Haida fashion designer Dorothy Grant brings empowerment and pride to her signature designs, and to SFU's Bill Reid Centre this fall

October 19, 2021
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By Gladys We

Dr. Dorothy Grant, OC, was the first Haida fashion designer in Canada. A member of the Raven Clan of Kaigani Haida, Grant learned to sew and weave traditional Haida garments and ceremonial regalia from her maternal grandmother. In the early 80s, she was the first Indigenous designer to combine traditional Haida artwork with contemporary fashion.

Grant believes her clothing "embodies the Haida philosophy Yaangudang meaning “self-respect.” The driving force behind her clothing designs is “empowerment, pride and feeling good about oneself.” *

Her storied career spans over 32 years, merging Haida art and fashion through her training in fashion design to becoming one of just a few "triple-threat" designers within Canada that is at once manufacturer, wholesaler, and named retailer who had a brick-and-mortar storefront in downtown Vancouver.

Her work has been seen on the Oscars red carpet in 2016 (her Grant Eagle/Raven shawl collar tuxedo was worn by Duane E Howard Aka "Elk dog" in The Revenant), and she has exhibited her work at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Natural History Museum in New York, and in fashion shows around the world. Grant received the Order of Canada in 2015, and an Honorary Degree from SFU in 2019.

This fall, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences is thrilled to welcome Grant as the Inaugural Bill Reid Centre Fellow.

Dr. Deanna Reder, Chair of Indigenous Studies, comments, "Dorothy Grant has shared with us that it was in conversation with Bill Reid in the 1980s that she was inspired to fuse art and fashion. It is so fitting that she be the Centre's first Visiting Fellow."

Part of Grant's work at SFU this fall will be to participate in two events. A small Welcome Reception for Dr. Dorothy Grant was held on October 13th, 2021, and the Inaugural Bill Reid Lecture will happen on Tuesday, November 23rd. Space is limited for an in-person audience, but the event will also be simultaneously released on Youtube.

"In reflecting back on my career, I see that I did create a pathway,” says Grant. “The journey has been full of challenges, fears and many successes and yes even failures. But I never sold out my work for lesser quality or an easier path. I have stayed true to Haida form line art in applying it to cloth…. I broke new ground."

Indeed, Grant’s career and art have been inspirational, and she has made way for a new generation of Indigenous designers to innovate and experiment with traditional and contemporary forms. This fall, we hope you will join us in welcoming Dr. Dorothy Grant to SFU, and we look forward to hearing more of her wisdom and her stories.