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The Instagram video on @louiegong shows our Founder and CEO, Louie Gong (Nooksack) standing in the woods in front a cedar tree. In his signature hoodie and blazer, he leans toward the camera before saying, “This is my retirement video.”
After fifteen years of pouring his passion into Eighth Generation, hustling to take back market space for cultural Native artists, working to educate the public about appropriation versus appreciation, creating, innovating, pushing the envelope, Louie has announced his retirement from business management.
“Fifteen years after drawing on my first pair of shoes I’m retiring from business leadership in January with plans to focus on creativity, family, travel, and frolicking in the woods,” said Louie in his announcement. “I have supreme confidence in the Snoqualmie Tribe, our amazing staff, and the new CEO (who will be announced next month) to continue this groundbreaking work—and make it even better! I'll remain an artist with Eighth Generation under the Inspired Natives™ Project with the same business arrangement as other artists.”
Louie with Eighth Generation's first wool blanket, Thunderbird Arrives, in front of his painting of Guardians; photo by Ken Yu
Louie’s artistic journey started in 2008, when he began customizing shoes such as Vans and Converse with cultural designs. “I didn’t see my Native culture represented in the designs I could buy in stores, so I decided to make my own,” says Louie. Interest for Louie’s hand-drawn and hand-painted shoes quickly skyrocketed, with demand fast outpacing his ability to produce them. Louie leveraged that explosion of interest in authentic cultural art to start a line of home décor products in 2013.
“That was probably three months’ worth of shoes,” says Louie of the time it took to customize the stack of Vans shoes in this photo. “It’s pretty surreal that now we have our own USPS truck to pick up what we ship out in a single day.”
While these first products featured Coast Salish art from Louie’s Nooksack heritage, he quickly brought on other artists from different regions to diversify the lineup of products Eighth Generation could offer to global consumers. The Inspired Natives™ Project began in 2014 as a way for Louie and Eighth Generation to both increase the capacity of arts entrepreneurs and educate the public about the tangible costs of cultural appropriation while sharing the beautiful cultural art of several Native artists. Today, The Inspired Natives™ Project includes five artists: Louie Gong (Nooksack), Michelle Lowden (Acoma Pueblo), Sarah Agaton Howes (Ojibwe), John Isaiah Pepion (Blackfeet), and Jared Yazzie (Navajo).
Louie working in his studio space, photographed by Starbucks for our first Decolonizing Partnership with a global brand
After selling Eighth Generation to the Snoqualmie Tribe in 2019, Louie began the hard work of finding Eighth Generation’s next CEO while still positioning the company for maximum growth and success. Louie continued to guide the company during the pandemic, leading the shift from in-store shopping to the online marketplace, assisting with Eighth Generation’s donation of thousands of PPE equipment to the Seattle Indian Health Board, and securing a beautiful new 27,000 square foot headquarters for the business.
Louie with COO Serene Lawrence (Ojibwe, Hopi) holding the keys and sign for our new 27,000 square foot headquarters
Louie will continue to lead Eighth Generation through 2021, and our new CEO will be announced in January 2022. After that, Louie will remain an Inspired Natives™ Project artist (with the same business arrangement as our other artists) with Eighth Generation, as well as pursue his own creative endeavors.
Louie and his forever sidekick, Maosie (Rez Cat)
We the staff of Eighth Generation can’t thank Louie enough for his years of tireless leadership, nurturing, support, and creativity. Louie, we are so proud of you and happy for this time of rest and recharging you get to enjoy. We can’t wait to see what big things you’ll do next!
Some of the Eighth Generation team on the first day in our new warehouse