Jamie Okuma Preserves Her Culture Through Fashion Design


( ENSPIRE She Did That ) Fashion Designer Jamie Okuma Uses Her Creativity To Share Authentic Native American Inspired Clothing

ENSPIRE Contributor: Naomi Stamps

In honor of Native American Heritage Month, ENSPIRE introduces the visual artist and fashion designer Jamie Okuma. This designer is Luiseno and Shoshone-Bonnock on her mother’s side, and her father is Okinawan from Hawaii. Born in California and spending her first years in Los Angeles, she gained her beadwork skills from her painter and graphic designer mother. Besides this, she honed her creativity in painting, drawing, and sewing. 

When her talent was noticed in high school, the principal developed a special class where Jamie Okuma was the only student. She became a more disciplined artist through this class, which eventually led her to Palomar College and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At the age of 22, Jamie Okuma gained an award for Best of Show, which made her the youngest artist in the history of the Santa Fe Indian Market to acquire this unique accomplishment. Her artistry is a way to celebrate her Native American culture and blend contemporary art designs. 

Courtesy of beyondbuckskin.com. Doll designed by Jamie Okuma.

One of the ways that Jamie Okuma implemented her beadwork was through her doll creations (often referred to as “soft sculptures”). This designer crafted the figures’ accessories and clothing with a keen eye for detail and dedication to historical accuracy. The attire captures 19th and 20th-century Native American fashion, an exciting way of exposing others to the culture. As time passed, Jamie Okuma was ready to expand on her talent. 

She discovered her interest in creating fashion pieces when her mother noted a shopping issue she had. Jamie Okuma told Footwear News, “I was shopping on Yoox, and mom said, ‘Too bad there isn’t a way for you to combine your shopping issue with what you do.’ We wondered if I could actually bead on ultra-luxe shoes and boots. So I gambled on a pair of Christian Louboutin, not knowing if I could pull it off or if I was going to destroy a $900 pair of shoes.” 

Courtesy of powwows.com. Boots designed by Jamie Okuma.

She began working on clothes, shoes, and accessories, including beads and Native American designs. Her pieces are always diverse and can take months to complete. Jamie Okuma shows that she values quality over quantity by taking her time to develop her artwork. Her work has been featured in Germany, France, The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, The Denver Art Museum, and many other art institutions; besides this, she has won the John S. Knudsen Prize and had her designs featured at the Haute Couture Fashion Show. 

It’s inspirational to see how this designer turned her passion into a profession in which she continues to excel. Besides this, the time she spends on each of her pieces is a lesson we can learn from. In life, we are sometimes impatient about reaching our goals because we’re comparing ourselves to others. Jamie Okuma shows the importance of taking the time to complete tasks to get the best results. We cannot allow others to determine how fast we should move in life because everyone’s journey is different. Through her bold and creative designs, Jamie Okuma also shows that we shouldn’t be afraid to stand out and bring new ideas to the table. 

Courtesy of jokuma.com. Jamie Okuma wearing a blanket she designed with Eighth Generation.

Learn more about Jamie on her website, Instagram, and Facebook.

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