoted exclusively for Native American Artists, creating new outlets for indigenous populations around America. 

Inspired Natives 

Seattle-based company Eighth Generation, owned by the Snoqualmie tribe, has a unique approach to their wool and cotton blankets, towels, and jewelry with the slogan “inspired by Natives, not ‘Native-inspired’”. The company, founded and headed by self-taught artist Louie Gong (Nooksack), is dedicated to celebrating the work of Indigenous artists and helping them establish successful businesses. Since 2015, Eighth Generation has been selling blankets entirely created by Indigenous artists, such as Bethany Yellowtail and Jamie Okuma. 

“It’s not just about the aesthetics. It’s the stories about who Native American artists are,” Gong says. “When you buy something from Eighth Generation, you’re engaging with products controlled by Native people from beginning to end.” 

Another inspired native is Sydelle Harrison, who crafts purses and jackets using Pendleton blankets, fabric, and leather fringe. Her story is inspiring. She received a handcrafted jacket made from Pendleton blankets from her mother when she was two years old. Tragically, her mother passed away the following year. The jacket became a treasured reminder of her mother.  

As a new mother, Harrison found solace in sewing as a pastime, and began crafting purses and jackets from Pendleton blankets, fabric, and leather fringe. Her father’s surprise gift of the jacket her mother had sewn for her as a child reignited her connection to her mother and inspired Harrison to pass on the tradition by instructing her three daughters in the art of sewing. 

The jacket and the memories it evoked of her late mother, prompted Harrison to launch her own clothing line, Kanaine. Her goal is to craft one-of-a-kind garments that will be treasured by families for generations to come. 

“It’s not just clothes,” Harrison said. “It’s not just bags. These are a piece of me and people need to know my story. They need to know where I came from.” 

As an only child growing up on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Harrison progressed toward achieving a range of successes. She is a single mother, business owner, and Ph.D candidate. She also maintains her unique cultural heritage through works crafted with intent to honor those who have come before her utilizing accurate indigenous representation found in academia’s data collections. 

Understanding the complex interplay of design and cultural influences is important but can be challenging. Sarah Agaton Howes , a well-known Eight Generation artist, says, “It’s crucial to consider the ethical implications of cultural appropriation in relation to these designs. Unfortunately, this is something that is often overlooked in today’s society.” 

Committed to upholding its founding mission of honoring Indigenous heritage and culture, Pendleton has partnered with some incredible organizations such as the American Indian College Fund, Native American Rehabilitation Association and Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian. In addition to supporting these causes, they have also provided a unique opportunity for Indigenous artists by giving them creative reign over designing modernized versions of their classic styles. 

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