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The Inspired Natives® Project, launched by Louie Gong in May 2014, is both a business initiative and an educational initiative. By collaborating with select arts entrepreneurs to manufacture products under the Eighth Generation brand, we hope to expand regional appeal of the Eighth Generation brand while simultaneously increasing the capacity of the arts entrepreneurs and educating the public about the tangible costs of cultural appropriation.
This is not another charity pitch. We are honored to work with a small group of successful artists who maintain a large following and strong web presence. Just like Louie a few years ago, they simply struggle to meet demand with their handmade goods because the knowledge about how to develop products based on their art—and the capital needed to do so—is largely absent in our communities. In collaboration with these arts entrepreneurs—called "Inspired Natives"—we will help each other grow.
Our Inspired Natives® are the individuals whose work appears when in-house designers at mainstream companies Google "Native art" for inspiration. With the result being more "Native-inspired" goods on the market that ultimately squeeze out Native artists, this kind of creative mining makes bringing Native-made and designed products to market even more important.
Louie Gong has grown increasingly frustrated with “Native-inspired” clothing and other products produced by large companies. He believes each "Native-inspired" product represents not only a missed opportunity for talented Native artists to build knowledge through collaboration, it also presents a tangible barrier to Native arts entrepreneurs who must compete for a spot on shelves already dominated by non-Native companies producing product featuring appropriated art. At the same time, socially conscious consumers who appreciate Native themes and aesthetics—and tribal communities themselves—are consuming these products without conscious awareness of how their patronage either supports or undermines the work of indigenous artists and entrepreneurs.
Above all, Louie Gong values action over talk. While Native people have become very adept at the important work of calling out cultural appropriation and misrepresentation, the war cannot be won until we can point to alternatives. Eighth Generation wants to play a proactive role in creating those alternatives.